He thought nothing of the red mark above his left knee as he scratched it. A mosquito, perhaps. Maybe a zit. How charming. But as the hours rolled into days, it was apparent this was no ordinary mark.
Californian resident Steffen Cook – “Cookie” to those that know him – was visiting his family and friends in England and had decided to make the most of his sojourn with an annual 10k in a local town close to where he would be staying.
“It was just to keep my eye in, more than anything. I knew I wouldn’t be working out or anything, so thought a little 10K just to keep sharp would be a good idea.”
On the morning of the Woodhall Spa 10k, Cookie awoke to find that the small red mark was quite a lot angrier than that of a visit from a mosquito. It was all too apparent that before he made it to LAX, an unidentified Californian spider had bitten him and whatever poison was injected into him was in full effect.
“I don’t think it was full-blown necrotic. Sure, the skin was falling away and I was regularly squeezing the wound and having a very unpleasant cocktail of blood, pus and, I assume, poison coming out. I was told by a medic that it would get worse before it got better. He was right.”
On the morning of the race, Cookie had a decision to make. He’d been unable to train for the race due to various commitments, but despite this, he knew it would be an easy choice to make.
“I’ve met people at Spartan Races with terrible conditions. People with no arms or legs. Others that have Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, this list goes on and on. I’ve met cancer survivors who just shrug it off like it’s no big deal. Let’s get this straight: people with conditions that don’t see it as a big deal. They just laugh off their situations like it’s dandruff or something. If I step on a Lego, the wife will have to deal with my whining for several days and will have to bring me several cups of tea and a large selection of cookies and cake in order for me to feel better.”
Cookie knew it wouldn’t be his best time. Working on 2 hours sleep due to the jetlag of having landed the day before and with the bite throbbing and trying it’s hardest to make itself known, he stepped into the starting corral and ran.
He continues, “It was hard, I won’t lie. I could give you great lines about how I ignored the pain and whatever, but that wouldn’t be true. It hurt like Hell. Yes, I ran, but it was the slowest 10k I’ve done in all the time I’ve been doing this. But you know what? Every time I thought about quitting, the Cookie in my minds’ eye would fold his arms, do “that” sneer and shake his head like he’s disappointed in me. I’d pick up the pace and he’d reward me with some Slayer. Slayer makes a great running soundtrack you know! Everyone listen to more Slayer!”, he laughs.
In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t as large of an obstacle as some of the other things he’s had to deal with. His biggest injuries, ailments and conditions were never physical. Divorce, bankruptcy and homelessness are but just a few of the darker chapters in the book of Cookie’s life. But bizarrely, he grins when these pages are mentioned to him.
“Yeah, not good times! I’ve certainly had better periods in my life. But, as perverse as it sounds, what I went through back then made excellent training. You can put Spartan Beasts in front of me, or challenge me to do 500 burpees or whatever. Those things or spider bites don’t even register. I’ll get all those things done, slowly of course, but they’ll get done. I’ve walked through my own personal hell made it through and now, there’s not very much that will put me off something that I’ve decided to do.”
This unusual way of channeling negatives into a positive works for this jogging enthusiast and essentially, all he’s doing is living his own version of the Spartan lifestyle. Every single person has something that they use in order to get through. Training, love, anger, hatred, fear, joy, reward… all means to an end. Find your motivation and use it as you see fit.
“I’m not sure how you’d label my motivation. I’m a happy guy that uses everything negative that I’ve had to go through in order to get to where I want to be. Hate can be a very powerful force. It’s just down to harnessing it. I’m just an oddball, I suppose. I’ll happily hold my hands up to that. Guilty as charged! But I’m an oddball that doesn’t quit. Quitting isn’t allowed”, he smiles.
See you at the finish line….