CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. Twenty years ago, Randy Schobinger won an upset victory in a North Dakota state Senate race using relentless and unorthodox stumping turning his 1972 Toyota into an election billboard and spending hours in the final days waving campaign signs at passing motorists.
He's no less relentless in his latest pursuit, which some might consider unorthodox as well.
The former Minot Republican legislator now lives in Tennessee, where he trains and participates in Tough Mudder contests when not selling insurance.
Randy Schobinger tackles an obstacle called “Electroshock Therapy” during the Tough Mudder event April 26 and 27 in Georgia. The shock-filled obstacle is so intense that this year there is a bypass for participants who don’t wish to complete it.
Describing itself as "the toughest event on the planet," Tough Mudder is an extreme competition meant to push participants to their mental and physical limits. It involves strength, agility and grit by participants who navigate 10 to 12 miles of rough terrain dotted with 25 obstacles with names like Ladder to Hell and Boa Constrictor.
Despite its daunting reputation, a single Tough Mudder event can easily draw 10,000 people, and more than a million participants have entered contests held on three continents. Tough Mudders has raised more than $6 million for its supported charity, the Wounded Warriors Project.
Schobinger, 44, became hooked last year after hearing about the events from a friend, a former Marine whose son-in-law competed. Schobinger went online to investigate.
"My first thought was 'I don't think so,'" he said. "I never thought I would do something like that. Your mind just goes 'That's just crazy.' Now it's not crazy. So my mindset is different."
He finds most people think like he used to.
"That's pretty much the first response I get, too, is 'You have to be nuts.' Maybe I am a little bit. But it's fun," he said.
Some people thought he was a little nuts back in 1994 when as a 24-year-old college student, he challenged a long-time party worker in the Republican primary for the District 3 Senate seat. Although he won the primary, not even many Republicans really expected much from him against a well-known Democrat county commissioner in the general election. But he won that election, too.
He represented Minot in the North Dakota Senate from 1995 to 2006, serving on the Senate Appropriations Committee and making a name for himself in championing the elimination of the corporate income tax.
Schobinger said when he lost the 2006 election, he jumped out of politics completely.
"I let my stress level go down about 80 percent," he said.
He decided to do the things that he had to forego because of his legislative responsibilities. One of the items on his bucket list was to live in Arizona and another was to live in Tennessee. After the 2006 election, his brother in Arizona called and asked him to come down and play on his team in a softball tournament. Schobinger, who had worked for a television station in Minot, went to Arizona and stayed three years, working for a bank.
He has lived in a tourist area near Chattanooga, Tenn., since 2009. As an independent insurance agent, he made the Auto-Owners Insurance's President's Club 2011 by ranking 16th in sales among the company's 26,000 agents nationwide.
Schobinger trained to run his first Tough Mudder in June 2013 in Virginia with his brother and sister, but a tropical storm canceled the event. So instead, Schobinger and his brother, Jay, a Dickinson teacher and coach, and sister and her husband, Tara and Spencer Johansen, chiropractors in Virginia, ran the Minneapolis-area Tough Mudder last July.
Schobinger ran the Kentucky Tough Mudder with a friend who runs marathons. When they entered, they didn't realize it was ranked as the toughest course in the country. The day they ran it, the temperature was 30 degrees and it was raining with a 30 mph wind.
"We forged on," Schobinger said. "I look back now, I probably wouldn't do it again, but we were so happy when we got done."
On the course that day, the event set a record for the largest number of people who were medivacked out and the least number of participants who finished, he said.
Schobinger's latest Tough Mudder was in Georgia, which he completed solo in April.
"You never really do them solo because you are like one big team out there," he said.
In the Georgia event, he assisted a woman through an obstacle that involved swimming through ice. At another event, he encouraged and guided two hesitant young men through the Electroshock Therapy obstacle. The obstacle featuring hanging live wires has been one of his favorites, even though most people rank it as the most dreaded, he said.
Schobinger doesn't have plans for his next Tough Mudder yet, but he continues to run several miles a week to stay in shape.
He was back to visit Minot in May his first trip to the state since 2011.
He called the oil boom transformation of Minot and his hometown, Dickinson, amazing.
"It's great to see it. As someone who has been away from North Dakota for eight years, when you hear 'North Dakota' on the news now, it isn't about the weather. Now you hear about the jobs being created," Schobinger said. "That's a good thing, and I am happy to see it.
"This is just an opportunity for North Dakota to diversify when you have the labor there which has always been an issue for North Dakota and you have the revenue. The leaders there should be really pushing full-steam ahead on trying to diversify the economy."