Dear Joe,

My name is Nathaniel Fuentes and I’m a Santa Clara Pueblo Native (Tewa) from New Mexico. From 2003 until 2013 I was a massage therapist/bodyworker, when in 2013 I decided that I wanted to expand who I was and what I could become.

My career as a therapist is something that I could not complain about. It had provided, entertained, enlightened and inspired me, but when I went through being partially paralyzed as I’ll mention a little later – and the recovery – it made doing bodywork a very physically unpleasant occupation. Today, I no long practice in a clinic or from my home office but instead manufacture a pain salve that I created and later refined during the days of pain and discomfort in order to free myself from the pharmaceutical opiates that I had started to become addicted to for the management of the pain and discomfort that I was going through. Currently I’m in the continued process of repairing and evolving from where I was to where I now can be.

I finished my first Spartan Race, a Military Sprint in May 2014 at Ft. Carson, CO and I’m now training for the Spartan Trifecta that’s being held on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii this August. I started training in October 2013 for the Spartan Race, after losing 45lbs while being on a traditional Pueblo food diet.

My starting weight was 160lbs from 215lbs and a 35% BMI and running a mile took me over 15+ minutes. Now in June 2014 after gaining 45lbs I weigh 200-205 with a BMI of 23 and I average a mile in 6:30, while running up to 12 miles and hitting the gym almost daily.

Why I do this? Besides wanting to be a healthier individual? In 2011, I was diagnosed with an incurable disease known as Degenerative Disc Disease. This a disease that deteriorates the cartilage between the bones and leaves those who suffer from it in discomfort or pain. Because of the disease’s accelerated progress, it left me paralyzed for three months. With the inability to move from my bed, from my house, to walk, run, jump and even hold the ones I love, freedom and independence would no longer be the same. Battling through depression, self-doubt and the inability to move with wherever and whenever I liked, combined with the realism that in the near future the use of one or both my legs could be gone, I decided and made a change. This change would be to push myself to my limits and beyond, to enjoy the gifts that we all take for granted like the ability to walk, to jump, to run, and to not cower from my pain but to use it to pick myself up, to rebuild from the ground up who I am, and no matter what the outcome.

Thanks, Spartan Race

Here is a link of a teaser trailer for the Road to the Spartan Trifecta.

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Showing “tough love” is perhaps hard on the eye, but arguably the most sincere form of love a father can give. Taken directly from the same principle applied to boys in Sparta when they were trained to become warriors, the nurturing arm around the shoulders wasn’t always there. The long term lessons the child learned would prove, ultimately, that the best interests were always at heart, despite being hidden behind a veil of something they didn’t like.

A familiar face of not just the east coast races, but of the Death Race, too, the man known to everyone as Steve-O Opie Bones. But behind the wild hair and unmistakable beard, lies something a little more serious. His number one priority has been and always will be his two boys.

“Being a Spartan Dad was an easy decision. My main focus in life is and will always be my kids. I never sugar coat anything with them and always tell them the way the world really operates. My goal is to make them better then me. I want them to experience all that life has to offer. They have a ‘never quit’ attitude. It is a code that they live by daily. Kieran and Colin both ran their first kids race in 2012 while I was running the Beast. Since then, they have raced at Fenway Park, Citifield, Philly, and will be doing Tuxedo this weekend. While they were at Citifield this year, they also had the life changing opportunity to assist with the Special Needs Race. They have been surrounded by many incredible people during these races and many have become role models to them. They have learned to respect our Nation’s Vets and Honor our Wounded Warriors.”

Play time with Steve is a little different to most fathers.

But his passion for the right thing doesn’t just stop at his children. He points his finger at the country and remarks how a father figure is missing across this great nation.

“I hate to say it, but there are so many other countries who look at us as being “fat, lazy Americans.”  Take a look around and give it some thought. They might just be right. If you are allowing your son or daughter to sit around, eat junk food, watch tv and play video games, you are doing them a disservice. You are doing the entire U.S. a disservice. There are so many preventable and controllable diseases that plague our society. Take responsibility for your actions and get your kids moving. Your kids will thank you.

