I asked my ten year old son Michael what he thought a Spartan dad was. He responded that it’s coming home from races on the weekend with barbed wire scratches across your back and bruises all over your body. While that is definitely part of being a Spartan dad, there is certainly a lot more to it than that. In the Krueger family we have a passion for health and fitness. It wasn’t always like that – there was a period of time for about 7 to 8 years where I did not exercise and ate everything from pizza to Chinese food on a daily basis. I woke up about 5 years ago 30lbs overweight and looking pretty chubby. I am now 40 years old and through clean eating, exercise and the support of my family, I dropped 30lbs and I am now in the best shape of my life.

It is not easy. We have lacrosse practice, wrestling practice, violin, saxophone, piano, chorus – my wife Gretchen coaches’ middle school soccer in the fall and lacrosse in the spring. Gretchen and I do CrossFit as well as run and work out. Then there are the races…The key that we’ve found is making time for the family. Our “selfish” activities (training, races, and competitions) are all worked around our children’s activities. It is not easy but we make the time. In the winter, I get up at 4:40am to train so I can be back home by 6:15 for Gretchen to be out the door by 6:30am to go teach while I get the kids ready for school. If the children do not have any activities in the evening, they train with us. Michael and Mya have both been doing CrossFit for the past year and love it. Gretchen and I do not always get to train together but we all go to races together.

Our front and backyard have become an obstacle training playground for both adults and kids. We have a 20’ rope climb in our front tree. Our backyard has a spear throw, pull up bar, box jump and rings from our back tree. Our children are engaged in healthy activities, root for us at races (and race themselves) and are included in our passions. It is difficult but doable.

I am incredibly lucky to be a Spartan dad because I truly have a Spartan wife and Spartan children.

Dan Krueger

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It’s that guiding hand that is the key. Children have always and will always see what the elders do and imitate them, forever and ever, amen. So logically, showing the next generation the path they should tread would be the best form of parenting. This is something Californian Spartan, Chris Cow, takes very seriously.

“My wife, Anne Plourde, and I did our first Spartan Race in January of 2013, the SoCal Super Spartan in Temecula, and were instantly hooked by the challenge and sheer physicality required.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have her share my passion for OCR, and it was natural for us to want to get the whole family involved. At the end of 2013 in Malibu, we were able to make this happen.  My youngest daughter Lianna did the kids race with a few of her friends, and after running early with my wife for time. I had the pleasure of taking a second lap of the course with my then 14 year old daughter Gabrielle.

“Being along to encourage and help her through the obstacles was a great bonding experience, and seeing her smile through a very tough and freezing cold course was the highlight of my Spartan experience to date. Having the picture of us jumping the fire in perfect synchronicity is a priceless souvenir.

“As the father of two beautiful and intelligent girls, it’s very important to me to instill a love of health and fitness in them, along with the deep sense of satisfaction that only comes from doing difficult things. Both of them completed a half marathon at 11 years old, but Spartan training requires all over body conditioning while encouraging a healthy sense of play doing monkey bars, rock-climbing traverses, and of course, playing in the mud.

“Being a Dad, especially of teenage daughters, is fraught with difficulties and unexpected obstacles in your path.  Navigating these often hits deep emotional waters as your growing child naturally pushes boundaries and declares their independence while you try to keep them safe and encourage them to make wise decisions.  I believe it’s important to strike a balance between setting boundaries and encouraging them to develop into strong, capable and confident young ladies.  Often this involves letting them make their own choices and take risks.  Spartan races are filled with risk, and the burpee penalty provides consequences of their choices while encouraging them to try their hardest.

“While I love the physical challenges presented by the races, one of the things that keeps me coming back again and again are the people I’ve met; on the course, through social groups like the Weeple Army and SISU, and of course in line for a celebratory beer after the race.  Many of their stories and personal journeys are incredibly inspiring, and these are the people I want my daughters to hear about and get to know so they can also be inspired by their accomplishments and/or the difficulties they’ve overcome to get where they are now.

“In September, My wife and I are running the SoCal Beast, then our whole family is returning on Sunday to do the Sprint together. I’m looking forward to sharing this with both my girls this time, as Lianna has graduated beyond the kids race and is ready to climb the rope and conquer the traverse wall like a champion.  I hope that our love of OCR is passed on to the next generation, but even if Lianna and Gabrielle end up not doing more of these races, the memories and lessons instilled during training and on the course will last a lifetime.”

