by Carrie Adams

With all the trails, mountains, and gnarly terrain we’ve tackled, we’ve yet to take on one landscape – the URBAN jungle!  That’s going to change ONE WEEK from today!  Spartan Race is headed to Times Square!

For the first time, Spartan Race,  will take over New York City’s famed Times Square, not for a race, but a very special public demonstration of the best that Spartan has to offer.  There will be obstacles, some familiar Spartan faces, and even MUD at the famed Crossroads of the World!

Want to come check it out?  The public is welcome to come down and watch elite and local athletes test themselves against our most love (or feared) obstacles and cheer them to victory!  Dubbed The Spartan Race Times Square Challenge, we’ve created an invitational demonstration featuring some of New York’s fittest competitors, some special guests, and, of course, our crazy obstacles.  Thursday, Nov. 1, from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., we’ll be rocking it out at Duffy Square (between 46th and 47th Street), in Manhattan.

Our good friends from Team X-T.R.E.M.E. will be on hand including always inspiring Marine Corporal Todd Love, trimembral amputee

Claude Godbout, Spartan Champion

of both legs above the knee and left arm below the elbow.  Claude Godbout will also be in attendance.  The Olympic bi-athlete from Canada is the only Spartan in our history to win a Spartan Race at every distance we offer!  That’s better than even Hobie Call or Cody Moat can claim!  A Sprint, Super, Beast AND Ultra Beast.  Godbout even headed overseas to Slovakia and took the top spot at our first race there earlier this year!

Other elite Spartans from our 300 group will be taking part in the demonstration alongside some other inspiring Spartans.  John Ulsh, car accident survivor and PA Spartan Super finisher will be one among the lucky 100 who will be showing the crowd some of our most beloved (and feared) obstacles!

For the next week, we’ll be counting down to New York on our blog and Facebook.  There may not be a ceremonious ball drop at the end, but who needs a ball when you have 8 foot walls to climb and traverse?  So, mark your calendars and get ready for some urban Spartan mayhem in the city that never sleeps.  See you at the Crossroads of the World November 1st!

Ready to get off your couch and race with us?  Get after it already!  Click HERE to find an event near you!

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by Carrie Adams

 

Before our Pennsylvania event, we introduced you to John Ulsh in a blog post.  A man who suffered a horrifying car accident in 2007 but had defied all the odds to not only survive, but come back to a life of fitness, health, motivation and inspiration for others.  

He had been given a less than 3% chance of survival following the car wreck and spent the next fourteen weeks in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers before he was home.  Nine months later, a hole in his heart required additional hospital time.  Two full years after the accident, walking with a cane, he made a decision to run again… and run he did.  Here is his story about his experience in PA and how he found the Spartan finish line.  

“What was I thinking?”  I said that sentence over and over again in my head as I stood at the bottom of Blue Mountain Ski Area, looking up the mountain at runners/climbers headed toward the top.  I quickly realized that the Spartan Race was not going to be like any race I ever ran…

Two days before the race, an email came from the director of the Spartan Race stating the following: “This course is going to be awesome (assuming awesome means steep and treacherous). The course is around 5.0 miles of hills.  This is our hardest sprint race because of how steep and treacherous the terrain is.  It’s harder and longer than last year.  Race smart and watch your foot placement!

“What the $#@*!!!!” was the first thing out of my mouth.  I was under the impression that this was going to be a 3 mile race on a fairly flat course.  (The description on the Spartan Race website describes the sprint race as “3+ miles”. Technically, 5 miles is 3+.  But, so is 100!) I guess in hindsight, I should have figured out it would be steep when I saw that it was at a ski area.  I am not always the most observant…

I struggle with a lot of different parts of running.  The one part that always kills me is hills.  I have worked with running coaches to try to improve my hill running, but it has been no use.  When I run hills, my damaged veins can’t get the blood out of my leg fast enough.  Quickly, my leg muscles start to lack oxygen, and then the “real pain” starts.  “How bad can the hills really be?” I said, trying to convince myself that I would be fine.

As I stood in the “ski village” with my team, I was kind of wishing I had added a doctor or two to the team, maybe an orthopedic and perhaps a cardiologist as well.  I did have my friend Rob Hadley with me to run the race.  He used to work for the pharmaceutical company that made the stents in my leg.  Now he works for a company that makes the plug that might some day be used to fix the hole in my heart.  He has scrubbed in on hundreds of surgeries.  He is practically a doctor, right?  I am sure that with a Swiss Army knife, a Bic pen and the right “product” from the trunk of his car, he could save my life in a pinch!

