by Matt “Bear” Novakovich

Why call me the bear? I like to think that a bear can adapt to its environment and not only survive, but excel, and perhaps dominate. I’d like to think that a grizzly bear in Alaska has become respected and feared because of the sum of that bear’s accomplishments, not simply because it is a “bear.” To survive in Alaska, a bear has endured the harshest weather from 90 degrees F to 50 degrees F below zero. No one feeds a bear- a bear finds its food or dies.  A bear is large and therefore strong, yet must stay lean and powerful to chase down and find its food. A bear will travel for 50 miles in a day to find food, only to burn those calories returning to its home. What does this have to do with Spartan?

Spartan racing has accomplished what no other sport in the world has accomplished to date, the same way the harsh environment in Alaska has made a bear the most vicious, most powerful, and most respected animal in the world. Spartan racing does not apologize for being difficult, even impossible. Spartan racing does not cater to any athlete, yet attracts all of us. Spartan racing is the first sport to demand speed, agility, strength, balance, endurance, fearlessness and to do all these things while being out of one’s comfort zone. Every other sport that I know accommodates only a couple of these attributes and typically leans towards specificity.

What did I do to become a Spartan and receive the title “The Bear” after winning the Virginia Super? I had no idea I was competing in this race until three weeks prior to it. In the months proceeding my first Spartan, I played basketball, football, rode motocross, roofed buildings, climbed mountains, jumped off cliffs, white-water rafted and did the occasional CrossFit WOD.

So how did I win? I won because I am an adapted athlete. I am ready and willing to go long, hard and fast. I willing to jump, sprint, fall and grind. I am willing to do all this while being tired, hungry and uncomfortable. I am willing to come back for more.

So how did I implode at the Reebok World Championships in Vermont? I respected myself and not the race. Norm informed us all, that this race would expose all of our weaknesses. He told us to bring water and nutrients or we would starve. He said it would be cold. I laughed in my head at the thought of “cold.” I’m from Alaska and swim in glacier water. Bring a hydration source? Not me, I go light and fast and I will survive. Weaknesses? Please, I’ll be the last to crack.

I wasn’t willing to sit in 3rd or 10th. I chased and hammered from the start and wasn’t willing to let any of my foes lead. As early as the monkey bars (5 miles) my first cramps were arriving. As early as the barbed wire (6 miles) I begged for a hydration source. As early as the water obstacle (7 miles) I felt like I’ve never been colder. As early as the memorization obstacle I knew I would quit.

I sat in a dilapidated, humbled, hypothermic state with cramps I’ve never faced at the entrance of the forest at only the halfway point. My lead of 9 minutes over the eventual winner, had now been replaced with a burpee penalty that took me over 30 minutes to complete. With my pride at an all-time low, with no reason to continue and with excuses mounting in my head, I decided to quit. The medic witnessing my plight suggested it was a good plan.

I did not quit. Somehow, all of the reasons that make Spartan the greatest sporting event on the planet came together and carried me to the finish line. From “The Bear” to “The Mouse” I sat on the ground and became a quitter. Then the mantras of being a Spartan rang in my newbie Spartan ears and I became “The Bear” again. I crossed the finish line.

Just as a bear adapts to his environment I will adapt to my new Spartan World. In the short week since the world championships, I’ve climbed over 40,000 vertical feet, completed four CrossFitWODS, thrown spears, played basketball and have run with my cross-country running team.

I will become “The Bear” again and will adapt and respect being a Spartan.

What will you become? Register today.

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Photo courtesy of Huffington Post

Standing in front of the fire jump flames rising towards to sky, Lance Bombardier James Simpson, 27, made a decision. “I’m just going to jump over it myself.” With just a few friends as support, one of them tasked with ensuring he didn’t start on fire in the process, James leapt over the fire and finished the Reebok Spartan Sprint in Ripon, North Yorkshire September 8, 2013 becoming the first British double amputee to accomplish such a feat!

“I kept my medal on for hours after!” he joked. “We thought it was a 5k… I found out afterwards it was actually 7.1k!”  Arguably the toughest Sprint in the UK line-up, the course was rugged and the obstacles difficult, but Simpson insisted on doing each of them without assistance.  ”It was just me and a few friends.  I did everything myself.”

The charming redhead from Yorkshire had been training for the event for four months and was prepared for most of what was going to face him on the course, until the mud towards the end. “The mud was so thick, I was afraid my leg would come out of the socket. That part took the longest!”