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If you ever see a couple of guys at a Spartan Race that looked so similar that you have to do a double take, chances are it’s The Unbreakable Joneses. With their unmistakable headbands and Thing 1 and Thing 2 daubed across their chests, if you don’t see them doing something bizarre (liked doing the course blindfolded or tethered together, or perhaps carrying huge sledgehammers), it means they’re on only on their first lap. “Only”. What some might not know is that this is an awesome father and son team that have dazzled Spartan racers and spectators for quite some time with their unfathomable spirit and resilience. Eston, the son in the team, puts this all down to one man – his father.

“My Dad has always been the one pushing me to try my best at anything I attempted and guiding me to reach for those goals I may not think are possible. But he doesn’t do this just by talking to me, he does this through example. My Dad has always been right there with me in all the things I try, pushing me to try harder because I know that he is doing his best to beat me. He always set the bar to where he knows I can’t resist giving it my all to pass him. This motivation has meant the world to me in not only physical challenges and endeavors but in life in general.

“My Dad isn’t like normal dads. He doesn’t sit on the sidelines cheering me on. He doesn’t ‘leave it to the young buck’ to go out and do something challenging and worth while. He is always right there with me, participating in any and all of the crazy ideas that I may have. I get the bright idea that I want to run a 100 mile race……. he’s in. I want to go all the way to Vermont to run a race….. he says ‘I’ll do it’. Then when he announces that he wants to run 4 laps of a race and then get up the next day and run even more……. well… how can I say no to that?

Eston considers this his favorite picture of him and his dad. Note the training equipment in close proximity.

 

“They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and when it comes to this competitive spirit I have in me, that is perfectly spot on. My dad is always trying to beat me. We are always pitted against each other in an epic battle for who can win. Whether its lifting a weight, running the trails, swimming a few laps, I always know in the back of my mind that he is gunning for me. This friendly rivalry pushes me to be the best that I can be every day. Because my dad is no joke. He’s not some fragile old man to be taken lightly. There is every chance that he can beat me if I don’t push myself. If I don’t train hard every time. This motivation has been one of the most important things to me in my athletic training. It has made me be better than I ever would have been without him.

“Even though my Dad is my biggest rival, I know that he always has my best interests at heart. I know that he has always got my back and that he would do what is best for me. He is always making sure that I have everything I need to be the best I can be and to succeed in whatever I do. He doesn’t hand it to me on a silver platter, but he makes sure that, with hard work and dedication on my part, that whatever I am trying to do is possible.

“Thank you Dad, for everything that you do for me.”

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Dear Joe,

The shirt reads “Chemo gave me superpowers”

Thank you so much for all that you do.  Not only for regular athletes, but also for people like me. I was diagnosed with bone cancer of the right femur when I was 11-years-old. I underwent 18 months of intensive adult dose chemotherapy and 15+ surgical procedures, but I came out on top. Due to numerous complications, I will spend my life on crutches. It may slow me down (and boy am I slow!), but it won’t stop me. I like to think of it as taking life in “swing.”

I did my first obstacle race in 2012 because a friend decided she didn’t want to go. A random dude next to me at the start line told me there was no way I would be able to do it. But I did. Since then, I have done two mud/obstacle races (local races), one half marathon, and about ten 5Ks, including the Boston Marathon 5K. My husband and I were supposed to do an obstacle race in Massachusetts, but unfortunately the event changed the date and location. Since this change conflicts with another race, we cannot go. I am so bummed! I was really looking forward to tackling a real obstacle race!

I am hoping to do the Spartan Sprint at Fenway someday, where I know my husband will walk along side me as my support crew. It looks awesome! Even though I live in upstate New York, all of my treatments and surgeries were in Boston, so it truly is my second home.

Looking forward to the day I can yell, “AROO!”

Thanks again for all you do! You are definitely making the world a better place.

Devann Murphy

Sign up here for your next Spartan Race and we’ll see you at the finish line!

