A special report from Upton A. Street, this is Part I and II of a series on Nathaniel Mudd, the creator of Mass Transit Walkers, a group of racewalkers that take on the New York City Public Bus System.
NEW YORK, New York – “Heel, toe.” Nathaniel whispered to himself between exhales as he followed the directions he dished out. “Heel, toe. Heel, toe. Heel, toe.”
“Hips forward,” he instructed as he kept his posture in the upright and locked position.
“And keep your tush taut,” he thought as he flexed his butt muscles to keep his tush taut.
He looked down: his cadence perfect, as the toe of his left foot left the ground, the heal of his right dug into the pavement. He looked to his right at a mirror-like storefront: his form perfect, as his left leg swung forward his right leg remained straight, leading to the hitch in every racewalker’s stride. He looked to his left at the street: the city bus nowhere in sight.
Nathaniel Mudd racewalked from 86th to 96th Street against the M11 Bus.
He beat it.
Mass Transit Walkers was born.
That’s the way Nathaniel Mudd tells it. That he had this idea back in 2002 to race city busses all around the island of Manhattan.
“It started out small,” Mudd says. He was the sole member of Mass Transit Walkers for the first two years.
He would be on the bus, crouched in a starting position next to the door. “People definitely looked at me like I was crazy,” Mudd says. The bus would pull to it’s stop, the hydraulics holding the door shut would swoosh, and Mudd would push through the doors and fall right into a strained, hitchy stride.
Mudd has a gentle voice and laugh, and he looks off into the distance through his wire-rimmed glasses as he reminisces about the early stages of Mass Transit Walkers. The 32-year-old, who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and manages the city’s only racewalking specialty store Heal Toe Sports, thought he was onto something as soon as he noticed that the city busses stopped too much.
He took his forte and pitted against the busses. Sure enough, the busses were no match for the racewalker.
“I looked at is a way of sticking it to the man,” Mudd says. “That we didn’t need machines to get us around this city. That we could move quicker around this city by foot than by bus.”
By 2004, more and more people were getting involved. And by 2010, as many as fifteen people attended one race. With visors in place and step counters clipped onto their waistbands the Mass Transit Walkers resembled a gang of retirees in Boca Raton.
“The look of confusion on a bus rider’s face when they see me keeping up, or even ahead of the bus,” explains 35-year-old Rebecca Dawdle, one of MTW’s most loyal members, “is just exhilarating.”
December 15, 2012 was meant to be a big day for the Mass Transit Walkers. They had plans to race the M60 from 106th to 110th Street. It was going to be a “sprint race” compared to the usual 10-15 block races they held.
It also happened to be the 10-year Anniversary or Mudd’s first defeat of a bus.
What MTW didn’t know was it was also the beginning of another race against the city’s public transportation. That it was basically the same idea, but these guys were racing the subway?
“What they did,” says Mudd, whose soft voice steadies and hardens all of a sudden when speaking about the ruined 10-year anniversary sprint, “was take my idea.”
Mass Transit Racers was founded by Liam Boylan-Pett and Pat Jeffers. The idea is as simple—and similar—as that of Mass Transit Walkers: a racer gets off the subway at one stop and races the train to the next one. The way they do it is by putting an “MTR Official” on the train who gets off at the next stop and races up the stairs above ground. If a racer beats the official to the subway entrance, then they defeat the train.
The way Boylan-Pett and Jeffers describe it, their idea started in 2004 when Boylan-Pett raced a subway trying to impress girls his freshman year of college. Eight years later, Jeffers, who went to school with Boylan-Pett, remembered hearing about the subway race and decided to take action on it. He started emailing with Boylan-Pett and before long, they decided they could actually make the thing happen.
“The first race was awesome,” says Jeffers. “We had about 25 people show up and 7 of them raced the train.” Two even beat the 1 Train from 110th to 116th Street.
“These guys had no class,” says Mudd. “They were out there hootin’ and hollerin’ and running along the streets way too fast.”
“Oh it was great,” Boylan-Pett says, “we had a tie for one of the racers and tie goes to the runner. We had an awesome crew out there.”
“They had absolutely no regard for the Mass Transit Walkers,” says Mudd.
“Mass Transit Walkers?” Boylan-Pett says. “They race the bus? I do that on a daily basis by walkingnormally.”
Then he takes it further.
On January 5th, at the Mass Transit Racers second event, a race from 72nd Street to the Museum of Natural History against the C Train. A bespectacled man with worn, white walking shoes, calf-length crew socks, a fanny pack, and a visor on approaches Boylan-Pett and Jeffers.
“You guys Liam and Pat?” He questions as he reaches into his fanny pack.
“Yeah,” they say.
“You’ve been served,” Mudd says as he hands over a folded stack of papers to Jeffers.
