On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, the world stopped and watched in open-mouthed horror at the images shown on TV. For Montana residents Rob and Sassy Giles, that day will be etched in their minds forever, as despite being nowhere near the east coast, that was the day Rob was diagnosed with Squamish Cell Carcinoma on his tonsils. He had cancer.

Advised immediately to find a doctor that specialized in this field, they happily stumbled across Dr. Jeffrey Haller MD, an otolaryngologist who had been working precisely in the field for the past ten years that Rob needed help with. What made everything click that little bit more easily was that he had recently moved from Salt Lake City to Missoula, Montana – practically on the doorstep of Rob and Sassy. The surgery was done at St. Pat’s hospital – a procedure that took 14 hours.

The operation went well and Rob spent the following 4 days heavily sedated in order to recuperate. Another 6 days passed before the decision was reached that he was well enough to go home. The medical team advised him that they wanted to keep him there until he could swallow.

Their remarkable cheerfulness they attribute to their unwavering faith. Even while Rob was having therapy in Arizona, Sassy flew home to have her own fight against melanoma cancer removed from her leg. This impossibly strong couple fighting hard against obstacles put in their way knowing that He was with them the whole time.

Although he was now in familiar surroundings, he noticed that his ability to swallow was diminishing. It turned out that his treatment of chemotherapy and the radiation had destroyed his epiglottis. Sadly, tumors continued to grow in Rob’s mouth, so he was unable to open his mouth. Halfway through his treatment, spots were found on Rob’s lungs. Since then, Rob has now been fed entirely by way of a tube fitted to his stomach.

Reflecting on his nutrition, his wife Sassy explained, “I make all of his food.  Rob eats very healthy food.  I am a fitness instructor as well as a figure competitor and Rob uses the same food as me. So for example for his breakfast he will put in the blender – yes all together- oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, kale, bananas, strawberries, quinoa.  Puree the whole batch and seal-a-meal it to freeze.  So I made 11 seal-a-meal bags for breakfast lunch and dinner.  Dinner will be fish, beef, chicken or salmon, lots of veggies (broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.), brown rice or quinoa and fruit.  I add avocado or hummus too!  He doesn’t eat sugar at all, no reason too, can’t taste any of the food since it goes directly to the stomach. We put it all in the cooler, frozen and he just thaws them out under hot water and uses a syringe to push the food into his stomach.  Interesting way to eat huh!?”

The treatment hit Rob so hard that he was, for all intents and purposes out of commission in regards to work. This didn’t, however, ever stop him from going to church, even if it meant leaning on a friend or family member so that he could attend. His remarkable humor was evident throughout, especially when he would refer to the outpatient clinic as, “The Recliner Club”. Despite being understandably frustrated, he would never complain to the nurses and would crack jokes and always maintained his jovial sense of humor.

To this day, Rob hasn’t swallowed for seven and a half years and continues to fight battles on all fronts. Anemia, Shingles, foot and hand damage from the treatment he went through have all made life difficult for Rob, but throughout it all, he’s driven on, fought back and continued to smile the entire time. In March of 2007, Rob and Sassy visited Israel where they were baptized in the Jordan river and even renewed their wedding vows in Cana.

It was around November of 2008 when Rob noticed that he wasn’t getting enough air to breathe. He was concerned another tumor was growing. After being rushed to the hospital, a doctor saw that scar tissue had been growing and was effectively closing his windpipe. The treatment for this was to fit a tract tube. Yet another blow to the man already fighting immeasurably high odds.

While what he gained with the tract made breathing easier, his sodium and iron levels in his blood left him feeling weak. After 4 transfusions with iron and salt put into his system he was right back on track. Not long after this, he was presented with a new mountain bike on Father’s Day. Although understandably hesitant given what his body had gone through, he sat on the bike and went for it. His iron counts were good and after a while, finding he had gained 25 lbs. and was feeling a little stronger, his rides now measure between 20-30 miles at a time.

“Suffering comes. It’s bound to happen”, says Sassy, “but it’s how we respond to it that makes all the difference in the world. Rob chooses to remain faithful to God, committing himself to his faithful creator and continuing to do good with as many days as he has.”