“I recently read a story about a Father that had his son carry a 23 pound rock as punishment for watching too many videos and not doing his homework. It is difficult for me to form an opinion on this when I do not have all of the facts. I do, however feel that we are too soft with our children. The fact that everyone gets an award and that everyone passes does not sit well with me. Getting away with the bare minimum just doesn’t cut it. Everyone, adults and children alike have more to give than we do. Our culture proliferates this thought that it is okay to quit. To not try harder than the bare minimum.

If you are a Dad and you are not racing with your children, you are doing it wrong.”

Michael Mills, the first Spartan Pro Adaptive Athlete – and good friend of Steve-O – shares his sentiments entirely. Tough love is good love. Although maybe the child won’t appreciate it at first, when they are old enough to realize – when it matters – it’s then when those loving seeds that were planted all those years ago come to fruition.

Steve and Michael worked together at the Death Race.

“People look at me and tell me I look just like my dad and that we have a lot of the same ways. I take that as a compliment. I remember growing up and dad was always there. He always made time for us. He would play games with us and he never worried about getting dirty in the sandpile. He always took us through the toy isle and would sneak in a Hot Wheels or two in the grocery cart when mom was not looking.

When you are young you don’t realize at the time why your dad had you do choirs or made you work for rewards, but as an adult, you appreciate those small life lessons. In the fall dad would make us go to the woods, make us help and cut firewood for the winter. We would have us load and unload the truck full of firewood. We would even have to go out at night in the cold and collect firewood at the time, I felt like it was slave labor. But little did I know it would be something that I took into my adulthood and to this day, I thank my dad for making me do things like that.”

“Another thing I can remember is being taught to say ‘yes sir’ or ‘yes ma’am.’ We were taught to be respectful and that was instilled in us at a very young age. He instilled the values of how to treat others and that no matter what you always had to do your best.  Everything my dad taught me as I grew up, I use today. My dad taught me to be a dad and I did not even know it and for that I am thankful.”

“A few weeks before I was in the car crash that paralyzed me, I had told my dad that I wanted to be different and that I did not want to be like the others. Dad told me to be careful what I wished for, I just might get it. Fast forward a month, as I am laying in the hospital on life support, I was fighting for my life……. Shortly after coming out of my coma and where I was actually alert, Dad leaned over to me one night and reminded me of the conversation that we had about being different. He said to me, ‘remember you told me you want to be different than anyone else, well, you got your wish! Now go out and live.’ Dad did not allow me to feel sorry for myself. He did not allow the wheelchair to own my life. He taught me how to own my own life and not allow something like a wheelchair or being paralyzed consume me and take my life away! I remember him making me push on my own in the thick mud after a rain from our front door to our grandmothers across the road. It was to build strength and to show me that it could be done. He taught me to be independent. Dad made me strong!

“Now, here I am a dad and my oldest of three, Brandon and I have quite a bond. At first, we tried all sorts of things. We tried cub scouts that did not work. We tried baseball that did not work. Then, we found Spartan Race. I decided almost two years I would compete in my first Spartan Race. Brandon wanted to try the kid’s race as I competed in the GA Spartan Sprint last year.  After we finished each of our own races, Brandon told me he wanted to follow in my footsteps. He made his choice; he wanted to be a SPARTAN. Now as a dad, this is what I wanted to hear. He found what he wanted to do and it was something we both had in common. This year alone, we have completed 4 OCR events together, he and I have completed our Spartan Sprint and our Super and Beast are planned already. This year, I will earn my first TRIFECTA alongside Brandon. I have seen him grow and grow in the last 2 years. He went from shy, quiet and almost afraid of trying new things, to the adventurous, dare devil that he is today. I put down his growth to Spartan Race and us having this in common. We both look at life obstacles and we take them on. That is what a Spartan father and son do!

“I have learned a lot in my life and I have been taught so much. All these things I have learned, I am passing them down to my children just as my father did for me and his father did for him. Passing down values is more important than leaving someone a lump sum of money. The money spends and eventually goes away, the lessons and values we pass down, never go away. Watching your children grow and become stronger each day and watching them become their own person has been a blessing. Seeing your children succeed and knowing you had a part in that is the greatest reward. Being a Dad or a father, or whatever you want to call it, has been my greatest reward. No medal, no paycheck, nothing can match that.

If you haven’t already done so, speak to your father today if you can. Pick up the phone, go to his house, whatever the case may be. Then thank him.