Simpson heard about the event from some of his American friends who finished a Spartan in the States in 2012 and knew he had to do one for himself. He told the Huffington Post, “I did not do it to break a record. I did it because I wanted to and hopefully it will encourage more people to do it and more amputees to try it in the future.”

Simpson was a part of the 5th Regiment, Royal Artillery stationed in Helmand, Afghanistan in November of 2009. While he was on foot patrol in Sangin and was the seventh man in line and stepped directly on an IED. He lost both legs above the knee and sustained injuries in both arms in the blast. “I remember just not looking down. I knew my legs were gone, but I just kept talking to myself to keep myself calm until the helicopter came.”

Simpson has also decided that he’s not quite done with his Spartan Racing adventures either. He’s found two friends to take on the upcoming Spartan Super in the Midlands on September 21st. “We’re going to give it a whirl!” he says.

With nearly double the distance and more obstacles than his recent Sprint experience, Simpson expects it to take a lot longer to complete. “I’m excited… and nervous… this means we’ll have to try the Beast as well!”  With a trifecta on his mind, Simpson will be taking on the Midlands course this weekend, two months after he may also be tackling the London Beast, and possibly even an event or two stateside in 2014.

L/Bdr Simpson has another exciting adventure awaiting outside Spartan Races.  He’s leaving the military for a new life as a University student studying film this fall.  He is also raising money as part of Spartan Journey for the Armed Forces charity SSAFA. You can find his website HERE to learn more and donate.

We’ll see you on the course this weekend, James!

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by Carrie Adams

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

ground-zero-by-photosthatchangedtheworlddotcom

Today is September 11, 2013.  So many of us can remember where we were 12 years ago, what we felt when the towers crumbled and smoke rose in the sky darkening the landscape and leaving the world stunned in the shadow.  We recall the images as the Pentagon shook and we heard the final calls home from the brave passengers who fought back on United Flight 93 and crashed in a quiet field in Pennsylvania rather than let another building or target succumb.  The skyline of New York will never be the same, we will never be the same, yet the statue of liberty still rises proudly from her home on Ellis Island, the fortitude of a country etched proudly in her arms, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

We battled on.

Stephen Reid, right

After September 11, 2001 and as a country we mourned those lost, we shed tears of sorrow for the public service men and women who risked and lost their lives trying to protect the innocent, and for all those lost on that day in the violence unleashed on our unsuspecting nation.

One of our own Spartans, Stephen Reid was a detective in the New York City Police Department on 9/11. In Chinatown at the time of the first plane crash, he called his department, telling them he was there to suit up.

The losses were severe. Reid lost 23 police brothers and sisters that day. A heavy loss for the seasoned detective, “I joined the NYPD at age 21. I felt it was my calling and enjoyed police work. By the time I was 28, I was promoted to Detective. September 11… my life was changed forever.”

Reid ran his first Spartan last year in Boston. Following that experience, he began to run every day carrying the American Flag and a piece of steel from the Trade Center, they accompany him at every race. Known for his long beard, quick wit, and infectious smile, Reid draws inspiration from those he runs alongside, just as they are inspired by him.

Reid has finished several Spartan Races since Boston, including the Tri-State Spartan Super, the Virginia Spartan Super with Operation Enduring Warrior’s Community Athletes, the Tuxedo Spartan Sprint, and the CitiField Spartan Sprint. He also has a connection to the military in his family, “I hail from a family of veterans. My father served in the US Navy on the USS Croaker during Vietnam. His father was a decorated MP in the US Army during WWII who saw action in Germany. My mother’s father was an Army Captain who was killed in action in Germany during WWII.”

Stephen Reid

That left an impression on Reid, “Since that day our military has ceaselessly fought a War on Terror. So many young men and women have since gone off to fight this war and defend our country from those that do not appreciate our way of life. Many have come back forever changed. They have given so much of themselves. I honor them all.”

The flag and the steel are just a reminder, something to carry as he runs. Says Reid, “We carry the burdens for them that day,” Stephen explains, “because after the race, we can get rid of our burdens, and they can’t.”

We remember this day from 12 years ago with somber reflection and a commitment to looking forward to what lies ahead. In life there are obstacles to overcome, some seem insurmountable. Stephen Reid is a reminder of how to move forward again day after day with grace, kindness, humility, generosity, and most of all, with hope.

We salute him. We thank him.  He is a Spartan.

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By Laura Stokes
Finding Strength

“Come on mom! You can do it! Don’t look down!” yelled my 14-year-old son, Jacob as I carefully scooted my butt across a cargo net suspended 30 feet in the air. Never a big fan of heights, my son’s encouragement was just what I needed to get me though the Spartan Sprint obstacle. Reebok Spartan Race has enabled me to do things I never thought I could do and to become someone I never thought I could be.