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Dear Joe,

I’m a pretty normal citizen; a 25 year old female, former collegiate athlete, and now in a career which I absolutely love – teaching. A couple of years ago I began to get involved with running, and truly found my niche. It was something I could do, a way to clear my mind and spend time with myself. It was simply “me time”, and I enjoyed it. I eventually ran a few half marathons and figured “Hey, that was great, good job!” Then that was it, I casually kept up with it, ran a little here and there, but nothing much. Until recently when I found the Spartan Race. Now I have never done a Spartan Race, I have only heard about it and began seriously considering it just a few weeks ago. I saw that the book ‘Spartan Up’ had been released and decided to get myself a copy. Since it’s arrived in the mail, I’ve really had my head in it, and was able to read the majority of it while traveling back to California yesterday, bookmarking  it just after the chapter about the “Cookie Test”.

I was pretty intrigued by the test and immediately thought to myself, “Hey that’s me!” For the last few months I have been taking the cookie, the easy way out, not even giving myself the chance to hold off. For example, I was choosing to sleep in rather than run. Each night I would tell myself, “Ok Alex, you’re going to run in the morning”, but when morning would arrive I’d get up, move around in my nice warm bed, and just tell myself, “Nah, I’ll run later”. But did I ever run later? Nope.  This cycle continued for a while, the pounds packed on again, and I was back to square one.

Alex Lopez was inspired by “Spartan Up!”

But then I read about the ‘Cookie Test’, and it made me think about it a lot. After being exhausted from my trip back home (3 hour drive in the morning, flight to LA, bus ride to Union Station, train ride to Corona, and a car ride to my final destination in Lake Elsinore), I had originally figured the next day I would sleep in. That is what my plan was, and I was sure I wasn’t going to wake up till noon, but somehow now my intentions seemed to be different.

The next morning I woke randomly at 6:30am, slowly rising while I lay in bed. I kept telling myself, “30 minutes more”, but I couldn’t seem to fall back asleep. Then all of a sudden the ‘Cookie Test’ came to mind. I told myself that I wouldn’t take the cookie this early, that I’m going to get up and go run. So running I went. I was pretty shocked at myself, thrilled with the realization that I could talk myself out of sleeping in another 30 minutes, and there I was, outside in the fresh air in my running gear. I wanted to make the run count so I set out for a distance of 5 miles. No big deal, I’ve been running here and there, trying to be consistent, so hey, “I’ve got this” I told myself. The route I took began with a loop, a mile to the left with direct route back which would result in two miles right before I hit the straight away stretch on the other side of the street to achieve three miles.

My run was going great, it felt good to breathe in the fresh air, to take in the scenery, and to enjoy the fact that I was home. I had reached a mile and made the turn to head back to the point where I began, which is the entrance to the street where my house is.  As I’m running, I reach the two mile mark and begin the three mile stretch when I encounter an older woman walking on the sidewalk.  I made the decision to jog off of the sidewalk to pass her, and when jumping back on the sidewalk I felt a painful poke right below the base of my big toe. I had to do  a ‘hippity hop’ and stopped to figure out what was wrong. I immediately took off my shoe, looked inside, and what I saw was a thorn coming through my shoe. Not just your typical thorn, but a 2 inch thorn; where it came from I had no idea. My foot began to throb in the most painful way ever. I tried to take out the thorn but it just wasn’t happening. I finally removed the insole, bent my shoe backwards, and with my teeth pulled it out.

Before putting my shoe back on, I took off my sock to see the damage. I saw blood on the outside of my sock, then saw a puncture wound where the thorn had pierced through my foot. I couldn’t shake the pain, but tried to put my shoe on anyway. So there I was, at was the entrance of the street where my house is, and my first thought was “I could stop my run now, go home, and rest.”  At that point I was really talking myself out of continuing my run. I was about to throw in the towel and just say “F it”, but the next thought that consumed me was “Don’t take the cookie”. I began repeating that phrase over and over in my head, “Don’t take the cookie”. I put my shoe back on, laced it up, and went for the rest of my run.  The throbbing in my foot was immense, it freaking hurt like hell, but I had already decided that I wasn’t going to take the cookie; so I kept going, further, harder. One mile passed, then another, until I reached my goal . After reaching five miles, I decided to continue on and went for a hill workout. I figured the pain that I would feel from my workout would take over the throbbing pain in my foot, and soon enough I had forgotten all about it.
After I completed my five plus mile run and hill workout, I returned home. I immediately took off my shoe the pain returned. But it had drastically diminished because I felt incredibly accomplished; I had pushed through the pain, I fought it, I SPARTAN’D UP! And although walking is a hassle because my foot is still in pain, it’s all good! You know why? Because I didn’t take the cookie.