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Dear Joe,

Hello! As I’m sure you guys there are Spartan HQ receive a lot of these emails, I still wanted to share my story and how much of an impact your organization is. My name is Sean Fitzpatrick and a good portion of my life young life has been filled with struggles and setbacks, some out of my control and some not. In 1st grade I had my first kidney stone which had to be surgically removed, something doctors said was very very rare for a child of that age. I continued to get kidney stones every year and still do. I’m 21 years old and have had 25 stones thus far, some passing on their own and some having to be surgically removed. The frequency of having these stones made exercising very difficult as it would put my on bed rest for extended periods of time and I eventually stopped exercising all together, thus leading me to weighing 250lbs at the age of 18.

I discovered Spartan Race three years ago when I at my heaviest weight and the lowest point in my life. However, the idea of the Spartan Race resonated deeply within me – seeing many people of different struggles completing your races, and the strong motivation your company displays for it’s racers. It was then I decided to make a change and bring life back into my life. I was determined to run a race that coming summer. It started with running down the block and not being able to catch my breath, to running a 13 minute mile, to running multiple miles at a time. I kept track of everything I ate, weight lifted, 5 days a week, running 6 days a week. As my weight went down, my happiness sky rocketed. I told myself over and over how I was going to run that race for myself and accomplish something for me. Four weeks before the Sprint, I felt an all too familiar pain in my lower back and I knew what it meant. I drank a gallon of water a day in hopes of passing the stone, but it never came and the pain grew and grew. As the race crept closer I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it, so I had to put it on the back burner and I was crushed. I eventually passed the stone, but my pride still took a hit, but I still have one thing: A new found confidence, a new found self, and a new found life. I wouldn’t put my physical fitness to the waste side any more.

Flash forward three years, and I’m now, as of June 5th, 2014, weighing in at a healthy 175lbs, running 25+ miles a week, weight lifting/training 6 days a week, hiking frequently, and experiencing all the joys that come with being able to have control over your own body. I still get kidney stones (to my doctor’s dismay), but I push trough the pain when I can, and it actually helps pass the stones with no complications.

On 6/01/14 I ran my first Sprint at Tuxedo Ridge, I put my all into it. At the starting line I wasn’t as confident as I thought I was going to be, looking at fellow Spartans and seeing how confident they looked. But as I began I pushed past many in my heat and blew through each obstacle, not failing any of them. Once I reached the finish line I was overcome by my personal accomplishment – I ran 95% of the race, uphill and down, completed every obstacle without any problem, and helped individuals who needed it. My girlfriend and friend were literally shocked how well I did ! I placed in the top 7% overall, something I never thought would be possible. I’m now on my way to earning my first (of many) trifecta’s!!!

I know this was a long-winded story, but I just had to share with you guys at HQ because it’s because of you guys that I was given the tools to turn my life around. Everything the Spartan Race stands for is something I wish to bring to my life, and the lives of those around me.

Overall, I just want to say thank you.

Sean Fitzpatrick 

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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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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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“I spent 18 years as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and Paramedic and not once did I think “that could be me lying there”. See, after a while when you think you have seen it all and then you see something even more amazing, be it good or bad, you begin to get the “that’s my job” mentality. I don’t want medals, I don’t want recognition, I just want to help rescue the family dog from the house fire, take the bad guy off the street, and give that family another chance to make the most out of the time they have together. That’s why we do what we do.”

Christopher Edgar reflects on almost two decades of a job he loved to do. Something that he did, not just for the paycheck, but because it was a part of him. Something inside that drove him to be there. A calling, as it were.

“All my life I was one that loved to help people. Most of us in the public safety fields will tell you that is why we do it. Okay, okay some of us are just adrenaline junkies. In fact most of are that as well. We spend years training and perfecting our craft so that we may save the lives of others and so that at the end of the shift we go home to our families.”

On July 3rd, 2010, Christopher was going about his duties – a day like any other – when he was called to respond to one of two accidents that were very close to each other. One was a road traffic collision, the other one of a child drowning. He responded to the latter and when arriving on scene, was greeted by the predictable, but unwelcome sight of bumper-to-bumper traffic around 2 miles long and two cars wide. In order to get to the scene, he took the median and with the ambulance in his rear view mirror, he was on his way to the scene. At that point, everything went black. 

