by Khaled Allen

funtimeWhen we describe the Spartan Race to people, even those who are excited about the idea of putting themselves through all the challenges look forward to finishing. But in my recent conversation with David Krueger, who ran the Tuxedo, NY race, he expressed a very different sentiment, “I do this for fun. They [other runners] are on a strict time goal when they run, but me, I’m not like that at all. I like to enjoy every challenge and embrace it….I like to take it all in.” Krueger’s description of his racing experience made it seem—not easy—but joyful, like a kid running his lungs out playing tag.

This might seem even more impressive if you knew that Krueger is deaf, though he doesn’t see this as an obstacle. I spoke to him over the phone through an video relay service. Even through that medium, his laid-back attitude came shining through.

David is the father of five, a full-time job that he cites as his main form of fitness training, only half joking I suspect. Caring for, feeding and playing with five small children would certainly keep anyone active. But where many racers might say they run to get away from the pressures of raising a family, David cherishes every minute of it, saying he takes “every opportunity to enjoy each moment with my kids [and] with life, which includes racing.”

Besides the kids, for training David also runs the mountains of Vermont, where he lives,mudrun and spends a lot of time stretching. “I feel that stretching is most important, to stay flexible,” he says. After putting the kids to bed, David gets up at 2 or 3 in the morning for some stretching, and then goes back to sleep. This attitude of flexibility extends to his approach to racing and life.

He found several Spartan Races throughout the summer and signed up for them. When the Spartan Race organizers contacted him asking for volunteers, his immediate response was, “Sure, I can help out.”

Not only is David willing to help others out, he is eager to do so. In fact, volunteering at the race enriched his experience more than just running it would have, though he did point out that he preferred the idea of helping out first, getting a sense of the community and the racers, and then doing his own race afterwards. That way, he was able to give all of his attention to the racers he was helping out.

By volunteering to help out the other racers, David said he got a lot in back when it came time for him to run the race. He liked to see the people who would wait at the obstacles for their teammates to finish, encouraging and cheering them on. “You have that support. You kind of rally for each other,” he explained.

You might think the point of racing is to get through the whole event as quickly as possible, but David has a very different take on things. He explained that he likes to “just enjoy nature, and the trees, where they are laid out, the different hills,” and generally take in the whole experience without trying to rush through it too quickly. Here is a racer who knows how to soak it all in and get the most out of every possible experience.

He likes to arrive early and stay late anyway, to see as many of the other racers as he can. Unlike some of the speed demons who race and leave, David finds the opportunity to connect and bond with other racers as fulfilling as the personal challenge of the race itself. In the obstacles of the race and the shared difficulties is a sort of communion that David says inspires him to not only push himself, but to encourage others as well.

Just as the ancient Spartans placed a premium on brotherhood in the face of danger, David has internalized the value of camaraderie in the face of the difficult obstacles of the Spartan Race, “At the bucket bridge, I could see people were really struggling, and it’s great to be able to help other people out and cheer them on. And I can identify with them because I’ve been through it….You kind of have that camaraderie….For the people who didn’t make it, you are like ‘darn it,’ and you want to encourage them to go on.” For David, racing is about connecting with people.

For someone who cannot hear, this priority on connection makes a lot of sense. Generally, David didn’t have any problem volunteering or racing. I asked him if being deaf created any difficulties. “At first,” he said, “the communication [was difficult]…but really after that initial part of it, once they found a way to communicate, it went fine.” He didn’t really find it an obstacle to participating, and the Spartan Race people took it in stride. David said they figured they would just get him through it, and communicate with gestures, which worked out really well.

His eagerness to volunteer and help during the race shows how quickly David can reach out to people, but others aren’t always willing to reciprocate. In the most confrontational statement I heard from him, he explained, “Some people seem to think that I should be able to read lips: ‘if you want to talk to me you need to read lips.’ I don’t ask them to learn to sign. We need to meet halfway.” He explained that he has no problem taking the time to write things out if that’s what it takes, but he prefers dynamic conversations, which is why he turned down my offer to conduct the interview over e-mail. While it might have made things a bit more convenient, he points out that e-mail would make things abbreviated. It is clear he knows where he stands as far as dealing with other people.

What makes David stand out as an athlete is his joyous approach to competition, his desire to connect with and help others, mixed with a bit of stubborn determination to live up to his own values. Running a Spartan Race requires the ability to find support in camaraderie, but also the ability to push yourself and live up to the challenges you set yourself.

David has already taken on two new Spartan challenges: one in Killington, VT—a Spartan Beast at 10+ miles—and a Spartan Sprint in Massachusetts. He did betray a hint of anticipation, saying, “My concern with the Killington one is running in the mountains, and in the heat of summer. That’s going to be a physical challenge.” Nevertheless, he seems to be looking forward to another opportunity to connect with new people and explore new terrain. If you’re at either race, be sure to look out for him. He’ll be the one smiling at you and cheering you on when things are looking gloomy.

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