There are people who enjoy physical labor. Or so I’m told.

Most folks I know fall into a less-industrious category known as “feign debilitating parasitic infection the weekend a friend needs help moving into a new apartment.”

For them, hard labor is undertaken only under extreme circumstances (i.e., as part of a court-ordered community restitution program following a post-wine-tasting assault on a neighbor’s lavish lawn ornament collection).

It’s not that physical exertion isn’t an admirable thing. It does amazing things like build houses, harvest food and remove snow. It’s just that hard labor is, in a word, hard. Physical effort requires effort.

So some of us buy our wood pre-chopped and let hired landscapers worry about clearing the boulders out of the yard. And while said landscapers are sweating over wheelbarrows full of pumpkin-sized rocks, we’ll motor over to the gym for 45 minutes of full-incline sprinting on the treadmill.

There’s irony there, if you think about it.

The treadmill toiling does burn calories, but you know what it doesn’t do? Mow the lawn. And it sure doesn’t reseal the driveway. And while every activity doesn’t have to result in a 6-foot-tall, property-lining rock wall, it would be nice if, on occasion, our exertion amounted to something tangible.

It’s a thought Elizabeth Trice had while working out a while back. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this work I’m doing was actually accomplishing something in the outside world?’ “

Like many of us, Trice worked out at the gym. Unlike many of us, she realized how all that physical effort — the weight lifting, the body planking, the stair climbing — could be harnessed into something pretty powerful.

Trice is one of the organizers of GruntMatch, along with Jake Holz and Ned Swain. The group offers the exercise-inclined a chance to put their muscle to good use in the real world by tackling community projects that require some brawn. Local organizations get some able-bodied help and in turn, participants get a gratifying sense of accomplishment and a stellar workout.

The group meets every other Tuesday, and it’s free to join in. So far, the first two GruntMatches have benefited Portland Trails and had participants hauling two-by-fours, pushing wheelbarrows and spreading rock dust — all efforts to grow and improve the city’s trail system.

Tuesday’s GruntMatch will put the finishing touches on those trails, so participants should prepare to get dirty.

It’s undeniably tough work. But some friendly competition helps fuel GruntMatch motivation. Participants are divided into teams that compete against each other during the evening’s task. There’s even a referee who’ll make sure teams stick to the rules, get the job done and aren’t sloppy about it.

GruntMatches last a few hours, although the hard labor typically only lasts 45 minutes. A warm-up and post-work snacks, water and socializing are built in too. And let’s not forget the judging portion of the evening, in which best-time teams have lost in the past for doing less-than-impressive work.

But really, GruntMatch is a win for all involved.

“People think about physical labor like it’s back-breaking work that’s bad for them,” said Trice. “It’s just work. And if you structure this work, it’s fun, social and it’s a good workout.”

GruntMatch is helping to get things done in the community. The group can knock out a project in an hour that might take a single person all day to complete. And as GruntMatch continues to grow, “We could take on some really big work,” Trice said. “It could be the way work gets done in the future.”

GruntMatch is open to anyone who wants to participate. Not all the work is arduous, said Trice. Folks wanting to get involved but who are wary of diving into the sweat-inducing waters of hard labor are encouraged to volunteer in other ways, like taking pictures or handing out water.

“We’re open for spectators and for volunteers who want to help in other ways,” she said. “We’re building it as a team event. Not everybody has to do the heavy thing.

“It’s important to change the way we look at physical work. My hope is that we can structure work as something that’s taking care of your body as opposed to hurting it — that it’s something we can incorporate more.”

Maybe hard work is something we can stop avoiding. One more suspicious bout of Acanthamoeba keratitis, and friends are going to stop trusting us.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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