“I woke up in the ICU of the Trauma Center two weeks later, casts on both arms, IV in the side of my neck, Foley Catheter in place – the tube that goes into your bladder to release your urine – and unable to move my legs. I thought to myself, ‘this can’t be good’. My wife told me that I had been in a motorcycle crash that a truck had pulled out in front of me. I asked, ‘who won, me or the truck?’ She chuckled and started crying.”

“I asked what was wrong with me and that began a long conversation. I had fractured both my femurs, fractured my pelvis, fractured both forearms and 3 ribs, fractured and dislocated both wrists and the right elbow, had concussion and had been in a coma for 2 weeks. During which time I had a pulmonary embolism (a blood in the lungs) and pneumonia 3 times. It was a grim outcome for a while. I had undergone a 13 hour surgery to repair all my injuries, titanium rods in both my femurs, bracket and screws in my pelvis, plates and screws in my arms. I still think that Dr. Lee Leddy is the greatest ortho ever. He was the poor unfortunate surgeon on call that weekend.”

A driver in a pick-up truck had seen the ambulance responding and had tried to beat it across an intersection that came before the scene Christopher was responding to. Sadly, he did not see Christopher on his motorcycle and the rest, they say, is history.

Another 4 days was spent in a “step down” unit at the trauma center and eventually he was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. A private room was set up and the hospital even arranged another bed for his wife so that she could stay every night. Trying to make light of his situation, Christopher resorted to doing sit ups in his bed and he wasn’t allowed to work any injured parts of his body. “Finally the six pack that all the women love! Never quite made it.”, he quips.

“Once I was strong enough to sit up on my own and hold myself up with just my abs we started working on the important stuff, sliding over to the bedside commode, which isn’t easy when you can’t use your arms and your legs are useless. The muscle loss that was experienced while comatose for 2 weeks was unbelievable. I was unable to support my own weight at all and needed assistance. Once I was able to move to the commode with the assistance of my wife they let me go home. I was still confined to a hospital bed that was set up in the family room and she slept on the couch next to me.”

Water therapy began immediately, albeit “without the addition of a Tiki Bar – that would have made it better”, that would target leg and head movements. Pool squats, bicycles and shuffling from side to side worked the legs. Once that was completed, he was moved to a recumbent bike and going right back to square one of learning to stand up using a walker and doing chair squats, walking with the walker, stairs and also wall slides. With time, Christopher moved on to improving his gait, balance and stamina. This ordeal took around an entire year, but this was just the beginning.

“There was also the issue of my arms which spent 8 weeks in casts – Washington Redskins red I might add – and the pins that were holding my wrists together. At least with my legs they were not in casts and we were working the range of motion to prevent loss of the range of motion. The arms however were a different story. When everything was removed there was a time that all we could do was work the joints back and forth to loosen them to begin strength training. This was a slow tedious painful process. Then the task of improving coordination began, jig saw puzzles, playing with putty, screw drivers, rubber bands, holding a pen. All used as therapy for my arms. After about 10 months of therapy I returned to work in EMS part-time light duty in the training office. It had become obvious that there was no intention to get me back to work the streets.”

Towards the end of his physical therapy, Christopher made the decision to change careers and moved to the emergency management department. One of the reasons behind this was that if he hadn’t, he would have been put on disability and had not only a limited income, but also that of a quality of life. This was not an option for Christopher who had already fought through so much. With 18 years behind him in the field, sitting behind a desk made him feel like “a caged tiger”, but he simply refused to live a limited life. Sadly, his story didn’t end there.

“My wife and I had been having problems before the crash and were very close to filing for divorce. The accident however seemed to bring us closer together and make us stronger, I thought. Turns out for the first 48 hours after the crash she was trying to decide if she was going to stay with me or leave. Turns out after talking to an injury attorney she decided to stay. The power of the almighty dollar. Things were actually good for a while but soon reverted to the way things were before and soon we separated and filed for divorce.

While waiting for the settlement from the accident we fell behind on bills and in order to protect the settlement I had to file bankruptcy. The settlement money was not going to be nearly what we thought and having taken a 1/3 cut in pay for the desk job there was no way I was ever going to be able to save the house. This was the absolute rock bottom of my life. I had lost almost everything I had. The only thing I had left was my son and that was going to change soon also. But before that I would have a medical set back that had me contemplating life.”