The rest of my team also consisted of Hadley’s.  Rob’s two sons Patrick AKA “Patch” (16), Joe (14), along with Rob’s brother Chris. Chris and Rob run marathons; Joe is a heck of a good cross-country runner and Patch….  Well Patch can “pick things up and put them down.”  He is a strong kid!  My wife Tonia was also there for support and my son James (8) came along to run the 1-mile kid’s Spartan Race.  Tonia quickly became the pack mule as we handed her our backpacks filled with towels and our clean clothing for after the race.  She would later describe her day as a “Mini-Spartan Race” as she lugged the bags all over the mountain while taking photos for me.  Finally, 11 o’clock arrived and it was time to get this race started.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t concerned about finishing this race as I stood at the starting line staring at the first of what would be many hill climbs, 50 yards in front of me.  But, as the guy in the Spartan costume gave his “warrior speech” and then sent us “into battle”; I did what I have done so many times since the accident.  I took the first step, then another…

I needed to celebrate finishing this race.  I needed to know I could do this.  There would have been no question that I could have done the Spartan Race before the accident.  After the accident, as I laid in a nursing home, no one would have even given any thought to the idea of me ever doing such as race.  Now it was time to get rid of some more demons. There was only one way to celebrate at the finish line and that was to run the race.

This race was the single hardest thing I have ever done.  I definitely suffered more pain and mental anguish from the accident, but then I had no choice.  At that time I could only simply accept my fate.  Running this race was my choice.  I could stop the pain form getting worse if I wanted…

I could write 5000+ words describing everything we went through on the course that day.  (Honestly, I plan to do just that for my book.)  But for now, I think the easiest way to describe it to you is to mention a few of the highlights and show some photos.

I want to start by saying that everyone in our group finished.  We decided in the beginning that no one would be left behind.  We would finish as a team.  We all struggled throughout the course, but when it happened someone from our group was there to encourage you to keep going.  Patch trained the least for the race and was “talked” into doing it by his dad.  He really had to push himself to finish.  I say this not to point out his struggles, but rather to point out that I didn’t hear one complaint out of the kid’s mouth!  I am sure he called his father a few choice words under his breath, but he simply didn’t whine or complain.  He knew he was in over his head, but he kept pushing. I am sure he wanted to quit, but he never did.  Not the typical response a lot of people would expect from a teen.  I was really proud of him and I am sure his dad, brother and uncle were prouder!

This race up the mountain would have been challenging enough without obstacles. The Spartan Race people don’t tell you what obstacles will be on the course so every time you come to one it is always a surprise.  Especially, if like us, you never ran one of their races.  Some obstacles favored size and strength while others were more a test of one’s cardio fitness and ability to recover quickly.  Carrying a 40 lb. bag of sand down and back up a double black diamond ski hill at mile 4 would end up testing every part of a person! We climbed walls and ropes.  We climbed monkey bars and crawled for 50 yards under barbed wire. (I have the cuts on my back to prove that one!)  We carried 50 gallon buckets filled will stones up and down a hill.  We went down a giant slip and slide into a pond (That was actually fun!).  We drug a 40 lb. concrete block by a chain down a hill, through waist deep water and back up the other side. We flipped tractor tires and threw spears!  In the end, we climbed 2200 vertical feet over 5.1 miles and conquered 15+ obstacles in 90+ degree temps.  It was a great day!

I realize now that obstacle racing is exactly what I need, a single opportunity to test my will.  The accident was the toughest thing I ever gone through.  It has been 4+ years of fighting setbacks, not knowing what will happen next, and pulling myself back up when I fall down.  The Spartan Race was all of those things wrapped up into a few hours, instead of years.

Find your Spartan Finish line.  Sign up today. 

[Editor's Note: Read more about John and his story on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MyRecoveryMyMotivation]

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by Jeremy Benoit

John Ulsh

“Your current circumstance does not determine how far you will go, only where you begin.”  - John Ulsh

On December 1, 2007 John Ulsh returned around 7:30 AM from a ten mile run.   He grabbed a quick shower, dressed, and jumped in the car with his the rest of his family to head to his eight year old daughter Katie’s swim meet about an hour away.   He and his wife Tonia promised their four year-old son James that if he was well-behaved during the meet, they would go and cut down a Christmas tree afterwards.

Katie had a great meet, the first of the indoor season, taking firsts in all three of her events.  James did his best to behave while he sat in the hot pool area watching his sister swim.  It was only a little after noon and they were already on their way home to get a tree.

Route 16 in Mercersburg, PA is two-lane, 55 MPH, undivided highway.  The Ulsh’s were driving home, talking about going skiing the next day, when a car traveling the other direction suddenly cross over the center line and hit them head-on.  There was no warning and neither driver hit their breaks.  The police estimated the combined impact speed to be 125 MPH.  The driver of the other car was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Ulsh Car

Everyone in the Ulsh family was seriously injured, but they all survived.  John took the brunt of the crash and was severely injured.  He was airlifted to Penn State Hershey Medical Center.  Ulsh arrived with less than a 3% chance of survival.  His spleen and diaphragm had ruptured.  His left lung had collapsed.  His pelvis was shattered as well as four vertebrae in his back.  He had a dozen broken ribs and a fractured foot.    Doctors cut him open from sternum to pelvis in order try to find and stop the bleeding.  He took a remarkable 50 units of blood over the first 48 hours.

