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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Meet Brian Duncanson.

One of the very few that initially sat around Joe Desena’s kitchen table with a handful of others when the idea of Spartan Race was born. Adventurer, tennis player, sports fan, all-round good guy. At the beginning of this year, he took his first steps on a trip that he neither asked for, nor wanted.

“It was back in November when I was the Race Director for the Miller Park event, then went to Salt Lake City for a tourism trade show, then almost right after to Fenway for the race. I could tell something was off, but it seemed much like a typical cold.  It stuck around through Christmas time and I was starting to get concerned. I started visiting a clinic to get some medicine and to have my lungs x-rayed. Everything was coming up negative, but the cold was not going away.”

It was towards the end of January that Brian Duncanson noticed things were a little off. Even his wife had commented that he had bags under his eyes and had bad breath. He was wearing a much paler complexion at times, too. A routine visit in the early afternoon of January 23rd to the dentist where both he and the tech noticed a lot of bleeding from the gums set alarm bells ringing.

“I happened to have a dentist appointment at the end of January where the illness boiled over and showed itself. This finally led to the blood test that showed that my white blood cell count was 10x the normal level and I needed to take immediate action or be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.”

A whirlwind of a visit to a clinic, a blood test and by 5pm the same day, Brian was reeling from the news that he had Leukemia.

A man with no history of cancer in the family, who ate well and was a veteran of endurance racing and love of sports, Brian wasn’t who you’d expect to be the target of such a horrific disease. But there he was, dealing with the news that would drastically alter his life.

“It was amazing how quickly a simple blood test popped up the result, it took us a while to process the shock. Even more to be told I had Leukemia as it’s something most people just don’t ever consider. With the results as high as they were, we drove immediately to the hospital to begin treatment. No one said it at the time, but I was likely within a few days of having a major health event.”

Before he knew what was happening, he was the newest resident at Florida Hospital, beginning his battle against cancer and taking his first tentative steps into chemotherapy. He quickly found, however, that his battles weren’t confined to just the disease. The crushing monotony of hospital life as a patient quickly began testing him. He even made comparisons to the film The Shawshank Redemption.

“Staying in a hospital is very much like a prison. Your room is your cell, plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts which are often dark. The nurses are like the guards, while they’re trying to help you, they’re constantly watching and interrupting you. Some are nice and others are more robotic. Time moves slowly here and frequently you don’t know when you will get out. Even the food reminds me of what it would be like in prison. Poor food served on trays. But perhaps the most direct parallel is the fact that you take on a new pattern of living, similar to what a soldier deployed overseas would experience. If it’s long enough, you become accustomed to that life and it becomes hard to reintegrate back into society, particularly if you carry over some disability back into your life.”

As the first round of chemotherapy started, Brian eventually began to understand and cope with the daily white blood cell count review, the sleep interruptions, and his bag stand. He not only had to learn to walk with it so it could continue to feed directly into his veins, but had become “friends” with it, even jokingly pointing out that he sometimes looked like Neo from The Matrix films.

On Tuesday February 4th, the first round was complete. While he could now look forward to cooked meals at home as opposed to relying on the generosity of his family to bring things in for him, going home after spending the previous 25 days in his “Shawshank” life, he knew it was bittersweet.

“I had to close my eyes a few times on my way home from the hospital. It felt great once I arrived home, but it was strange going out in public and seeing people for the first time after my diagnosis. It was easy to get into the groove of being home, but there was always the next treatment hanging over your head. Each trip back to the hospital was harder.”

What was also hard was the financial strain that was beginning to take it’s toll on him and his family. Friends organized a tennis day, with various fundraising elements added, but even with their huge support and help and including the insurance, Brian still had a $20,000 hole to plug.

Brian then went backwards and forwards many times throughout his 2nd and 3rd rounds of treatment. It was around now that his mental grit was tested. Waiting on results, tests to be taken, information from medical staff all took its toll. Waiting on tests, waiting on results and even waiting on individuals to get back to him with information that would allow him to get on with things, whether it was home visits or it was further procedures.

With his white blood cell counts high and favorable, it was around this time that Brian was dealt another unfavorable hand. Doctors began giving contradicting advice regarding how the treatment ball was to continue rolling. It was a choice – a gamble – that Brian finally took after seeking further advice. Would he continue with chemo, or take the bone marrow transplant that he was urged to.

“My decision came down to finishing the four rounds of chemo and going on with life, or tacking on another 6-months of treatment. Both feel somewhat like a gamble because there’s no clear path to a cure. I’m literally betting on which approach might work best”, he admits.

