[Editor's note: This piece is part of our Spartan Military Profile series, in which we tell the stories of Spartans who serve their country. Check out the first post in the series here.]
If any first-time racer could run an eight mile Super Spartan course, break his ankle twenty feet from the finish line, and still cross it in relatively good humor, it would have to be Nick Nakamura, 31. Whether it’s the L.A. County native’s laid back California mentality or his military training after nine and a half years in the Navy is anyone’s guess. All I know is that during our phone interview, when I asked him to tell me how he broke his ankle, he cracked up and said, “It was pretty funny…I think it was funny, anyways.”
Nick really had no idea what he was getting himself into when he signed up for the Southern California Super Spartan with a few of his Navy buddies. He had never done any kind of competitive race before, but he wanted to lose his gut. Nick thought the looming February 26 race date would encourage him to get in shape and start eating healtheir but, he said, “I didn’t do any of that. The most I had run was three miles.” Despite his lack of preparation, Nick was gung-ho on race day. He thought, “I’ll finish it, I might not win it, but it will be my will power, I can do it.”
At the beginning of the race, he was tight, but once he loosened up, he said, the obstacles gave him more motivation to keep going and he was “having a good time.” He and his buddies ran the whole eight miles, and when they arrived at the final obstacle, the two gladiators, Nick was “pumped.” He ran at one of the gladiators and “tried to duke him out, do some football stuff, do the Heisman choke. But it was rainy and muddy, and I got my foot stuck in the mud. It sounds cliché but when I fell it was in slow motion—I looked down and saw my ankle come up to touch my leg, I felt the pain, felt queasy. I figured it was broken, but no one could tell.”
His friend came over and said, “Do you want to just cross the finish line?”
Nick replied, “Umm, I’d love to, but I can’t move.”
What happened next, Nick describes as something out of a Hollywood sports movie like Rudy. Race volunteers and a paramedic ran to him on the course and said “You’re gonna finish! You’re gonna finish!” They picked him and carried him across the finish line, put a medal on his neck, and laid him down on a blanked to ask him questions. They had no idea his ankle was broken, but Nick was pretty sure it was—he knew what a sprain felt like from a high school basketball injury. He maintained his composure so well, though, that none of the paramedics believed him when he assessed his pain as a 9.5 out of 10.
As he was wheeled toward the ambulance, Nick smelled the post-race cookout andrealized how hungry he was. And he wanted the free beer he’d earned by finishing the race. But it was not to be had—he was off to the hospital. Over the next few months, Nick underwent two surgeries and was on crutches, even at the birth of his first daughter, Emi, born on April 7, 2011. Not one to let an injury get him down, Nick is excited to accompany his squadron to Japan for a month and a half.