His cholesterol had unfortunately risen to a level considered dangerous and his physician had him put on a medication that would bring it down. Sadly, the medication brought upon rabdomyolosis, which is a condition that sees deterioration of muscle tissue including that of the heart. In the following months it came to a point where even walking the stairs in his house became an ordeal that would warrant taking a rest halfway through.

“I thought this was all related to the accident and was not sure I wanted to continue life like this. I was sleeping 14 hours a day, late for work most of the time and had no energy when I got home. Then someone at work pointed out that it was probably due to the cholesterol medication. I went and saw my doctor and yes it was due to my medication. I stopped taking the medication but the damage was done. I was almost as weak as I was when I first got out of the hospital. Physical therapy was about to start all over again, but know it had a cardiac component and I did not have any help. I started walking, a half mile a day at first and slowly worked my up to 2 miles over the next few months. I was not going to let this get the better of me and with support from family and friends I started a long trip back from total weakness.”

“My son had been my rock through this whole thing. Everything I did was ultimately for him. So we could still have fun together and live a good life. When it came close to graduating high school in May 2013 he made the decision to move to VA to live with his mother for a while. I knew this day was coming and it was a bitter sweet moment. My baby boy had grown up and I got to watch him grow into a wonderful young man. But now it was time to let him go. I had all kinds of time on my hands now.”

Christopher started reaching out to old friends, acquaintances and co-workers that he had lost contact with throughout the ordeal he’d been going through. One of these co-workers had been training for a Spartan Beast. Intrigued, he looked online to see what the furor was about. A mix of excitement and horror washed over him. The nervous excitement that one feels when danger beckons you to try.

“The more I thought about it the more I thought “well I have nothing better to do why not start exercising. In July 2013 I joined a boot camp with another friend, oh my god, what have I gotten myself into? At the same time while starting the boot camp I was stopping the narcotic pain meds from the crash. Bad idea. I found muscles I had not used since high school football. And what the hell is this burpee thing? Oh my god, it is from football. The next 2 days I was in agony. I hurt all over. I thought to myself “I am too old for this”, but I went back again and again. Yes, it hurt but it was a good kind of hurt. I started to feel better, had more energy, I was getting stronger. This picked up where the PT left off. I was telling my friend Cheryl – the one doing the Beast – about this and she said that kind of training is what they do for the races. I looked at the web site again and signed up for the workout of the day (WOD) many of the exercises I could not do at all. Unfortunately I stopped the boot camp after a couple of months. Another life altering event had occurred.”

Christopher’s father had unfortunately suffered a volley of strokes over the previous months and as such was unable to maintain his home on his own. He didn’t need – or want – to go into a nursing home, so Christopher decided that after his son moved to Florida, he would take care of his now 80 year old father. He quit his job, gave his house to the bank and moved to St Petersburg. By now it was November of 2013 and the Carolina Beast had loomed into view.

“I drove up to Winnsboro to watch Cheryl and 5000 other nuts run a 12-mile obstacle course. I could not believe this many people were doing this. As I stood at the start line (next to it not at it or behind it), I could feel the adrenaline in the air. After Cheryl went on her way I walked around and got a sense of what these people do and why they do it. It became obvious quite quickly. The sense of accomplishment, the competition and the brotherhood. The satisfaction and elation of having completed a physically and mentally demanding challenge that most people would not even consider doing and as I watched and waited, I saw him.

“Leading a unit of BDUs with gas masks and packs an amputee veteran came up the hill crossed the water and mud and headed for the 8 foot wall. With the help of his unit he was up and over and headed for the mud hill. And that’s when it hit me.  If this guy can do this so can I. That night I started asking Cheryl about the race and what she did to prepare for it. She encouraged me to do the workout or the day and lots of cardio exercise. And after talking some more she had me signing up for the Tampa Spartan Special Ops Sprint. Again ‘what was I doing?’ Still weakened from the rabdomyolosis I found that doing any of the WOD was near impossible. So I started with simple cardio.”
Christopher’s epiphany at Carolina saw a new surge of energy wash over him. Beginning with walks of around a mile, he began picking up distance and pace. Another step forward was his joining a gym and seeing a personal trainer twice a week. It was this trainer that started his road to strengthening and consolidating what he already had. The walks of a mile progressed to three miles with some light jogging mixed in. More strength training and flexibility exercises followed and before long, he found himself at the start line at the Tampa Special Ops Race.

