On January 10th 2013, Brian Tanzer received a phone call that no son or daughter ever want to hear. Two days shy of his 92nd birthday, Brian’s father passed away. Not quite sure how he was going to tell his mother, Brian knew this news was going to hit harder than anything his mother had heard before. She had been suffering with emphysema for years and was actually in hospital with pneumonia at the time. The news was indeed too much to bear and three weeks later, she passed on, too.
“I knew I had to be strong for my family. As was my typical for me, even as a kid, I found God and exercise to be my salvation. I prayed every day for God to help me turn my sadness and despair into strength and fortitude. Helping to take care of my parents for the last 4 years of their life was a great honor and pleasure. As a father of two wonderful daughters, I know that being a great parent takes a lot of energy and sacrifice. I wanted to do something significant to honor my parent’s memory, and all the sacrifices they made that helped me become the man, husband and father that I am today.”
“Everyone has moments sometimes when they question stuff or perhaps lose a little faith. There were times when my faith wavered, but my amazing wife and two wonderful daughters helped keep my faith strong. I think a lot of people have moments in their life when they question their faith in God. They become angry, want to blame someone or something, or, simply feel “abandoned” by God. Having these feelings is all part of our “walk” with God. We are faced with challenges, and our faith is always being tested. This is how our relationship with God is strengthened. Our faith may waiver, and we may slip and fall, but we have to get back up, stay strong and understand that life is not intended to be easy. We can’t just have faith when everything in our life is going well. It is during times of adversity that our faith in God must be strong.”
Brian found the Spartan Race blog not long after and read some of the stories some past participants shared. Stories of courage, defeating cancer, losing a limb, memories of loved ones, all channeled into acts of heroism and courage to overcome. At around that time, his work sent out an email challenging their employees with the Spartan Race in Vernon, NJ. Could this have been a coincidence, or was He talking to Brian and offering him an opportunity to do something?
“My friends and I loved playing football, especially in the snow with no equipment. I was 15 years old when I had a collision with my older brother which resulted in a severe injury to my lower back. After a visit to the ER and having no broken bones, I went home and was told to stay off my feet for a couple of weeks and to avoid contact sports. Being 15 and thinking I was indestructible, I went back to playing football, martial arts, and all the other sports and activities I enjoyed.”
“After 4 years of chiropractors and physicians telling me to limit my physical activity, I sought the advice of a surgeon who told me “I could fix your back, and you’ll be as good as new.” I had a severely herniated disc in my lower spine which was compressing nerves causing shooting pains, numbness and weakness in my legs. Following surgery and 10 weeks of rehabilitation, I was back to limited activity, and then within 6 months back to playing sports again. Since I had no aspirations of being a professional football player, I limited myself to touch football, but went back to all my other activities. As the years progressed the pain in my back continued to get worse.
When he was 26, he received a diagnosis of failed back surgery syndrome. He noticed that the pain was much different to that before the surgery. A few years rolled by in which 20 epidural injections were administered to his spine. Not really providing any help or relief, his physician suggested a spinal cord stimulator. This would be a small device that delivered electrical impulses along his spine which were designed to “block” pain signals. Sadly, this didn’t work. He awoke the very next morning in such pain that he was rushed to hospital to have the wire removed from his spine at once.
“For some reason, the wire shifted during the night and left me unable to move my legs. When I left the hospital I vowed to never have another procedure on my back. The past few years I have discovered the incredible benefits of yoga. It has helped my pain and increased my flexibility. Although I still fight chronic pain, the more active I am the better I feel. I use my pain as motivation, and not an excuse to sit around.”
Utilizing this mechanical-free way of staying physically active gave Brian the motivation and the tools he needed in order to convince him to tackle his first Spartan Race.
“Several colleagues and I signed up, showed up and completed the TriState New Jersey Super Spartan. It was about 8 miles long and it took me about 3 ½ hours to complete. It was physically and mentally challenging, but when it was over, I felt a real sense of accomplishment. After the race, I noticed some people were walking around with a different medal than the one I was given. I asked one of my fellow racers what it was and he described to me the Spartan Trifecta, and what he did to earn this medal. As I walked away I thought to myself what a great “gift” to give my parents.”
Brian didn’t really know how this was going to come to fruition. At this point in the year, there were only 3 months left and opportunities to check off the list what he needed were scarce. The day following the NJ Super, he registered for the Sprint at Citizen’s Bank Park that was only 3 weeks later. After that, a trip to South Carolina proved to seal his promise to his parents.
“It was a long, cold 13 miles that took over 5 hours to complete. Given the cold temperatures and frigid water, there were a few moments during the race when my legs cramped up so bad it made it extremely difficult to keep running; I did have a secret “weapon”. All I had to do was look down and there was my wristband with an old photo of my mom and dad sealed inside. It was caked with mud and I could barely see the photo, but it was enough to keep me going. Someone was going to have to chop my legs off for me to stop. I was doing this for them, and I said to myself, I’m not going to stop because my parents sacrificed so much for me that it would be a disgrace to their memory if I just didn’t keep pushing forward. I have to admit, when that race was over, and I crossed the finish line I was cold, soaked and tired, but really didn’t care. Sixty days prior I set out to complete all three Spartan races in 60 days as a gift for my mother and father and when the Beast was conquered, I had accomplished my goal. It was a great day!”
Reflecting on what he sees in his life and in his line of work, he knows that the physical, while easy to see on the outside, is also very important on this inside whether it be the body or the mind.
“Most people think fitness and health is about having a six-pack, big biceps and looking good in a swimsuit. Health and fitness is about much more than appearance. It’s about having energy and vitality, endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility –the complete package. As a nutritionist and fitness advocate I find it very disturbing to see the impact of physical inactivity, particularly on our youth. Playing outdoors and being physically active has taken a backseat to cell phones, video games and TV. There are so many kids who can’t pass a basic physical fitness test, and live in an environment where physical activity is not encouraged. I know I like to challenge myself by training with people that are half my age, rather than being complacent with being able to keep up with people my own age. I credit my fitness with helping me get through the many physical and emotional challenges I’ve faced.”
Brian now intends to honor the memory of his parents with a Trifecta every year. Not put off with the various horror stories, myths and legends about the venue of Mount Killington in Vermont, he embraces the idea that the event is there to try and break him.
“I’m planning on completing the Vermont Spartan Beast in 2014. I’ve heard about how incredibly difficult and challenging the course was last year for the World Championship, but I never let anything stop me from accomplishing my goals before, so I’m not going to start now. I’ll be 46 years old in July, so I’m not sure how many more “good” years I have left. I have no plans to slow down any time soon, so as long as my mind says yes, I’ll figure out how to get my body to follow!”
“Spartan Race has been a great way for me to turn my pain and sadness into strength and fortitude. Life is challenging, and there are so many obstacles along the way. We must meet those obstacles head on, as doing so makes you stronger and able to push forward. We’re all going to stumble and, on occasions even fall down. What matters is how quickly you get back up and push forward. We must surround ourselves with those we love most and treasure each and every day. At 45 years old, I’m not sure how long I can keep racing.”
“In memory of my loving mother and father. Thank you Spartan Race!”
See you at the finish line…