“I’m at the beginning of the marrow transplant. There is still risk with the graph not taking. With Graph vs. Host Disease and then there is still the possibility of a relapse. All of them are bad. In the best case, the next five to six weeks pass uneventfully and my new immune system will be ready to fight on its own. For me it’s three weeks in the hospital, 2-3 months of three times per week doctor visits to keep my blood levels proper. As time goes on, the visits will get further and further apart.”

Brian still has a fight on his hands, but with his family, friends and Spartan community behind him, this terrible disease is picking fights with the wrong person.

Click here to see how you can help Brian in his fight.

Brian has gone on to write about his decision in his own words and goes on to urge others to join a registry of possible bone marrow donors. All it requires is a cheek swab and takes minutes to do.

“Besides wanting to build a successful company, we stated early on in the company’s development that we wanted to change people’s lives.  This started as a pure fitness goal, but then evolved quickly into a set of principles known as the Spartan Code. It was a cool way to personify the ancient warriors and allow people to apply this code to their life’s obstacles.  It’s been amazing to see how many people identified with the brand and made profound changes in their lives. Those stories are always the most interesting for me.”

“As I sit here in my hospital room awaiting stem cells from someone I don’t even know, I think about what motivated them. My donor was identified through the bone marrow registry and all I know about this person is that he is a 22-year-old US citizen. A pretty youthful age to have such philanthropic ideals. Was someone he knew touched by Leukemia? He’s obviously a youthful, strong-spirited person, with great awareness of the world beyond himself. And there it is – the Code. Then I start to wonder if this person has ever been to a Spartan Race and how great it would be if Spartan had caused a change in him that lead to this selfless act.”

“No matter what changes you are striving to make in your life, please allow me to encourage all of you to SPARTAN UP and join the bone marrow database. The larger the number of donors, the better odds for everyone. It’s a simple cheek swap and little time.”

Bone Marrow Transplant

After much discussion with my medical team, I made the decision to proceed with a bone marrow transplant. As previously discussed, I have a type of Leukemia called AML. When the doctors run initial tests they run your cytogentics, which are indicators of abnormal cell behavior and thus predict if your cancer will relapse. The cytogenetics sort out three classes: Favorable – who do not receive transplants; unfavorable – who must receive transplants; and Intermediate risk who have been a point of controversy. Some Oncologists feel that people with intermediate risk AML can obtain long-term survival with chemo only treatments. Cellular doctors believe intermediate risk requires a transplant.

I should clear up at the front of a Bone Marrow Transplant and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant. Bone marrow is obtained by aspirating the marrow from the pelvis bone. This is the process the doctors use to verify remission in cancer patients as well. Local anesthesia is given, but it’s a slightly painful procedure and a few days of recovery time.

The good news is that Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant (PBSCT) is much less invasive and it is the preferred method of donating for blood cancers. PBSCT is a method of collecting the stem cells from the bloodstream called apheresis. The donor is given medicine to increase the blood levels, then the blood is drawn out of a large vein, goes through a machine that removes the stem cells, then the blood is returned to the donor. The process takes 4 to 6 hours.

Finding a match for the transplant is typically one of the hardest parts of the process. Siblings are typically tested first, but each one of them has only a 25% of matching. There’s only about a 50% chance for causations to find a match through the world-wide registry. That number goes down to 7% if you’re African American. Your health care professional can scan the database once they develop your Human leukocyte-associated antigens (HLA) matching through some expensive blood testing. The better the match, the least likely complications will develop like graph-vs-host disease.

Once you’ve found your match, there are still several weeks of work to do. The donor gets to pick their donation date, and your schedule will be set once that date is defined. You still have to pass a battery of tests on your heart, lungs, and a final marrow biopsy to make sure you’re ready to begin the process.

Check in at the hospital to begin with a central line insertion that will serve to draw blood from your body and insert medicines. After being treated with high-dose anticancer drugs and anti-rejection drugs (one called the Rabbit), then the patient receives the stem cells through an intravenous (IV) line just like a blood transfusion. This part of the transplant takes 1 to 5 hours. All measurements are taken from this Day “0.” You can expect to be in the hospital for 2-3 weeks after Day 0 to ensure the engraftment has taken place and that the new cells are creating your new blood. You will continue to follow up closely with your doctor for up to 100 days after the transplant to verify and correct any blood levels.

If you can make it one year without a relapse your chances are 55% it will never come back. At two years, it’s 70%, and at three years, it’s 80+%. But suffering a relapse before those time markers typically spell a negative prognosis.