Alex Lopez

To buy your copy of “Spartan Up!”, click here.

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By Holly Joy Berkey

After much of the country endured a very long and bitter winter, the cold has finally subsided and we now find ourselves eagerly anticipating the warmth of the summer months.  But along with the excitement of balmy summer days and the promise of sunshine and plenty of time spent outdoors, this time of year can also bring with it the jarring realization of forgotten New Year’s Resolutions, a sudden awareness of an overabundance of holiday indulging, and the overwhelming dread of “bikini season”.

Women are constantly bombarded with the pressure to fit a specific body type, especially as the warmest months of the year arrive.  It seems as though a wave of disappointment begins to wash over us as we are forced to peer back at the women on fashion magazines, smiling happily at us as they pose confidently in their tiny bikinis.  The headlines enticing us with their perfect “quick fix” to help us magically drop 10-15 pounds in just a matter of days.  And just like that our brains convince us that we are inferior, telling us that because we have not achieved the body we see before us that we have failed, and a sudden drop in self-confidence leaves us spiraling into a self-loathing depression.

Each year we repeat this cycle, and each year the pressure is on to achieve the perfect bikini body.  Unfortunately it seems that our society teaches us that little to no actual effort is required to attain long lasting results, and instead we are bombarded with ads promising that we can drop a copious amount of weight within just a few days by completing a quick workout and sticking to their prescribed diet.  This is not realistic, nor is it a healthy way to lose weight.

How many women do you know (or perhaps are you one of them?) who suddenly hit the panic button when summer suddenly arrives? Thus begins a manic flurry of massive calorie restrictions, diet pills and workout overkill guaranteed to burn out even the most determined of women.  Even though a few pounds may be initially lost, this weight reduction is fleeting, as sooner or later our bodies need proper nutrition, realistic fitness goals and a healthy approach to maintain lasting results.  The yo-yo effect can wreak havoc not only on your body, but on your self-confidence as well, as you swing back and forth between self-hatred and frantic desperation while trying to maintain a lifestyle based around deprivation.

So how do we overcome this vicious cycle and instead find ourselves approaching summer with confidence?  You may even wonder if this is even possible.  To begin with, committing to a lifestyle which combines healthy eating with a workout plan which is consistent and realistic is key.  Our bodies aren’t meant to gain and lose excessive amounts within a short period of time, but a pound or two lost a week by means of a healthy diet and exercise is much more likely to stay off in the long run.  We also need to realize that these goals take time.  Just as it takes time to gain weight (which is why we generally don’t realize the vast impact that we’ve made on our bodies until more pounds than we care to admit have crept onto our bodies), it also takes time to lose weight.  I’ve met countless women who have begun a journey towards better health, who become frustrated when results do not instantly happen, and then they give up, convinced that the desired weight loss will never occur.  It’s then that they then tend to revert to the “quick fix diets” which unfortunately will never truly deliver the results that are so desired.

But not only do women need to focus on committing to a lifestyle focused on healthy diet and exercise that is a long term investment, but also (and this is much easier said than done), we need to stop being so hard on ourselves.

I recently saw an incredibly inspiration video that had been shared in the Spartan Chicked Facebook group, and it moved me to think about how hard we as women are on ourselves, and a lot of times on each other as well.  The video hosted Tarynn Brumfitt, a woman who has struggled with body image issues for years, much like the majority of women in our society today.  As a former body builder, she realized that even with the “perfect body” she still found herself lacking confidence as to how she felt about herself.  She then went on to become a mother, which produced curves that left her feeling much less than perfect.  Upon taking on a project to ask 100 women to describe themselves in one word, she was horrified as each woman she asked replied with a self-loathing description; “Lumpy, Fat, Ugly, Average, Stumpy..” these are just a few of the replies she heard, and she began to wonder if her own daughter would someday feel the same way about her own body, refusing the see the beauty that she too possesses.  This changed something in Tarynn, and she has now committed to loving her body, no matter her shape, and began the “Embrace” movement, which is raising money for a documentary that will be centered on teaching women to learn to love their bodies.

Tarynn’s story is just one of many in which women are choosing to fight against the urge to fall into a pattern of self-hatred, fad dieting, and unrealistic workout goals.  What we as women need to do is band together to support one another in our individual objectives.  We need to encourage, love, and advocate for each other, and we need to commit to loving ourselves as well.  This isn’t easy, but it’s possible, and surrounding ourselves with other women who are devoted to this same mindset will help us be that much more successful in our own personal fitness and health goals.

