Photo courtesy of Clint Kelley, Globe Hotshots

I encountered Spartan Race on a social media site where the banner link showed up on the right hand side. I’d never heard of Spartan Race, neither had my friends. I am a Firefighter on an IHC (Hotshot) crew. I felt confident and I registered with three months to train for the AZ Spartan Super.

Ten days from the race I found myself lying on the floor of my room wondering how someone could feel so bad without being dead. Food and water hit my stomach and reversed direction and I spent eight days trying every medical and holistic remedy known to man to beat the flu. Two days until race day and I felt pretty good but I was experiencing full body cramping. I hydrated as best as I could and when race day arrived I felt good. I wasn’t 100% and I knew that the 10 days being sick would take their toll but I had a team that I was not going to disappoint and I WANTED this bad.

The event was crazy. I’d never seen anything like it. Music blaring, the announcer shouting encouragement and challenges, and in the middle stood the cargo net climb and five other obstacles. I’d never seen so many motivated and determined people before. There was a definite air of intensity but it was coupled with a feeling of community; a oneness. My team lined up at the rear of the starting area and the excitement quickly dispersed every thought of the flu and the last ten days. It was impossible to keep still. When our heat surged forward we moved slowly at first but it was at the first obstacle that we scrambled passed several groups and began to make our way towards the front. I was in my element and I was having fun; pure joyful fun that made me smile. I loved jumping over walls and slogging through the mud. As the race progressed, my friend paced me until we hit the monkey bars where I started feeling a cramp in my calves. I deliberately slowed down to try and conserve my energy and deal with the cramping. By the time I got to the tire flip I was cramping in my calves and hamstrings. I nailed the tire flip, rang the bell on the rope climb, and failed the spear throw. 30 burpees and the cramping hit every leg muscle. I was starting to use a morphed jog/hobble with periodic stops to stretch cramping muscles. By the time I waded in the canal, the cramping had moved to the forearms and abdomen. 30 more burpees at the balance beams. I wanted to die. I slipped and fell into the canal before the Hercules Hoist and my entire body cramped up. I laid partially submerged in the water, body seized up in cramps.

A volunteer wearing a blue medal tried to motivate me, but seeing that I was in pain, he told me “You can make it, man. It’s only a mile left.”

I thought about quitting. I thought about telling this young man, “I quit.” But that medal. That medal was right in front of my face and it wasn’t even wanting the medal but wanting what that medal stood for that helped me motivate myself to get up and keep going. The cargo net was a challenge. I seized up again at the top and stood there with the volunteer for a few minutes as a spasms passed. I made my way down the net, made the sign of the holy cross and hobbled my way towards the gladiators who took pity on me and only hit me a little bit and not full force. I got my medal around my neck, the shirt on my shoulder and I had never eaten a more delicious banana than the one at the finish line. I immediately collapsed from another body cramp but I was aware of that medal around my neck, felt the coolness of the metal and the weight as it hung. I survived the course. Through every ounce of pain and cramp-ladened step, I finished and accomplished more than what I thought I could. I wasn’t ashamed of my desire to quit because I knew that when it came right down to it, I didn’t. And the medal proved it.

Editor’s Note: Keeyoul Cha works as a six year veteran firefighter for an IHC (Hotshot) crew based in Arizona. He is a 24 year martial art practitioner in Muay Thai/JKD and Gracie Jiu Jitsu. He has two cats.

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