Ted Rodgers, Tommy Duffey, Stewart Armstrong, Jacob Stokes, Laura Stokes and Chan Graham

When my husband, Kade, was killed in a motorcycle accident 2 ½ years ago, I was left to raise our 7- and 11-year-old boys alone. I felt weak and helpless. That was then. The weakness has left me, I am Spartan strong. I’m not alone in that strength. My son Jacob is also a Spartan. As a personal trainer, I took Jacob under my wing to help him get his body in shape to prepare him for the race. And on race day, he was strong. He ran and conquered obstacles like a champ. But he also gave me something I hadn‘t expected, he gave a lot of encouragement When he saw the trepidation in my eyes as I approached an obstacle. He stuck by me like glue to encourage me and give a boost when I needed it.

Race Day
Jacob and I ran the Spartan Sprint March 9 in Conyers, Ga. along with three of my husband’s poker/cigar buddies and a neighbor. One Spartan chick, four Spartan dudes, and one Spartan teen equal one helluva team. I think it was a life changing experience for all of us. We all came to the race with different obstacles we were facing in our lives, but we all crossed the finish line and proved something to ourselves. As for me and my Jacob, we are hooked. The training and the race was an awesome mother-son bonding experience. It has given us something positive to focus on and prepare for. After the race we immediately went over to the registration table and signed up for the Spartan Super in Leesburg, Va. on Aug. 24. We also plan to run the Beast in Winnsboro, SC in November in order to earn the coveted trifecta.

During one recent training session before the race, I gave my son a little insight into staying motivated when the race gets tough. Losing his dad was the most difficult thing in his young life that he has ever had to endure. Our family has dealt with this tragedy and we have come out on the other side as stronger people and the three of us are bonded to each other like cement. We were Spartan strong before we even approached the Spartan start line. “If we can conquer that, we can conquer anything,” I told him. These obstacles are just a few things to slow us down on our journey, but we will get over them and get to the other side of them just as we have done in our lives.

Jacob Stokes, Laura Stokes, Tommy Duffey and Stewart Armstrong

Moving Forward
Were it not for the tragedy, I would never have become a personal trainer. I never would have made miraculous changes in my own life and we never would have made it to the Spartan. I would trade all of that in a second to have my husband back. But that isn’t an option, so we have chosen to use our tragedy to make ourselves stronger. And as a personal trainer, it is my goal to make others stronger as well. And I’m not just talking about their bodies. To me that is just a nice side effect. The real transformation takes place in the mind, spirit, heart and soul. When that late-night knock on the door from the coroner turned me into a widow at the age of 42, I was a shy, stay-at-home mom and had no idea where to turn. After God, family and friends, I found my greatest source of strength to get up and tackle every day came from physical activity. There were plenty of days that I absolutely forced myself and my children to get out and go for a walk. There were plenty of days that I didn’t feel like doing anything, but I did it anyway because I know it is what we needed. Sometimes the spirit has to be stronger than the body in order to make it through.

When my husband’s friend first approached me about doing the Spartan Race with him, I was very hesitant. I went to the Spartan website to see if I thought I could do it and I just wasn’t sure. My whole life I have been afraid of everything – heights, water, roller coasters – you name it. My children informed me that I wasn’t the “fun parent.” I left that crazy stuff for my husband, but now it was just me. I decided I was ready to break out of my shell to become a better, stronger person. Being a part of the Spartan family is so much more than a group of people that finish a race together. Its principles translate into everyday life. When you conquer those obstacles, you realize you are stronger than you thought you were. If you can do this, what else can you conquer? At the Georgia sprint we witnessed a racer that had lost 400 pounds, one that was in a wheelchair and another missing an arm and a leg. That is what the Spartan spirit is all about – using the cards you have been dealt and being the best you can be, and perhaps in the process you will inspire someone else to be their best. I was a victim but now I am a victorious. Thank you Spartan for being a part of my victory. My next goal is to get my 9-year-old son Joshua in the Jr. Spartan Adventure Race so that it can be a true family affair. I’m also thinking about becoming a Spartan Group X certified coach in Greenville, SC. Everyone should have the opportunity to be a Spartan, and I welcome the opportunity to lead as many there as possible. Fitness has changed the lives of me and my family. I recently began a blog, Girlonfirefitness.blogspot.com, that I hope will inspire, motivate and educate others to give fitness its rightful place in their lives. There is no other drug on the planet like exercise.

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