I recently saw a great meme online that said, “How do you get a bikini body? Simple.  Put a bikini on your body.”  Several drawings of women of all shapes and sizes in bikinis were then displayed.  What a great message!  Yes, I do believe we should all strive to be as healthy as we can, but we also must realize that we are all at different stages of that journey.  Just because you may not look like a model on a magazine, does not mean that the great things that you are working toward achieving shouldn’t be celebrated!  Just don’t give up; you can do what you set out to do!

So should you rock that bikini?  Yes!  Wear it confidently!  Love the body you have, and keep working steadily toward your goals, I know you’ve got this! Spartan Chicked women are strong, confident, and dedicated, and as long as you don’t forget how beautiful you truly are, you’ll live with confidence as you continue on your journey of healthy, happy living.

~Holly Joy Berkey

www.muddymommy.com

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As he took his place in the semi-final for the 400 meters at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, many eyes rested on Derek Redmond. He was at his peak and was widely anticipated to podium, if not win outright.

Many months – years, even – of training were behind him, all serving to sculpt and shape him, leading him to the path which would have Olympic gold at the end of it. He was only 400 meters from the end of this path.

Despite having a career that was riddled with injuries, he was no stranger to the podium and the clinking of medals around his neck. He was already a champion of the Commonwealth games, taking gold in the 4×400 meters, gold at the European Championships and both silver and gold in the World Championships. All that was missing was the Olympic medal.

The gun sounded and after a quick, clean start, he was cruising. He recalls;

“For once I had no injuries, despite eight operations in four years, and I’d won the first two rounds without breaking a sweat – including posting the fastest time in the first round of heats. I was confident and when the gun went off I got off to a good start. I got into my stride running round the first turn and I was feeling comfortable. Then I heard a popping sound. I kept on running for another two or three strides then I felt the pain. I thought I’d been shot, but then I recognized the agony.” 

“I’d pulled my hamstring before and the pain is excruciating: like someone shoving a hot knife into the back of your knee and twisting it. I grabbed the back of my leg, uttered a few expletives and hit the deck.”

Going down, clutching his leg and trying to collect his thoughts, he glanced up and saw that all the other competitors were out of sight. His chance of winning or even getting to the podium, were over. His Olympic dream ended after around 17 seconds.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening after all the training I’d put in. I looked around to see where the rest of the field were, and they had only 100 meters to go. I remember thinking if I got up I could still catch them and qualify. The pain was intense. I hobbled about 50 meters until I was at the 200 meters mark. Then I realized it was all over. I looked round and saw that everyone else had crossed the finishing line. But I don’t like to give up at anything – not even an argument, as my wife will tell you – and I decided I was going to finish that race if it was the last race I ever did.”

Doctors, other medics and even officials were on the track, waving at him to stop, but he simply refused to quit, despite already knowing it was over. With roughly 100 meters to go, a man ran on the track, barging past an official that tried to stop him. He ran up behind Derek and threw an arm around him, holding him up. It was his father, Jim.

“I just said, ‘Dad, I want to finish, get me back in the semi-final.’ He said, ‘OK. We started this thing together and now we’ll finish it together.’ He managed to get me to stop trying to run and just walk and he kept repeating, ‘You’re a champion, you’ve got nothing to prove.’ ”

He didn’t know it at the time, as the pain in his leg was screaming louder than the entire Olympic stadium, but everyone watching was cheering, a standing ovation to the man that had so cruelly had his chance at his dream snatched away from him.

“We hobbled over the finishing line with our arms round each other, just me and my dad, the man I’m really close to, who’s supported my athletics career since I was seven years old. I’ve since been told there was a standing ovation by the 65,000 person crowd, but nothing registered at the time. I was in tears and went off to the medical room to be looked at, then I took the bus back to the Olympic village.”

Four years earlier, an Achilles injury prevented him from running at the Olympics in Seoul. His name bore the letters ‘DNS’ – Did Not Start – next to it. In Barcelona, he was adamant that DNF would not appear next to his name.

‘When I saw my doctor he told me I’d never represent my country again. I felt like there’d been a death. I never raced again and I was angry for two years.  Then one day I just thought: there are worse things than pulling a muscle in a race, and I just decided to get on with my life.”

