[Editor’s Note: Selica is director of Quebec and Ontario Spartan Race Markets. Richard is the director of the UK Markets.]
If you want to know how exactly Spartan Races came into existence, you have to look to the story of Selica Sevigny and Richard Lee, the British-Canadian military-media couple that literally stumbled into Pittsfield, VT in spring 2009.
Montreal native Sevigny, 26, was working for Global television in Montreal in 2008 when she met Royal Marine, Iron Man finisher, and endurance athlete Richard Lee, 29. He was on vacation and it was love at first sight.
In spring 2009, the pair was hiking south on the Appalachian trail to help Richard recover from a broken leg. After 2000 miles, they hit Pittsfield, VT only a few days before the start of the Death Race, Joe De Sena’s brutal 48+ hour test of mental and physical endurance. Richard, a member of the Royal Marines, was confident he was up to the challenge of the Death Race, and he dared Selica to do it with him. She agreed, although she had never competed in an endurance race before. But, she said in a recent interview, “I’m just a very determined individual. When I set a goal, I try to stick with it and get through.”
Remarkably, despite his lack of preparation, Richard finished first in the race. He said that his training in the Marines is what helped him perform, though he found the Death Race psychologically more difficult than being in the military, since there was no legal obligation to finish. Selica, who said the race was “by far the hardest challenge I’ve ever experienced in my life,” developed hypothermia during the race and was unable to finish. She said, “Many times during the race, I could only put one foot in front of the other, but I thought, as long as I’m moving, I’m still in the game.” Her determination and persistence led her to return for the winter Death Race in December 2009, where she placed third.
Needless to say, the race made an impression on both. “It’s so unpredictable that you can’t really train for it, and we really liked the idea of not knowing what’s coming,” Selica said. “In a marathon or triathlon, you know exactly what’s coming. In the Death Race, you don’t know the obstacles and you don’t know how to react.”
The day after the Death Race in 2009, Richard broke his foot, effectively stranding the couple in Pittsfield for a month. In that month, they spent some time hanging out with Joe, and the idea for Spartan Races was born. Selica and Richard, both inspired by the sense of accomplishment and confidence they felt after competing in the Death Race, wanted to offer that feeling to a much wider audience. Due to its extreme nature, the Death Race is open only to the most elite athletes—those who have the time to train extensively. “We wanted to invite just anybody, regardless of fitness level, to give it a try,” said Selica.
Why Spartan? “We brainstormed to come up with iconic images of strength, bravery, and ingenuity. Spartans were a small group, but they overcame so much adversity.” Plus, the fact that the Spartans were an ancient people offers an appealing alternative to the questionable values of our modern society. “The essence of what we’re doing is encouraging people to return to their ancient roots,” said Selica. “Our ancestors lived in the woods, hunting and gathering as a daily lifestyle. Now we depend so much on technology that people use a GPS system just to go for a walk. Not only are we living a pampered life—we live a life where people get stressed by little things like having to wait for an elevator or being stuck in traffic. We want to encourage people to return to the days of running in the woods, getting lost, challenging themselves, getting dirty. Even just getting in contact with that for a day is fantastic.
“If the race inspires people to just get out of their comfort zone for a day, or if it inspires lasting change, then we’ve done our job.”