“On February 16th 2011, I had open heart surgery and a single bypass to resolve my aortic aneurysm and a nearly closed artery.”

Steven Ramirez matter-of-factly drops this bombshell like his reeling of items on his grocery shopping list. No big deal. All joking aside, the resident of Brooklyn, New York spent a long time battling with health issues. Even as a child, the signs were there.

“Ever since the 4th grade, I was a chubby kid. Throughout my childhood I was made fun of a lot by classmates, friends with their jokes, turned down plenty of times by girls”, he chuckles.

“In sports I was never chosen first or seen as competitor. Sports was more disappointing to me because I love playing baseball and football so I obviously wanted to be great at it, but couldn’t be since I was overweight and had no speed.  Plus I was never taken seriously as a player. For example, when I would come to bat and get a hit, the other players would slowly throw the ball to base since I couldn’t run fast. This went on from 4th grade all the way to mid-2009. I always attempted to diet and work out but it never worked for me. I would end up giving up or seeing no results at all.”

“Around mid 2009, a close friend introduced me to a video work out program,” he informs us. Skeptical at first, but willing to try, his friend did the workouts with him. Embracing all manner of workouts from cardio to weights, CrossFit routines, even yoga and stretching. Steven went through this regime for 6 days a week while also taking a long hard look at what he was eating and drinking.

“I started eating whole wheat bread, 2% milk, non-sugary cereal, no sweets and tried maintaining my daily calorie count below 2000. Within half a year of the videos and the diet, I began to drop the weight like water. I went from a size 40 waist to 38 waist to 36 waist straight to a 32 waist in pants! Size small to medium in tops.  The hardest work-out in program for me was, believe it or not, the Yoga since it was around 90 minutes, but the first 30 minutes was not your typical yoga. What I enjoyed about the program is it was all indoors and cost efficient since I didn’t have to pay for a gym membership.”

Ascending aortic aneurysm

Before he began this regime, Steven saw a cardiologist because of a situation with a high blood pressure. Despite the weight loss, the pressure remained the same. Through this doctor, it was later discovered that Steven had an aortic aneurysm. In December 2010, the aneurysm grew to 5cm which required open heart surgery. This news shocked Steven to his core.

“In January 2011, I met with heart surgeon Dr. Paul Stelzer at Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan for a consultation to review my medical record. He sent me to have a CT chest scan with dye that revealed I also needed a single bypass. My surgery took place Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 done by Dr Stelzer himself. I was told the surgery took approx. 9 hours. I woke up the next day at 7:30am without even realizing the surgery was done. I was at Mount Sinai hospital for 6 nights and 7 days when I was finally discharged. I couldn’t walk for the first 2 days due to the anesthesia from the surgery and needed assistance in every aspect. I’d never stayed overnight at a hospital before and I was home-sick. The food was ok but I couldn’t get any sleep since I was uncomfortable and the nurses kept waking me up for blood drawing.”

After being discharged, Steven was ordered to stay at home to rest for 3 months. During this time he couldn’t bend or even lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. This sedentary lifestyle was forced upon him. Regular check ups followed and Steven was given a clean bill of health. More importantly he was given the all-clear to resume his “normal” life with the promise that everything would have to be slow and easy to start with.

“Once my 3 months were done, I started back work and also I began to slowly begin working out with only walking and fast-pace walking. One month later I added a 12lb weight vest to my fast-pace walk. I still had a hard time though. Honestly, it took me about a year after my 3 month recovery was done to start doing a lot of push-ups and adding weights to my routine.”

Then, in March 2013, life took a turn towards something that would change everything. His brother-in-law expressed interest in running the Citifield Spartan Race, but didn’t want to do it alone. Afraid of asking Steven – given his heart condition – he was a little stuck. Much to his surprise, Steven upped the ante. Not satisfied with a race that he considered “too short”, Steven told his brother-in-law to register the pair of them for the Tri-State Sprint. He wanted the fire, the mud, the punishment. He wanted to see what his limitations were.

“On June 8, 2013, I entered into the Tri-State Spartan Race. It was definitely what I expected: tough! The tape was pulled back and we began. The first right turn I made there was a pressurized water hose running over rocks and I fell! I knew right there that this was not going to be easy. I felt that endurance was key to finishing the race successfully. While waiting for my heat time, I saw muscular people struggling through the course and the lean, petite participants just running through the course with no issue. The hardest part of the course was maintaining your stamina. I mean, the 7 and 8 foot walls were hard, but making it up and down that wet muddy terrain at a steady pace was not easy at all. I thought that running the course from start to finish was impossible because you are going through incline and declines of rough terrain while completing obstacles. The walls were crazy since I am only 5 ’2 facing 7 to 8 foot walls.”

But Steven made it. Like there was ever any doubt.

Knowing that others would read his words, Steven quickly issues a rallying call for those who doubt themselves. Pausing only to collect his thoughts, he points out that the undoable is in fact a myth.

“If you are a person sitting there watching ads, commercials, reading all about the Spartan Race thinking ‘this is not for me, I can’t complete that’, just think that a guy called Steven Ramirez crossed the finish line 2 years after having open heart surgery. If you compete with a purpose in the Spartan Race instead of thinking about finishing first, you will finish the race with no problem. Nothing is impossible. Get up, push yourself, and become a SPARTAN! It is an amazing feeling, but you can only know when you cross the finish line!”

Want to experience what Steven did? Sign up at spartanrace.com for your own chance at glory.

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