From there, Derek’s passion for sport meant he would try a new avenue. His love of basketball proved to be an outlet and such was his skill that after trials with various teams, he went on to play for the Great Britain basketball team. Not forgetting what his doctor told him about never representing his country again, Derek sent him a signed photo of the Great Britain team. His impish sense of humor rushing to the surface.

“Today I don’t feel anger, just frustration. The footage has since been used in adverts by Visa, Nike and the International Olympic Committee – I don’t go out of my way to watch it, but it isn’t painful anymore and I have the Visa ad on my iPad.

“If I hadn’t pulled a hamstring that day I could have been an Olympic medalist, but I love the life I have now. I might not have been a motivational speaker or competed for my country at basketball, as I went on to do. And my dad wouldn’t have been asked to carry the Olympic torch in 2012, which was a huge honor for him.”

Derek Redmond is truly an honorary Spartan in our eyes. An unflinching, unquestioning belief of never quitting, epitomized in one man.

Do you have this mentality? Prove it and we’ll see you at the finish line.

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By Pro Team Member Chris Rutz

“Everything is bigger in Texas” is phrase that Spartan Race was determined to live up to in Austin. The race returned to Reveille Peak Ranch for its third year and drew in excess of 12,000 athletes. New this year was the Super distance. In past year only the Sprint distance race was run. This year the Super was added. All racers on Saturday ran the Super and all runners on Sunday ran the Sprint. This created the opportunity for 2/3 of the Trifecta in one weekend. It also creates the opportunity to earn a Trifecta without leaving the state on Texas. The Dallas Beast will be later this year on 11/1.

The Sprint course was essentially the first 1/3 and last 1/3 of the Super course. The Super course added a number of challenges not seen by those that ran the Sprint. The highlight of the Super course was a hill climb on slick rock that reminded many of the runners of sections of trail near Moab, UT. Much of the added distance of the Super included off trail bushwhacking and stream crossings. In addition the Super racers had an Atlas Stone carry and double the distance on the tractor pull to name a few of the additional challenges.

Both courses had some significant challenges. The climbing ropes seemed to be especially slick. Perhaps it was the Texas mud. The Spear also seemed to have a higher failure rate than normal. In a twist which runners hate and obstacle racers love, most of the “burpee” obstacles were clustered at the end of the course. The Traverse Wall, the Hercules Hoist, the Rope Climb and the Spear were all within the last ¼ mile of the race. Just before entering the festival area where these obstacles were clustered, racers were challenged with a 150 yard swim section. PFD and a bypass were available for non swimmers. This definitely is a favorite venue by most the Spartan faithful.

The Elite heats on each day were won by the same athletes,  John Yatsko of Flagstaff, AZ and Rose Wetzel of the Spartan Pro Team from Seattle, WA.  They each took home $2,500 for their victories, $2,000 on Saturday and $500 on Sunday. Prize money for Saturday’s race was funded by Navy Federal Credit Union. Rounding out the top 3 on Saturday were, Hobie Call (Utah) $1,000 and Chad Trammell (Washington)  $500 and Chikorita De Lego (Mexico) $1,000 and KK Paul (Arizona) $500. On Sunday’s Sprint, home town racer Isaiah Vidal and Elliott Megquier, both on the Spartan Pro Team placed second and third, with Chikorita De Lego and Laura Lunardi taking those same positions for the ladies.

It was a perfect weekend for a race in Texas. The weather was just right, the racers were pumped and the course delivered on the promises of Spartan Race. Next up are the Tri-State Sprints.

See you at the finish line! 

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On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, the world stopped and watched in open-mouthed horror at the images shown on TV. For Montana residents Rob and Sassy Giles, that day will be etched in their minds forever, as despite being nowhere near the east coast, that was the day Rob was diagnosed with Squamish Cell Carcinoma on his tonsils. He had cancer.

Advised immediately to find a doctor that specialized in this field, they happily stumbled across Dr. Jeffrey Haller MD, an otolaryngologist who had been working precisely in the field for the past ten years that Rob needed help with. What made everything click that little bit more easily was that he had recently moved from Salt Lake City to Missoula, Montana – practically on the doorstep of Rob and Sassy. The surgery was done at St. Pat’s hospital – a procedure that took 14 hours.