The entire process is only possible based on the large registries that are helping to match up potential donors to those in need. In the U.S., Bethematch.org has all the information for people looking to donate marrow. It’s only a cheek swab to get into the registry with only about a 1 in 500 chance that you’ll match with someone who needs your marrow. People 18-44 are most desirable.

Read Brian’s blog as he fights cancer right here.

 

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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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Zackery Paben, the bearded warrior behind the More Hearts Than Scars charity, knows the joy of parenthood all too well.  After suffering a horrifying injury that saw him break his radius, ulna and losing the ends of seven of his fingers, his father taught him the principle of caring by showing tough love, something Zackery is very grateful for.

“Michael Mills, one of the Spartan Adaptive Athletes, often kids me about being ‘Dad’ when we race together with the Dirtbags. He fusses at me sometimes for being over protective. However during the cargo net mountain climb from hell at this year’s Sprint in Georgia, he was happy to be on my rope. Before he does the stupid and seemingly impossible; he always checks in with me with a ‘You got me?’. After my ‘I got ya’, he goes on to do things that only the word awesome can convey.

“After I finally returned home from the hospital after my accident, my dad had me do my chores like taking out the trash. My ten year old self made excuses, citing my broken arms and amputated fingertips. He let me know that I was creative and capable enough to figure out how to do it. The first time it took me an hour, after a week it took me 5 minutes.”

Zack with his daughter Snowlilly and Spartan MC Dustin Dorough take a moment to pose.

“My 25 years of being in the father role for at risk youth has been shaped by this simple concept.  Just because you got hurt does not mean you are no longer responsibly to take out the literal and metaphorical trash.

“When our little girl was diagnosed with her heart condition, her mother and I formed More Heart Than Scars to be sure to keep her and us in the right frame of mind. Every day she sees her parents training for upcoming races or making plans to empower others to adapt to their own challenges. When she is old enough to comprehend the challenges of her heart she will have many of Spartan races to reflect upon. Most importantly she has Michael Mills, Todd Love, Amanda Sullivan and Justin Falls as up and personal examples of what it means to have more heart than scars. She also has her dad to tell her that she is creative and capable enough to figure it out… also to take out the trash”, he laughs.

“For me as a dad, I try to train my children to face a hard world with their wits and guts. It is not my job to scurry about trying to make their lives easy. Even in the midst of their challenges I remind them that, “I got you”. I am the father of two daughters, Snowlilly, 4 years old, biological and already a two-time Spartan racer. June, 19 years old, adopted and determined figure things out for herself. I am very fortunate to have had many kids over the years to claim me as their dad.”

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As the year rolls around to a day of the year that is often overlooked, we wanted to give a shout out to those guys that you see on the course that, while striving to reach the finish line, have a greater goal in their lives. This, of course, is continuing to be the best Spartan dad they can possibly be.

Daren De Heras of Monrovia, California might be more familiar to many as the man who continues to set multiple lap records or as the face of Team SISU. Many will see him as the guy that has now visited the Death Race 5 times, but to his little girl Maddy, he’s just daddy.

“I’ve always wanted her to know that she is always front and center in everything I do”, he explains. 

“When she was born, I was a very passionate wrestling coach, business owner and marathoner.  I wanted her to see my passion for fitness and hoped she caught on for a love of sport, but it was important that she find her way, not what my way was.  All I ever want is for her to always finish what she started, to always challenge herself, and to know that it’s all about the journey, not the finish.  As she grew up she fell in love with Soccer and Gymnastics.  I spent the next 6 years learning soccer and coaching her teams.   During that time, Spartan Race popped up and I fell in love with it right from the start.  In 2011 I participated in my first Spartan Death Race, and suffered my first DNF.  After I quit the race, I was fortunate to spend some time with Joe De Sena the founder of Spartan Race.  I listened to his story, passion, and drive he had for the sport of obstacle racing and the positive impact it could have on so many.  I went home that weekend, inspired, motivated, but most of all it made me think if I can teach my daughter how to live this Spartan lifestyle and apply it to her everyday life, there will be no limits to what she can achieve.

“Spartan has given us a place that we feel is our special place.  We both have our own goals, and share some, but most important it’s not a race to us, it’s a journey, a way of life.  I have been to five Spartan Death Races competing in all of them with bracelets she made me, her name written on me with a sharpie and her picture in my pocket.  She has completed 5 Spartan Races, finishing 4th overall and 1st for the girls in her previous Spartan Race.  We inspire one another, push one another, and never let the other one think we have anything less than more to give. She is my heart and soul and the best thing I will ever be is her daddy.”

Sign up for your next Spartan Race here and sign up your child for Spartan Kids right here.