Rob’s strength and will of steel will be tested this weekend when he tackles the Montana Sprint. Never one to shy away from something put in his way, he’s ready for a fight. Sassy smiles when she hears people shrug off a Spartan Race as, too difficult. Having already brawled with whatever demon that came across his path, he’s rolling up his sleeves and clenching his fists for another round. He’s already learned what it is to persevere, as Sassy knows.

“He did say to me that the one thing he would like to see from this, is that when people hear the most horrible words you could ever hear, which is “You have cancer”. Rob wants them to know there is always hope, but you have to fight for it and you have to believe.  His motto during his treatment was, “I just have to beat it by one breath and I win! And he did win!”

See you at the finish line…

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Written by guest blogger and Pro Team Elite racer Rose Wetzell-Sinnett

Many people have asked, “what is a Founder’s Race?”

Well for those of you that raced in Montana, you now know what it is. It’s a little less formal that a regular Spartan Race. The obstacles are more like they were “back in the day”. They are made out of what is available at the venue. In the case of Montana, this was primarily fallen pine trees. The feel overall is more grassroots and the basic. But that does not mean less challenging. What else makes a Founder’s Race unique? It is designed by one of the Founders. In this case,  Joe De Sena.

Joe De Sena, you did not disappoint. In the Montana Sprint Founder’s Race preview, Spartan Pro Team member Elliot Megquier predicted that the race would be “brutally awesome”, thanks to the Spartan founder designing it himself, Elliot was right. With over 4,000 feet of elevation gain in under 5 miles, if racers weren’t climbing up a hill last Saturday, they were running down one. On the women’s side, talented racers such as Tiffanie Novakovich, Jenny Tobin, Rose Wetzel-Sinnett, Andi Hardy, and Laura Messner stepped up to the challenge after studs like Matt Novakovich, Chad Trammell, Elliot Megquier, Miguel Medina, Joey Patrolia, and Chris Rutz took off to tackle the roughly 20 obstacles strewn throughout the course. The race started off with a quick jaunt through a pond followed by a steep incline to shoot the heart rate up. Many racers found themsleves power hiking within the first few minutes, thinking, “What did I get myself into?” After flying down the hill, racers landed in front of a new obstacle – the biggest, baddest slippery wall Spartan has ever dished out. As racers headed uphill again, they came across a cute sign that read, “1.5 Mile Hill Climb” and then, underneath “Love, Joe.” And who was there within the first minute or so of this brutal hill climb but Joe himself, cheering racers on and probably smiling at the thought of their impending quad burn.

Over the next 2-3 miles, racers carried logs, flipped logs, waded through ponds, crawled under barbed wire with huge hay rolls in the way, climbed rope and numerous walls, carried sandbags, and of course, threw the Spartan spear, all the while making their way through the rocky terrain and occasional waist-high brush. Joe kept everyone on their toes, that’s for sure. Mountain running expert, Matt “The Bear” Novakovich from Alaska, smoked the course and finished in style, lifting a burning log over his head as he hurdled the fire pit. Next came Chad Trammell flying in, despite nursing a hamstring strain after claiming first place at the Colorado Sprint last week, followed by Lucas Zemlicka, a Montana native. The women’s race ended with a very exciting sprint to the finish after Rose Wetzel-Sinnett was directed off course by a fellow racer, only to run up the initial hill again, costing her a few precious minutes. Faye Stenning, who pursued Wetzel-Sinnett by a minute or two the entire race, also went off course, leaving Jenny Tobin a chance to possibly take the top podium spot. Once Wetzel-Sinnett realized she was back on the course’s beginning section, however, she bolted like a madwoman 150 meters to the last wall, which Jenny Tobin was already ascending. Full of determination, Wetzel-Sinnett flew up the wall, spilled ungracefully onto the other side, shot up and sprinted like crazy to clinch the win. Faye crossed the line in third, with the bronchitis-battling Tiffanie Novakovich just missing the podium.

Once racers tackled the course and earned their coveted Spartan medal, the real party began. Joe De Sena personally congratulated racers as upbeat music blasted, beckoning racers to find a second wind for the dance party. Although morning conditions consisted of clouds and coldness, the afternoon brought sun breaks between short rain showers, warming things up for the loony guys in Speedos. Spartan Races always offer challenging courses and an encouraging atmosphere, though all would agree that the Montana Founder’s Race added a special element of brutal awesomeness.