The operation went well and Rob spent the following 4 days heavily sedated in order to recuperate. Another 6 days passed before the decision was reached that he was well enough to go home. The medical team advised him that they wanted to keep him there until he could swallow.

Their remarkable cheerfulness they attribute to their unwavering faith. Even while Rob was having therapy in Arizona, Sassy flew home to have her own fight against melanoma cancer removed from her leg. This impossibly strong couple fighting hard against obstacles put in their way knowing that He was with them the whole time.

Although he was now in familiar surroundings, he noticed that his ability to swallow was diminishing. It turned out that his treatment of chemotherapy and the radiation had destroyed his epiglottis. Sadly, tumors continued to grow in Rob’s mouth, so he was unable to open his mouth. Halfway through his treatment, spots were found on Rob’s lungs. Since then, Rob has now been fed entirely by way of a tube fitted to his stomach.

Reflecting on his nutrition, his wife Sassy explained, “I make all of his food.  Rob eats very healthy food.  I am a fitness instructor as well as a figure competitor and Rob uses the same food as me. So for example for his breakfast he will put in the blender – yes all together- oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, kale, bananas, strawberries, quinoa.  Puree the whole batch and seal-a-meal it to freeze.  So I made 11 seal-a-meal bags for breakfast lunch and dinner.  Dinner will be fish, beef, chicken or salmon, lots of veggies (broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.), brown rice or quinoa and fruit.  I add avocado or hummus too!  He doesn’t eat sugar at all, no reason too, can’t taste any of the food since it goes directly to the stomach. We put it all in the cooler, frozen and he just thaws them out under hot water and uses a syringe to push the food into his stomach.  Interesting way to eat huh!?”

The treatment hit Rob so hard that he was, for all intents and purposes out of commission in regards to work. This didn’t, however, ever stop him from going to church, even if it meant leaning on a friend or family member so that he could attend. His remarkable humor was evident throughout, especially when he would refer to the outpatient clinic as, “The Recliner Club”. Despite being understandably frustrated, he would never complain to the nurses and would crack jokes and always maintained his jovial sense of humor.

To this day, Rob hasn’t swallowed for seven and a half years and continues to fight battles on all fronts. Anemia, Shingles, foot and hand damage from the treatment he went through have all made life difficult for Rob, but throughout it all, he’s driven on, fought back and continued to smile the entire time. In March of 2007, Rob and Sassy visited Israel where they were baptized in the Jordan river and even renewed their wedding vows in Cana.

It was around November of 2008 when Rob noticed that he wasn’t getting enough air to breathe. He was concerned another tumor was growing. After being rushed to the hospital, a doctor saw that scar tissue had been growing and was effectively closing his windpipe. The treatment for this was to fit a tract tube. Yet another blow to the man already fighting immeasurably high odds.

While what he gained with the tract made breathing easier, his sodium and iron levels in his blood left him feeling weak. After 4 transfusions with iron and salt put into his system he was right back on track. Not long after this, he was presented with a new mountain bike on Father’s Day. Although understandably hesitant given what his body had gone through, he sat on the bike and went for it. His iron counts were good and after a while, finding he had gained 25 lbs. and was feeling a little stronger, his rides now measure between 20-30 miles at a time.

“Suffering comes. It’s bound to happen”, says Sassy, “but it’s how we respond to it that makes all the difference in the world. Rob chooses to remain faithful to God, committing himself to his faithful creator and continuing to do good with as many days as he has.”

Rob’s strength and will of steel will be tested this weekend when he tackles the Montana Sprint. Never one to shy away from something put in his way, he’s ready for a fight. Sassy smiles when she hears people shrug off a Spartan Race as, too difficult. Having already brawled with whatever demon that came across his path, he’s rolling up his sleeves and clenching his fists for another round. He’s already learned what it is to persevere, as Sassy knows.

“He did say to me that the one thing he would like to see from this, is that when people hear the most horrible words you could ever hear, which is “You have cancer”. Rob wants them to know there is always hope, but you have to fight for it and you have to believe.  His motto during his treatment was, “I just have to beat it by one breath and I win! And he did win!”