“Well I did it. It wasn’t pretty by any means, 2 hours 34 minutes. And it wasn’t just my teammates that pushed me to the finish, other racers stopped and helped drag my ass over obstacles, encouraged me as I was dragging on the stairs (those damn stadium stairs) and doing the burpees. It was the most challenging, exhausting and rewarding thing I have ever done. A special thanks to Cheryl Dunlop who always encouraged me and had faith in me even when I did not and to Wes Henley for being a true Spartan and not leaving a brother behind.”

“I encourage everyone to sign up for and complete a Spartan Race and see what this is all about. Nothing about this race is impossible when you set your mind to it. Everyone has 30-60 minutes a day to prepare for one of these races. Its not hard but it does take commitment. Put the soda and bag of chips down and get off the couch and do something. I can say that, because not long ago, that was me. Don’t let your life go to waste because of something that you can or even can’t control. Take the challenge head on and overcome.”

“There are no excuses. If wounded veterans can do this and if I can do this, if Chris Davis can do this, anyone can do this. Don’t be scared the only reason you don’t make it to the finish line is because you did not want to. Don’t ever give up. There are enough true Spartans out there that will get you through this if you want to.”

See you at the finish line…

Dear Joe,

I wanted to thank you and your team for the Spartan Races.

I have been in the Marine Corps for over 19 years and done a couple combat tours. After my last combat tour I came back with some heavy PTSD, amongst a myriad of other issues. It has been a daily struggle for 4 years to grind through migraines, daily cluster headaches and back pain, TBI, and the PTSD. I ran my first Spartan in Temecula this year. I got the whim to run it when I was researching 5k’s on Active.com. I have never been the same since. It really smoked me physically, but mentally I was alive! For the first time in 4 years I feel like I am in charge of my body and spirit. 

I have run one since with one of my sons in Phoenix and I signed up for the Vegas Super, Colorado Sprints (both days), Montana Sprint and Hurricane Heat, and the Monterey Beast to complete the trifecta. The annual pass is getting its use from me! I ran the Phoenix Sprint with my son and broke one of my toes about halfway through. I refused to quit or show any pain. It wasn’t till we were done that I told my son, because I was actually thinking about coming back the next day. After 4 years of grinding with the daily debilitating back pain and headaches I felt like a broken toe was not that big of a deal. I keep getting asked by my friends who know about my daily physical pain, why I run Spartans. I tell them proudly that I run them because they make me feel alive and show my body I am still in charge.

Thank you so much. Please share as much as you want. The races and the experiences have been therapeutic.

Semper Fidelis, Lonnie

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On January 10th 2013, Brian Tanzer received a phone call that no son or daughter ever want to hear. Two days shy of his 92nd birthday, Brian’s father passed away. Not quite sure how he was going to tell his mother, Brian knew this news was going to hit harder than anything his mother had heard before. She had been suffering with emphysema for years and was actually in hospital with pneumonia at the time. The news was indeed too much to bear and three weeks later, she passed on, too.

“I knew I had to be strong for my family.  As was my typical for me, even as a kid, I found God and exercise to be my salvation. I prayed every day for God to help me turn my sadness and despair into strength and fortitude. Helping to take care of my parents for the last 4 years of their life was a great honor and pleasure. As a father of two wonderful daughters, I know that being a great parent takes a lot of energy and sacrifice. I wanted to do something significant to honor my parent’s memory, and all the sacrifices they made that helped me become the man, husband and father that I am today.”

“Everyone has moments sometimes when they question stuff or perhaps lose a little faith. There were times when my faith wavered, but my amazing wife and two wonderful daughters helped keep my faith strong. I think a lot of people have moments in their life when they question their faith in God. They become angry, want to blame someone or something, or, simply feel “abandoned” by God. Having these feelings is all part of our “walk” with God. We are faced with challenges, and our faith is always being tested. This is how our relationship with God is strengthened. Our faith may waiver, and we may slip and fall, but we have to get back up, stay strong and understand that life is not intended to be easy. We can’t just have faith when everything in our life is going well. It is during times of adversity that our faith in God must be strong.”