Sign up for your next Spartan Race right here and you’ll know at the finish line!

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Written by Pro Team member Elliott Meguire

Saturday May 10th the Reebok Spartan Race Series comes back to Bigfork, Montana for it’s second year at the Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge and Ranch. Last year was an excellent event and there was so much interest that Spartan Race couldn’t say no to round two. The course is a challenging one with single track climbs through the woods, over rocks, up cliffs, through the brush and up and down small four wheel trails. Expect to see 15+ obstacles, which may include the new challenging Monkey Cargo Net which debuted in Miami and appeared last weekend in Fort Carson, Colorado.

Rose Wetzell-Sinnett aims to jump to victory

This year, Montana is a Founder’s Race, so Joe Desena has scouted the course and put his special touch on the layout and design of the race so expect something brutally awesome. Last years women’s Montana champion Bev Watson will be back to defend her title. Challenging her will be Rose Wetzel-Sinnett who becomes the favorite due to her blazing speed and equal ability to conquer any obstacle thrown her way. Another favorite for the podium will be former series champion Jenny Tobin who has been doing Spartan Races since 2011 and is always a factor. Other women expected to race include the Barbwire Queen Andi Hardy and Laura Messner.

On the men’s side last year’s Montana champion and former series champion Cody Moat will be the favorite if he shows up. However, Chad Trammell – last weekend’s Fort Carson winner and runner up last year in Montana – looks to improve on last year and take the top spot. Elliott Megquier hopes not to get lost like he did last year in Montana and be able to claim a podium spot. Other men that will contend include the “Tough Training Guy” Christopher Rutz, Joey Patrolia, Matt Novakovick, Shane Mckay and fresh from his being voted as the male “Iron Man” at the recent 35 hour endurance event The SISU Iron in Los Angeles, Miguel Medina.

Pro Team member and elite racer Elliott Meqguire. A veteran of over 80 Spartan Races.

Make sure to stop by the Sportsman & Ski Haus in Kalispell on Friday from 5:30-7:30 PM to pick up you race packets and experience live music and free food. The weather might be a little mild with a high of 53 degrees with a 40% chance of rain, so dress accordingly and bring a water source if needed. However, there will be two water stations on course and one at the finish line. Montana is such a beautiful state and the local people are amazing so even if the race isn’t sunny and warm I can ensure you everyone still will have a wonderful time. See you all Saturday Aroo, Aroo, Aroo!!!

Sign up here for your next Spartan Race! 

Elliott Megquier is a member of the Spartan Pro Team and has been doing Spartan Races since 2011. He hails from Fort Drum, NY and has completed 82 Spartan Races all while on active duty in the United States Army.

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Last year, Spartan Race was embraced by the infinite warmth and hospitality of Kalispell. The inaugural Spartan Sprint that year will forever be remembered by not just the mountains, trees and views that just wouldn’t quit, but also by the generosity and friendliness of the community that welcomed Spartan racers from across the country into its heart.

This is why Spartan Race is so excited to return to Flathead Lodge Road and do it all over again. Arguably the most scenic Sprint on the schedule, but by no means the easiest. Many argued that Montana belied its beauty and hid one of the hardest – and therefore “ugliest” – Sprints in 2013. Remember that the terrain is there to break you. It’s beautiful, but it’s still your enemy.

Never was the term “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” more apt. Study your history, folks.

So what to expect? Hills. Lots of hills. They never seem to end, but it’s balanced out beautifully with that fantastic, lush smell of the trees as they wave to the gentle zephyrs that dance through the branches. Weather-wise, you can expect highs of around the mid 60’s, while lows can give you a sharp slap with a cheeky 39 degrees. Pack accordingly, as it can be a bit of a lottery. You didn’t expect this to be easy now, did you?

There are plenty of hotels to choose from if accommodation is proving to be a headache for you. In Kalispell you have the likes of Best Western, Hilton Garden, Aero Inn and countless others. Some of these hotels may even welcome Spartan Racers with a slight discount, although you’d have to check with them to be sure.