See you at the finish line…

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Dear Joe,

My story starts in spring of 2012.  At that time I was in great shape and led a very active life.  I was running, doing Crossfit, and any other endurance event I could.  I didn’t smoke or drink excessively. I ate healthy but did indulge in a burger and fries once in a while.  I developed a wisdom tooth infection and started to feel unmotivated. After a few weeks I had a hard time running even a mile or two. This should’ve been a warning sign but it never occurred to me that I was sick. I had my wisdom tooth removed and was given antibiotics. My infection started to get worse when the roof of my mouth started swelling. I was fatigued all of the time. I went back to the oral surgeon and he suggested a blood test after I told him I was feeling worse and getting fevers and night sweats.  I went for a blood test and the results came back abnormal.  They needed to do more tests.  The next call I received was to pack a bag and head to the Kaiser Permanente emergency room. Still not realizing what was to come, I threw three pairs of underwear in my backpack thinking I would be home in a few days.

Once admitted I heard those three words…”you have leukemia.”  Everything moved quickly after that moment.  A biopsy needed to be done to determine what type and the treatment protocol.  When the results came back, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.  I knew very little about this disease but learned a lot about it really quick.  Luckily, my girlfriend and best friend, Dee, was there with me every step of the way. I could not have survived this without her.  The seriousness of the situation still didn’t register with me.  My biggest fear was the fear of the unknown. One of the first questions they asked me was if I had any siblings. In mind I was thinking “yes, I have a sister, we get along, I’m all set.”  Little did I know that a sibling being a perfect match as a marrow donor was less than 30%. My induction phase of chemotherapy started the next day and I was introduced to my new best friend my IV pole.

There are so many details I can’t remember but Dee helps fill in the blank spots of what occurred. So what I thought was going to be a short stay ended being an extended stay of almost 27 days.  Most of that time was waiting for my body to recover and achieve remission. I received confirmation that my sister was a perfect match and that the next step for long term survival would be a marrow transplant. This was the next chapter in my wild ride. After being discharged, I needed to complete numerous tests to prepare my body for the upcoming challenge.  Target date for the transplant was 10/11/12 so I had about a month to get my affairs in order.

One thing that helped me prepare for this was meeting survivors.  Hearing their stories about what was to come eased my fear of the unknown.  Looking on the internet didn’t help because there weren’t that many good endings to this story.  My whole attitude was I’m sick, let’s do whatever it takes to fix me.  I traveled to City of Hope on 9/30/12 for my transplant. I went through radiation 3 times a day for 4 days, and a round of VP16.  Transplant day came and my rebirthday was 10/10/12. The next step was waiting for my counts to rise so every morning when the nurses wrote on that whiteboard, it was like waiting for lottery numbers.  I was discharged on 10/29/12. The next 100 days were crucial.  Hopefully my body would accept my sister’s cells without too much rejection.  I remember a lot of sleeping and fatigue.  Eventually I started feeling better and returned back to physical activity in early March when I completed the Urban Warrior Dash in San Diego.  This was huge for me because it is what I missed most.

Being in isolation for almost two months was very humbling. I admit taking my good health for granted. 

I am now 19 months post diagnosis and this experience has opened new doors for me.  I realize I’m lucky to have come this far.  I’ve met amazing people and have learned to appreciate everything I have especially family and friends that have supported me.  I’ve started a nonprofit called b.strong to help promote awareness about marrow transplants and living an active lifestyle.  I’ve made a promise to pay it forward in any way I can.  I volunteer at local events.  I speak at events for City of Hope and the Leukemia Lymphoma Society to share my story and let them know that their fundraising efforts have helped save my life.  I am currently campaigning for the LLS Man of the Year.  I want to help find a cure so no one else has to endure what I have gone through.

My relationship with Spartan started with the first race in SoCal. I wanted a challenge and that was it. My active lifestyle continued with other events including various races, obstacle races and Crossfit. After completing the first Spartan military sprint in fort Carson, CO I started to feel fatigued. A few months later I was diagnosed with leukemia. Going through treatment has some similarities to training for Spartan races. A lot is mental fortitude and I was lucky to be in pretty good physical condition to endure the intense chemotherapy and radiation. I did everything in my power to help myself fight the disease. I made a promise to myself that when I was better, I would find a way to pay it forward. The b.strong foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for leukemia and the importance of joining the marrow registry. It is a passion of mine to help save lives by sharing my story.

Thanks to Joe Desena and the whole Spartan Race family for supporting those that have to fight a little harder and inspiring people to come out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves. Aroo!

Bernard Llave

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