Brian found the Spartan Race blog not long after and read some of the stories some past participants shared. Stories of courage, defeating cancer, losing a limb, memories of loved ones, all channeled into acts of heroism and courage to overcome. At around that time, his work sent out an email challenging their employees with the Spartan Race in Vernon, NJ. Could this have been a coincidence, or was He talking to Brian and offering him an opportunity to do something?

Brian was a healthy man, but an accident in the days of his youth would cast a shadow of doubt over just how far he could push through this idea that was forming in his mind.

“My friends and I loved playing football, especially in the snow with no equipment. I was 15 years old when I had a collision with my older brother which resulted in a severe injury to my lower back.  After a visit to the ER and having no broken bones, I went home and was told to stay off my feet for a couple of weeks and to avoid contact sports. Being 15 and thinking I was indestructible, I went back to playing football, martial arts, and all the other sports and activities I enjoyed.”

“After 4 years of chiropractors and physicians telling me to limit my physical activity, I sought the advice of a surgeon who told me “I could fix your back, and you’ll be as good as new.” I had a severely herniated disc in my lower spine which was compressing nerves causing shooting pains, numbness and weakness in my legs. Following surgery and 10 weeks of rehabilitation, I was back to limited activity, and then within 6 months back to playing sports again. Since I had no aspirations of being a professional football player, I limited myself to touch football, but went back to all my other activities. As the years progressed the pain in my back continued to get worse.

When he was 26, he received a diagnosis of failed back surgery syndrome. He noticed that the pain was much different to that before the surgery. A few years rolled by in which 20 epidural injections were administered to his spine. Not really providing any help or relief, his physician suggested a spinal cord stimulator. This would be a small device that delivered electrical impulses along his spine which were designed to “block” pain signals. Sadly, this didn’t work. He awoke the very next morning in such pain that he was rushed to hospital to have the wire removed from his spine at once.

“For some reason, the wire shifted during the night and left me unable to move my legs. When I left the hospital I vowed to never have another procedure on my back. The past few years I have discovered the incredible benefits of yoga. It has helped my pain and increased my flexibility. Although I still fight chronic pain, the more active I am the better I feel. I use my pain as motivation, and not an excuse to sit around.”

Utilizing this mechanical-free way of staying physically active gave Brian the motivation and the tools he needed in order to convince him to tackle his first Spartan Race.

“Several colleagues and I signed up, showed up and completed the TriState New Jersey Super Spartan. It was about 8 miles long and it took me about 3 ½ hours to complete. It was physically and mentally challenging, but when it was over, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. After the race, I noticed some people were walking around with a different medal than the one I was given. I asked one of my fellow racers what it was and he described to me the Spartan Trifecta, and what he did to earn this medal. As I walked away I thought to myself what a great “gift” to give my parents.”

Brian didn’t really know how this was going to come to fruition. At this point in the year, there were only 3 months left and opportunities to check off the list what he needed were scarce. The day following the NJ Super, he registered for the Sprint at Citizen’s Bank Park that was only 3 weeks later. After that, a trip to South Carolina proved to seal his promise to his parents.

“It was a long, cold 13 miles that took over 5 hours to complete. Given the cold temperatures and frigid water, there were a few moments during the race when my legs cramped up so bad it made it extremely difficult to keep running; I did have a secret “weapon”. All I had to do was look down and there was my wristband with an old photo of my mom and dad sealed inside. It was caked with mud and I could barely see the photo, but it was enough to keep me going. Someone was going to have to chop my legs off for me to stop. I was doing this for them, and I said to myself, I’m not going to stop because my parents sacrificed so much for me that it would be a disgrace to their memory if I just didn’t keep pushing forward. I have to admit, when that race was over, and I crossed the finish line I was cold, soaked and tired, but really didn’t care.  Sixty days prior I set out to complete all three Spartan races in 60 days as a gift for my mother and father and when the Beast was conquered, I had accomplished my goal. It was a great day!”

Reflecting on what he sees in his life and in his line of work, he knows that the physical, while easy to see on the outside, is also very important on this inside whether it be the body or the mind.