But given that you’ve traveled all the way to Montana, why not savor one or two tastes of the cultural stew that simmers away there? Check out this link for a site that will guide you through Kalispell’s downtown, including the museums, historical interest and what’s going on.

All that running around and rolling through mud mixed with forest debris will make you hungry and as such, you’ll need to know where to eat. Well, you are absolutely spoilt for choice. A quick check on Tripadvisor.com lists nearly 140 in Kalispell and there are no excuses for somewhere to replace everything you burnt off, or, should you need to carb-up the day before.

Are the kids with you? Well how about you take them to Family Fun Center in Kalispell? With Lazer Tag, bowling, inflatables, and everything in between, you can watch the kids wear themselves out and give you a quiet night as they recover. Check out this link that will give you all the information you need. Playing in a Bounce Zone with various inflatable shapes counts as Spartan training, doesn’t it?

This fine town also boasts a number of casinos if you feel that your luck is in. Why not try out a poker room or spin the roulette wheel?

A vast number of bars are also available, so there are no excuses for boredom when the race is over. Check here for a list to get you started!

All in all, if you miss this gem of a race, don’t say we didn’t warn you. One of the most underrated races on the circuit is offering you its hand. It’s down to you to accept and Spartan on.

See you at the finish line…

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In 2006, Luke Opps’ life changed.

The resident of Columbia Falls, Montana was changing a tire of his tool trailer at the side of the interstate when another motorist, while speeding, fell asleep at the wheel. Her car struck the tool trailer he was repairing and threw him over 35 feet away into a ditch. The result was a broken tibia in 7 places, a fibula in half and a shattered ankle. The resulting convalescence and inactivity caused Luke’s weight to increase from 190lbs to 255lb at his heaviest. Additionally, he now has a titanium implant in his left leg that runs from his knee to his ankle with a gear on his ankle end.

 In August of last year, he decided enough was enough and began a new regime. He recalls how it started all too clearly, “over the course of the months and grueling pain in my left leg from the wreck and being out of shape, the weight started to come off and I felt better.. In November I made the final leap and decided to run the Montana Spartan Sprint and jumped right in.”

Using his previous days as a Marine Corps veteran as the mental training that he’d already done as the fuel he needed, it was only the physical side that was stopping him. Along with this, Luke knew the right foods was also very important. “Still eating certain macros and counting grams daily, ie: carbs, fats, and protein and meeting them to the gram for my diet daily, I started to get stronger and healthier, I could run on hard surfaces which I had not done since the Corps. Finally a very dear friend of mine and Professional NGA Bodybuilder came to town from Havre, Montana and my workout and intensity level TRIPLED!”

Luke decided to set a goal that would be a goal weight of 177lbs by his wife’s birthday of April 15th. When that day came, he weighed 174lbs and had lost 15% body fat. A remarkable achievement by any standards. With his last goal set – the Montana Spartan Sprint – he was ready. Choosing not to go for a time, given that the Sprint was an unknown quantity, he and his team attacked the course and finished in 1 hour 21 minutes. “My team finished 24th out of 292 teams and I told myself when I was done with the race I was getting the Spartan Race Logo Tattooed, and that I did and man do I wear it proud!!!! My regime ( this one) is finished, I am stitting at 168 to date and slowly putting on more lean muscle and waiting for the day when I can do the next one and show off the logo with pride! No fitness trainer helped me with this, it was determination.”

Getting to be where he wanted to be was a very simple procedure for Luke. With his focus, he explains how he got to be where he wanted to be, “When it comes to training, I wake up daily at 3:45 go workout and then go to work a twelve hour day running my own construction business here in Montana, I run my own show start to finish, I do log work and building. When it comes to thinking of giving up while training I have severe drive, early on in my training I would think of corporal Todd Love, and actually train for him to keep going and a lot of time I use the simple saying “if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”. I am very determined and driven mentally, like I said, you can tell your body to do anything.
I also contribute alot of my drive and strength to my wife’s support and my faith in Christ”. 

When asked about any advice he may want to give others about where he is and how he could help someone get to that point, he pauses briefly to collect his thoughts. Smiling, he says, “Everyone is tough in their own way…if it were easy everyone would do it…giving up is the first stage of quitting, never give up and push through the pain. I work for a living and find time to train…if you want it you will work for it.”

See you at the finish line…

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