The title sheet reads: “Court Summons for January 18 at 10am, re: Mass Transit Walkers v. Mass Transit Racers.”
On one NBC late-night telecast during the 2000 Olympic Games, Bob Costas poked fun at the sport of racewalking. He even went as far as to say that racewalking “is like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest.”
Nathaniel Mudd, watching at home, bubbled over with rage and thought to himself, “Racewalking will have its day. It will be cool if I have anything to do with it.”
On January 18, in front of a judge and jury in a New York Courthouse, Liam Boylan-Pett sashays his way across the courtroom floor while saying, “Not only is racewalking like having a contest to see who can whisper the loudest, it’s like seeing who can fail the most at trying to dance like Shakira.”
Nathaniel Mudd once again bubbles over with anger, and, though he had held it together all day while Boylan-Pett and his partner Pat Jeffers devalued everything to do with racewalking, this time he stands up and shouts out, “Racewalking is cool! We beat the bus all over this city!”
“Order!” Judge John Dawdle says as he hammers down his gavel. “Order in this courtroom!”
Mudd’s lawyer Frederick Sluggsly quickly pulls Mudd back into his chair as Boylan-Pett does his best impression of a racewalker and makes his way back to his seat with labored strides as Jeffers laughs on.
Nathaniel Mudd v. Mass Transit Racers lasted only one day. Mudd’s lawyer Sluggsly opened the proceedings by stating their case: “Simply put, your honor, Liam Boylan-Pett and Patrick Jeffers stole my client’s idea and have run—” Sluggsly quickly turned his head and gave a death stare to Boylan-Pett and Jeffers who began to chuckle at the word run “—with it, barely even changing a thing.”
Boylan-Pett and Jeffers, who chose to represent themselves, presented their case by saying that racewalking and running weren’t comparable. And the same went for busses and subways. As Jeffers put it, “One is fast, one is slow.”
“Right there,” says Mudd, “that’s when I knew we were winning this case. These two were so arrogant that they would not recognize what I did as a sport. In the court of law, we were doing essentially the same thing, both trying to move faster than a mode of public transportation on foot.”
Sluggsly presented piles of evidence from Mudd: pictures of the first meeting of Mass Transit Walkers, written statements from Rebecca Dawdle stating how great MTW was, even a Metrocard with $40 on it used to illustrate that MTW was a lifestyle. The point was clear: Mudd always racewalked next to the subway, and had been doing so for years.
Boylan-Pett and Jeffers also brought forth evidence. Theirs were both video presentations. One showed Jeffers on a subway train in the crouched position at the door. The subway car was aboveground and as soon as the breaks screeched the train to a halt and the doors shot open, Jeffers was out the door. Boylan-Pett, who held the camera, could be heard laughing. The train gets moving, and even on a shaky shot, the camera finds Jeffers running below the train at full speed. The train pulls up to the next stop, and the with the camera acting like an action shot in a war movie, it leads Boylan-Pett down the stairs of the subway station, where Jeffers is waiting out of breath, but ahead of the train.
The other video shows Boylan-Pett in jeans and a winter coat on a city bus. As soon as it stops, he slowly walks out of the back door and turns left. The camera stays focused on him as Jeffers can be heard laughing in the background. Boylan-Pett continues walking slowly, and turns to wave at the camera as the bus gets going and he keeps even with it.
Judge Dawdle stifled laughter as the video ends with Boylan-Pett walking out of view of the camera, far ahead of the bus. Mudd and Sluggsly looked on feverishly as Mudd hoped that Sluggsly could object to something.
“The closing argument was pointless,” says Sluggsly. “Once they showed that beating a bus by walking was so damn easy, I didn’t know what else to say.”
“Yeah,” Jeffers says, “the bus is literally the slowest form of public transportation you can take. They stop every two blocks. It makes no sense.”
Judge Dawdle could not be reached for comment, but he released this statement: “The ideas were similar, but there’s no way that I could side with Nathaniel Mudd on this case. Racewalking is fine for him, but to compare it to running is preposterous. The city bus system is most likely the slowest form of transportation. What the Mass Transit Racers are doing seems fun and difficult, what the Mass Transit Walkers are doing is basically being a 12th grade bully picking on 3rd graders.”
“This will not stop Mass Transit Walkers,” Mudd says. “We will still do what we do, and walk all over this city. I maintain that Mass Transit Racers stole my idea.”
Boylan-Pett and Jeffers say they hold no hard feelings toward Mudd and Mass Transit Walkers.
They invited him to the Armory at 168th Street for their next subway race on January 26th.
“He said he’d take the M5 Bus up to meet us,” Says Jeffers. “We told him not to be late.”
Boylan-Pett chimes in, “We recommended walking up.”