It was hot. The kind of Texas hot only felt during the hell that is known as two-a-days for Texas High School Football. I have no idea how many laps Coach Bradford had already made us run. All I know was I was bent over, vomiting, in a grassy area near the front of my high school in Tolar, TX. I felt a pat on my back, or more accurately a heavy slap, and turned to look into the red face of a guy who resembled the human version of a tank. He was as wide as he was tall and I seriously doubted he had more than 4% body fat. He gave me this grin and said, “Don’t be a p***y”, then off he went gleefully running more laps. I didn’t know it then, but I had just met Riley Stephens who would become one of my closest and dearest friends. Who, throughout our friendship, became the one constant I could depend on no matter what I needed. Guidance as a warrior, guidance on dealing with the demons we shared, a good laugh, and that particular sense of humor that anyone who ever had the chance to be around him had the privilege to know.
In 2010 I experienced my first Spartan race in Houston, TX with a team of people I had never met before. If you’ve run a Spartan Sprint race you know just how much fun I had. As time passed this experience was something I talked to Riley about and we’d planned on running a race together in Texas after his retirement from the military. Among other plans we shared based on the timing of his retirement and deployments with the 1/3 Special Forces Group (Airborne) as a senior Medic.
In July 2011 one of those rare once or twice a decade events took place. We were all in the same place at the same time. To celebrate the 4th of July, Riley’s dad Mic hosted a party and we were all able to be there and celebrate our independence. None knew it then, but that would be the last time we were all together to celebrate. This picture is a toast in their honor during the party and the last picture I have of Riley and I together.
Time passes and most of us carried on with our jobs and deployments. In the summer of 2012 Riley volunteered to go to Afghanistan with a team who needed a medic. Just before he left Riley and his team he’d served several combat deployments with decided they’d give a Special Forces send off to their medic, their friend, their brother. Riley and his team ran a Spartan Beast in South Carolina the week or so before his deployment. Knowing Riley and the boys from his team I know they caused as much havoc as they could. They even took the pugil sticks away from the Spartan warriors and made them fight to get them back. That is definitely Riley!
After the race Riley told me just how much fun he’d had and how this type of race was perfect for guys like us. He even enjoyed the hot girls giving medals and beer tickets! Riley was never one to not enjoy something like that!
On September 28th 2012 I received a phone call from Ken, Riley’s brother who also serves in the U.S. Army, that I’d prayed I’d never get. Ken spoke directly, as is our custom, and relayed to me that our brother, my best friend, my hero, had been killed in Wardak, Afghanistan.
During the next days of learning his death was real and coming together as a huge family we laid our brother to rest on October 7th 2012 as close to a brother and best friend he’d lost in 2006, also in combat, as the National Cemetery in Dallas, TX would allow.
A group from high school got together and decided to run the Spartan Beast in Glen Rose, TX this December 8, 2012. They all belong to the inner circle of “brothers” of our small town. We all call Riley’s dad, Mic, “Dad.” And for some of us blood makes no difference on the closeness of our bond. “For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” (William Shakespeare)
Team Riley will consist of: Jamie Gray, Cody Watson, Brooks Goodson, Austin Harris, Jerry Snyder, and Ken Stephens (Riley’s brother).
In closing, I want to remind you of this. Those people sweating and cursing and bleeding with you on the course running under the name Team Riley aren’t running for themselves. They aren’t even running for those like me who lost a brother too. No, they will run for Riley. They’ll suck it up and I know that each time they hesitate or grow tired they’ll hear in his sarcastic Texas drawl “Don’t be a p****y” and then smile and carry on.
[Editor's Note: We are proud and humbled to have Riley's story featured on our Spartan Race blog and for Shane's willingness to share the story. To Riley's family and friends, we extend our sincerest condolences and deepest gratitude and look forward to their participation in our Glen Rose, TX Beast race on December 8, 2012. Find Shane's non-profit organization Paws 4 PTSD on Facebook and online.]