by Beth Connolly

What is the definition of a true Spartan athlete?  To answer that question, we look to you, our Spartan racers.  I was lucky enough to get a good idea of an answer to that question after I spoke with Georgia native Terry Nelson, who competed in our Atlanta Spartan Race on April 30, 2011.

Terry started his career in the US Army Infantry, where he proudly served for seven years.  But when he was 23, his heart valve became infected.  When his body tried to fight off the infection, a calcium deposit broke off and lodged itself in his leg.  He became extremely sick, and his illness did not respond to antibiotics.  So the doctors decided to operate and remove the blockage from his leg.  Just one week later, Terry had heart surgery, in which doctors replaced his aortic valve with an artificial one.  The whole ordeal kept him in and out of the hospital for nine months, and he left the army afterward with an honorable discharge.

But he didn’t leave behind his strength of character and his commitment to persevere against all obstacles.  Within a year of his back-to-back operations, he said in a recent phone interview, he was “stronger than ever before,” though he was confined to bed for six months because of his infection.  “I was determined,” he said.  “I thought, this thing can’t pull me down.”

Nowadays, Terry, 41, lives in Jefferson, Georgia, where he works for the Coca-Cola Company as he has for the past sixteen years.  When we spoke about his illness, he said it felt weird talking about it, since he’s put it far in his past now.  In the years since, though, Terry has never forgotten the fundamental lesson he learned about internal and external strength: the one leads to the other.  If you have a strong heart, a strong body will follow.  So, as you might imagine, Terry is still in great shape.  

Three years ago, he and his son hiked the entire Georgia Appalachian Trail, a 92-mile stretch from North Carolina to Amicola Falls, Georgia, in just seven days.  Terry has passed down his lessons onto his son, who is in the Armed Reserves and going to college in Florida.  Terry trains twice a month at Talulah Gorge, a rock scramble about a one hour drive from his house, where he hikes down into the gorge and then hikes back out.  The trek includes one thousand steps and a one hundred foot rock slide into a pond.  Terry also runs at a local horse park, whose varied terrain is really similar to the experience of running a Spartan Race.  He trains as often as he can, though, he laughs, “My wife gets mad at me.”

It’s not a shock that Terry raved about the Georgia Spartan Sprint on April 30, 2011.  He said, “The race was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I’ve jumped out of airplanes, that takes nothing, but this was hard.”  The most difficult part?  Running up the hill with the 5-gallon pail of dirt.  Nevertheless, Terry said, “I’m one hundred percent ready for another race.”  We look forward to it!

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