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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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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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“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…

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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Michael Mendoza wasn’t always the rippling torso of sinew and muscles that he is now. One fateful day, only 30 yards into a 10k that he’d signed up for and not trained for at all – despite his lethargic attitude to life – he realized that taking his body for granted was a dangerous thing to do. His life was going to change immediately and it all began with his diet. He explains…

“Going vegan was definitely not an overnight process, which is why it bugs me that so many people think they can guilt someone into going vegan. Look, I knew that we tortured animals, but I could have really cared less. They were our food, so who cared if they were ethically treated before slaughter, right?

Vegans and animal rights activists just have way too much time on their hands! Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely an animal lover, dogs, cats, and anything on the endangered species list, but not our food supply.”

Michael explains that he got to where he is by what he calls his “Matrix Effect”. He decided to take that  pill and see just how far the rabbit hole led him. Having already started an exercise regimen with healthier foods and leaner meats, the thought of giving up meat never crossed his mind.

“I was pretty successful in losing a large amount of weight when a book called “Skinny Bastard,” made its way into my hands. I laughed at the notion of vegetarianism but read it anyways. After reading the book, I was horrified and in disbelief. I didn’t want to buy into the fact that our food supply was really tainted. I didn’t want to believe that the government could allow any of these practices to go on. I did more research and eventually adopted a vegan diet. I lost even more weight but reverted into vegetarianism. Years go by as a vegetarian and I had gained a substantial amount of weight back.”

Michael didn’t know another vegetarian or vegan (or “v*gan”, as they are commonly referred to in text) at all by this time. This eventually changed due to social media and he met many others with the same philosophy online. Noticing that many of the vegans he saw online were athletes, he decided to give it a try and go vegan. He bought the book “Thrive” by Brendain Braizer – a successful vegan triathlete – and took his advice.

“I followed his program and had this energy that I never had before. I was able to go faster and further with this new diet. I was running 10k’s and half marathons for fun! I dropped a lot of weight and was in the best shape of my life. All thanks to social media.”

“Another thing that happened was that I learned compassion for animals. I gave up leather and anything related to animal products. Being vegan does open your eyes to the fact that you really don’t need animal products to survive. Heck, being vegan is why I have all this energy.”

But there wasn’t just one tipping point or moments of clarity that Michael puts this down to. He was around 300+lbs, smoked occasionally and drank all the time. He recalls how what he consumed on a daily basis wasn’t good. “My diet was also pretty horrendous. I never ate a single meal without meat and drank at least three cans of diet cherry coke every day.”

“I was at a party and a few friends were talking about a 10K they entered. I had run a 10K for a college final once before, and I was still confident about it. I jokingly said that I was able to run a race, and everyone just laughed at me. To prove them wrong, I signed up for it.  It was a scorcher and well over 100 degrees outside. I met all my friends and we headed to the starting line. Keep in mind, I had zero training and did not prepare for this run at all. They shot that gun and we all started running like rats abandoning a ship. I had a good stride until about 30 or so yards. My lungs started to hurt, my legs started to ache, and I could barely breathe! I took a look back at the starting line and seriously thought about heading back in shame.

300 pound guy trying to run six miles? What was I thinking? I decided the shame of turning back would be too much to handle, so I pressed forward. I decided that I would finish this God forsaken race even if I had to crawl to the finish line.”

As he was bent over double, gasping for air, he was passed by a lady that was in her 70’s. The full horror of his own physical fitness was now washing over him like a cold shower. The alarms were ringing and life was slapping his face from left to right and back again. Time to wake up, Michael.

“She looked like someone that I should help cross the street and here she was passing this guy in his 20’s?! This was ridiculous! So I gave all that I had and passed her up. It was a back and forth race for miles with this lady who should have been knitting at home, not competing with me in a race that I was obviously losing! I finally gave up! She passed me and I was embarrassed. I started to hyperventilate and seriously thought I might die that day. But Like I said, I decided to finish even if I had to crawl across that damn line!”

He eventually finished the race in what he considers to be the worst shape of his life. Sweaty, drained of energy and feeling utterly humiliated and beaten down, it took Michael 1 hour and 52 minutes to cover the 10k. Feeling so drained, Michael had to rest for a few hours before he considered himself good enough to drive home, such was the level of his exhaustion.

“Ever since that day I knew that I needed to get into shape but never really knew how. I was so lazy and eventually lost the passion to get fit. A few months later I took a trip to Europe. My life forever changed since then.”

Some of Michael’s training would include things like uphill sand dune sprints

“In the States I was huge but there were others that were equally large around me. In Europe however, I was the biggest guy in the Continent! It didn’t take very long to realize why! My first day in Venice Italy, I went to a local shop and ordered a pizza and soda. It was such a tiny slice of pizza and the smallest soda I have ever seen! I laughed and thought I must have ordered in the over-priced tourist area!