“Most people think fitness and health is about having a six-pack, big biceps and looking good in a swimsuit. Health and fitness is about much more than appearance. It’s about having energy and vitality, endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility –the complete package. As a nutritionist and fitness advocate I find it very disturbing to see the impact of physical inactivity, particularly on our youth. Playing outdoors and being physically active has taken a backseat to cell phones, video games and TV. There are so many kids who can’t pass a basic physical fitness test, and live in an environment where physical activity is not encouraged. I know I like to challenge myself by training with people that are half my age, rather than being complacent with being able to keep up with people my own age. I credit my fitness with helping me get through the many physical and emotional challenges I’ve faced.”

Brian now intends to honor the memory of his parents with a Trifecta every year. Not put off with the various horror stories, myths and legends about the venue of Mount Killington in Vermont, he embraces the idea that the event is there to try and break him.

“I’m planning on completing the Vermont Spartan Beast in 2014. I’ve heard about how incredibly difficult and challenging the course was last year for the World Championship, but I never let anything stop me from accomplishing my goals before, so I’m not going to start now. I’ll be 46 years old in July, so I’m not sure how many more “good” years I have left. I have no plans to slow down any time soon, so as long as my mind says yes, I’ll figure out how to get my body to follow!”

Thankful for what Spartan Race has done, Brian has become a new man. New in that he now has a channel, a conduit to which he can aim the gamut of emotions with him into a positive.

“Spartan Race has been a great way for me to turn my pain and sadness into strength and fortitude. Life is challenging, and there are so many obstacles along the way. We must meet those obstacles head on, as doing so makes you stronger and able to push forward. We’re all going to stumble and, on occasions even fall down. What matters is how quickly you get back up and push forward. We must surround ourselves with those we love most and treasure each and every day. At 45 years old, I’m not sure how long I can keep racing.”

“In memory of my loving mother and father.  Thank you Spartan Race!”

See you at the finish line…

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Dear Joe,

John Bruno Grimaldi’s Story: a true Spartan in my eyes!

Bruno is a loving husband to my oldest sister Kelly, and father to 2 year old Dean. He works as a Diesel Mechanic at Yard Trucks in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Not long after Dean was born, on October 30, 2011, Bruno was initially diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery and one round of chemotherapy. This treatment course took place at Cooper Medical Center in Voorhees, New Jersey, where the Grimaldi’s lived at the time. Bruno and Kelly were thrilled to learn that the cure rate was 90%.

After the diagnosis, Bruno’s determination to get into a healthy lifestyle took place. He was not much of a fitness junkie or an enthusiast on healthy eating, but he had to start somewhere. Bruno began to walk, which lead to a run, then took it further and signed up for Spartan Races, Warrior Dash obstacle run and a 5K army/community run. The Grimaldi’s changed their diet and physical routine to jump start their new challenges. Bruno and Kelly worked together to set new goals and accomplish them.

In the winter of 2012, Bruno and Kelly moved to their new home which is currently in Warrington, Pennsylvania. Bruno’s physical appearance and need for a good workout only grew over time. Kelly and Bruno continued to go for runs and work out at LA Fitness together. Thankfully, Bruno was continuing to follow up with Dr. Kennedy, a Medical Oncologist at Aria Health in Pennsylvania. On December 9th, 2013, the Grimaldi’s received the news that Bruno was that 10% and his cancer was back. This time, the cancer had traveled to the lymph nodes in his lower back. With no hesitation, Bruno was ready to start his journey once again, knowing it was not going to be easy. Bruno began his first of four rounds of intense chemotherapy on January 6th, 2014. Each round of chemotherapy consists of five consecutive days of treatment for roughly 6 hours each.

Unfortunately, because of the intense treatment Bruno was undergoing, the trip they had planned to visit family in San Diego and to complete the SoCal Spartan Race on January 25th was canceled. However, four days before the race, Bruno decided to try and climb their hanging rope in their home. He easily made it to the top and once his feet hit the ground he knew he had to attempt the race. This diagnosis was not going to stop him! Bruno and Kelly decided to take their trip to San Diego and they both completed the race. This Spartan Race was an absolute challenge for both. Bruno understands that time will wait for no one and he needs to be the force that drives himself forward! Everyone can learn from this one man that moments must be cherished and the only way to live life is like climbing rope, the only way to go is up!

Thanks,

Jackie Gribbin

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