Ulsh remained in an induced coma over the next 15 days while doctors preformed ten major surgeries to put this modern day Humpty-Dumpty back together again…  When John awoke from his coma, he was paralyzed below his waist and was in excruciating pain.  He had no abdominal muscles.  Three days before Christmas, he was moved to a nursing home in his hometown of Carlisle, PA where he would spend the next 10 weeks in bed “non-weight-bearing”, while his broken back and shattered pelvis, now held together with titanium, healed.

Ulsh’s time in the nursing home was long and difficult, both physically and mentally.  He spent most of his day in unbearable pain and unable to sleep.  Mentally, fear was taking its toll on him.  Fear that he would never walk again.  Fear that his life would never be the same.   Ten weeks later, he left the nursing home 30 lbs. lighter, wearing a back brace that made him look like a Storm Trooper from Star Wars and sitting in a wheel chair.  His next stop was in-patient rehab.

John arrived at Pinnacle Rehab in Harrisburg, PA with one goal in mind, to go home to his own house so that he could be with his wife and kids, and sleep in his own bed.  Two weeks later, his wife Tonia pushed his wheel chair up the custom ramp that friends had built only days before so he could get into his house.   Fourteen weeks after the accident John was finally back in his own home.  The next day Tonia drove him to out patient rehab.  He would continue going every weekday for the next year.

Nine months after the accident John went back to Penn State Hershey Medical Center to have his abdominal muscles reattached.  During pre-op, doctors found that he had developed a hole in his heart from the accident.  A very rare occurrence as most people would have died from another complication of the trauma before damaged heart tissue would have had time to die.  Eventually, doctors concluded that it would still be safe to have the abdominal surgery.  A month later Ulsh had an 8 hour surgery to re-attach his abs.  The doctors were only able to attached two-thirds of the muscles and ended up sewing in Gore Tex mesh to hold the rest of this abdominal cavity closed.  John spent 15 days in the hospital recovering from the operation.   Two weeks after returning home, doctors found ten bloods clots in Ulsh’s left leg from the most recent surgery.  The clots caused extensive damage to the veins in his leg.

Almost two years after the accident John was walking with cane.  He had full use of his right leg, but had severe nerve damage in his left leg from the accident and extensive swelling from the blot clot damage.  He dealt with chronic pain by taking large amounts of morphine.  Ulsh was coming to terms with his “new me” and was content to spend most of his day sitting in a chair or laying in his bed.    All that changed one day when his now ten-year-old daughter called him out.

Ulsh sat in his home office watching out the window as his daughter Katie practiced soccer.  A few minutes later Katie came into his office crying.  “I miss my old daddy, the one who would come out side and train with me,” she told him.  Ulsh’s heart broke.  He had always been an athlete.  He had been training his children to be athletes as well.  Now he was robbing his kids of that experience.

“I think it is time that daddy started training again,” he told his daughter.  The next day John went to his local YMCA.    “My first day at the YMCA I couldn’t even complete one circuit of the weight machines set at the lowest setting.  After 30 minutes I left, with no intention of ever returning.  The next morning I woke up and the first think I thought was ‘my shoulders hurt!’” Ulsh said.  It was the first time in over two years that the first thought he had upon waking wasn’t about his chronic pain and the accident.  He was hooked.  “I needed to get back to the gym and re-create the pain.  This was pain that I could understand, that I could control.”   John began the showing up at the gym almost every day “trying to make me hurt.”  Six months later he was walking without a cane.  A year after starting at the gym, Ulsh was in better shape than most healthy men.  In March of 2011 Men’s Fitness Magazine wrote a feature article about his remarkable progress.  Ulsh starting speaking to groups about his story and started writing a blog about his recovery and his motivation titled aPerfectRun.com.

Ulsh continued to work hard a repairing his broken body, but the ability to run was still evading him.  The lack of blood circulation from the clot damage made getting oxygen to the muscles in his left leg almost impossible when running for more than 200 yards.  On top of the skin on his leg was breaking down from the swelling causing ulcers to form.  There was even discussion as to whether he would need a partial leg amputation.  In October of 2011 John traveled to the University of North Carolina Medical Center to surgery on the femoral vein on his left leg.  4” of stent were put into the section of the vein that travels through his pelvis.  80% of the vein was blocked from scarring.   A month after the surgery John was jogging a mile.  He was worked up to 4 miles since.  “I can’t run very fair and certainly don’t run very fast, but I am running.  Doctors told me walking would be a challenge.  Now I am running again”, said Ulsh.  “It as been difficult to come to terms with the realization that I will never be able to run like I could before the accident.  I now average about a 12-minute mile pace.  I use to run under 7 minute mile pace for 20+ miles.  I need to keep reminding myself that I am lucky just to run. Plus, I stronger then I have ever been in my life,” he added with a smile.

On July 14th John will test himself once again when he attempts to become a Spartan.  “No one could have ever even imagined that I could do anything like the Spartan Race when I was laying in that nursing home bed paralyzed and in incredible pain.  Finishing the race will mean everything to me.”

Inspired by John’s story?  Prove it.  Sign up today.

 

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