Later on for dinner, I went to another restaurant and ordered some ravioli. Oh I was super excited! I mean, I’m in Italy eating Italian. Awesome right? Nope! Here comes the waiter with my bowl full of ravioli, 4 pieces. 4 freaking pieces! It was the Twilight Zone here!”

Reverting to type, Michael resorted to what he knew – American fast food. Going to Burger King and McDonalds, he knew he would be in familiar territory. Sadly for him, he soon found that there wasn’t a “Super Size” option for him to fall back on. He quickly understood that he would “either starve or go broke.”

“Slowly but surely I started realizing that these Europeans didn’t have tiny portion sizes, but we Americans had gigantic portion sizes. I also figured out another thing, my feet were killing me. I was walking everywhere. In California, walking was for people who didn’t have cars, not for everyone else.

I came back with a new outlook on life. There was a Starbucks about a quarter mile from my apartment that I would drive to. I never took my car again and started a portion control diet with exercise.”

In regards to training, Michael was a rudderless ship. Not really knowing what he wanted to do, or even how to do it, he was all over the place.

“I started this popular diet called “Atkins.” It was great! I got to eat tons of bacon and eggs and didn’t have to worry about anything. Well, that didn’t last long. I didn’t lose any weight and I felt horrible. I started researching different programs and eventually found one that I liked. It was superset lifting with 33% protein, 33% carbs, and 33% fats. It told me to stay away from fruits and not to do any cardio. I cheated and ate fruits and started to run.”

His vendetta was consuming him. He had a score to settle with 10K of asphalt. He wanted to be able to run a distance that he considered a man of his age should easily be able to do.

“I calculated a full 3 miles around my whole apartment block. It wasn’t easy at all but I was completely motivated. My first run was similar to that 10K I did months before. After about 30 yards in, I was done, but pushed myself to keep going. Days that I wasn’t attempting to run, I started to lift. I was way too embarrassed to hit up a local gym, so I used my apartment gym instead. Luckily we had a decent amount of weights and exercise equipment. I didn’t know what I was doing so I just followed a workout plan.”

The difference in his body wasn’t something he noticed at first. Not overly concerned with how he looked, moreover how he felt, he eventually saw that, over the months, his body was changing in a positive way.

“After months of running, months of eating healthy, and months of dropping pounds, I ran 6 miles without stopping. I didn’t even really notice that I had reached this level of “athleticism.” It was everyday work for me and I had never taken notice.”

There was a quote that I printed up and went like this, “Unless you’re giving 100% every time, you might as well stay at home. So that’s what I did, gave it my 100% every time I went out! Granted, you’re going to have good days and bad days, but I never limited myself.”

“What really made me realize the difference were the compliments from friends and family at how much weight I had lost. I honestly did not notice much changing, it was only till my friends said something that I was able to really look at old pictures of myself, and notice the change.”

But as every Spartan Racer knows, there is an area that every single person has, regardless of strength, stamina, build, body shape, age or mental fortitude. A common bond that we all share and one that we all have to push past in order to make it worthwhile – the comfort zone.

“Yes! Getting out of your comfort zone!”, Michael laughs, “the hardest thing for me was getting rid of the people who were negatively influencing me and hanging out with those who would positively influence me. You cannot get into shape if you’re hanging out with people who do nothing but drink, smoke, and eat horrible food.”

“I put friendships, nightlife and fast food on hold. I told myself that it was a temporary inconvenience and that it would be worth it in the end. Boy did it pay off. I seriously felt like a whole new person afterwards. Accepting that everything I knew about food was completely wrong was hard but necessary. Admitting being wrong about a lot of stuff was tough but was the first step to recovery. Once I accepted that I had no idea what I was doing, I was then able to move forward and learn about food and fitness.”

Offering advice for those open to what he experienced, Michael is quick to lay out some pointers, should anyone want to follow his example.

“It is hard and boy is it tough! If it were easy, everyone would be in shape! You have to want it bad and be willing to struggle for it. Once you get to that point where you have that, “nothing is going to stop me,” mentality, you’ll be successful! Most people quit at the first sign of a struggle and wonder why their “diet” doesn’t work. If there is a wall, you climb it. If there is a ditch, you jump over it. If there is a lake, you swim across it. That’s it. That’s the secret! For every object that gets in your path, you have to overcome it. And that is how you will succeed.”

Obstacles are not there to prevent your progress. They are opportunities to show what your mind and body can do.

Sign up today and we’ll see you at the finish line.

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