by Paul Morin, Army Veteran and Spartan Athlete

While most people were prepping their livers for St Patrick’s Day or trying to finish a vacation, I took my son, and a few fellow Spartans and Team X-TREME members, to the Walter Reed National Medical Center. Our aim was to help get more of our wounded warriors out of the barracks and seeing what is possible.

I spent the next three hours chasing my son, talking to wounded warriors (or adaptive athletes) about what Spartan Race is and what Team X-TREME does, all while admiring the courage and resiliency of the men I met. How can you complain about anything when a soldier who has lost an eye, with severe damage to his face, says “I am doing great today, how are you?”

It was an amazing experience for me as an Army Veteran but as a father it meant even more to see my son there. To watch him lose that initial shyness and just start being a hyper five year old boy. To see the smiles he brought these men as he bounced around, ran into them, asked questions and threw them the t-shirts provided by Team X-TREME.

I was asked why I took my son to a hospital to interact with men who are severely wounded. My first response was that I wanted to teach my son that we are all equal. That potential resides inside each of us and what we do with that defines us. That we are all presented many obstacles in life and how we overcome them defines us. I wanted my son to know these men, and know them as men and not just as those who lost limbs to support our foundations of acceptance and citizenship. And that the look of the soldier who had my son jump in his lap was as priceless as the laughter he caused.

We were there to show them that through Spartan Race and Team X-TREME we can, as a unit and as a family, help them overcome their physical obstacles and start doing activities they would not have imagined. They helped me raise a better child. I think it is a fair trade.

What’s your excuse?  Sign up today.

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By Scott Blough, Team X-T.R.E.M.E. Times Square Team Leader

Where it Began

In August of 2012, I traveled to Leesburg, VA for the Mid-Atlantic Super Spartan. This was my first exposure to the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR).  While on the festival grounds I heard bagpipes coming closer and noticed a group of soldiers entering the starting area.   The announcer informed us that these men were part of a group called Team X-T.R.E.M.E.  We turned our attention to the skies where we saw a black parachute open and the announcer told us during his descent that the team was going to run this course with two wounded warriors.  One of the wounded warriors, Noah Galloway, was being tandem parachute jumped in to the event.

The team assembled.  It was at this point when I got my first look at Todd Love.  Todd is a triple amputee.  Missing both legs being above the knee and his left arm below the elbow, he served as a Recon Marine before his injuries.  He is carried by the team in a backpack throughout the race.  I quickly snapped a picture on my phone and cheered them on as they took off to conquer the course.   That was the last time I saw the team that day, I stopped by the Team X-T.R.E.M.E. booth on the way out of the festival grounds and grabbed a t-shirt.

Joining the Team

Upon returning to North Carolina I began doing research on Team X-T.R.E.M.E. to find out who they were.  As the pictures and videos of the race came out they were nothing short of amazing.  The images of Todd climbing the 25 foot rope in Leesburg have become known throughout the sport of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).  As I dug deeper into the articles on the internet I started to become more inspired by the team and the mission. The statement “We give opportunity not sympathy” was the final straw for me I was hooked.  I signed up as a Team X-T.R.E.M.E. Community Athlete (TXCA) then started looking for ways to join the team.  I learned that there was an indoctrination (INDOC) process to try out for the team.

Eduard Lychik, Todd Love, Hobie Call, and Joe De Sena

I signed up for the INDOC class 003-012.   We started with eight people trying out for the team with two wounded warriors.  Class 003-012 had six people finish, of those six; four were selected to join the team.  We were issued our Avon C-50 gas masks and welcomed to the team.

Times Square

Reebok Spartan Times Square Challenge was my first event as a team leader.  Times Square was an amazing opportunity for Team X-T.R.E.M.E. to get our mission out to the world and support Spartan Race, an organization that has lent us a great deal of opportunity and exposure.  The race course allowed the spectators to get right up next to the action and see the whole course.  Many of our community athletes were on hand, as well as two wounded warriors – Todd Love and Eduard Lychik.  As a team, we tackled the course in Times Square Lychik and Love demonstrating extreme acts of physical strength and endurance.  Watching them climb the ropes simultaneously was a sight I will never forget.   We got to meet many spectators and some celebrities like Tiki Barber and Brooklyn Decker.  We even met Reebok Spartan athletes Hobie Call and Spencer Hendel.  It was  a great day!

After the race the team headed to Ground Zero where we took a tour of the memorial that opened in 2011.  The memorial is overwhelming.  The names of the fallen line the outer edge the memorial appropriately named “Reflecting Absence.”  The mood of the team was very somber at the memorial.  We focused on how that day had changed our lives and where we might have been had that never happened.  Most of the team members have at least one combat deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.  To stand at the physical location that started it all was a great opportunity for the team.  We look forward to more events in 2013 and supporting our mission to honor, empower, and motivate wounded service members.

See additional Team X-T.R.E.M.E. pictures from Times Square HERE.  Photos courtesy of Kevin High Photography.

[Editor’s Note: Scott Blough grew up in Fairfield, Iowa and joined the Army in 2000.  Blough has served as a medical sergeant in Army Special Operations for the past 9 years.  Blough as deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 5 times between 2005 and 2010.  Blough is currently attending Campbell University where he will earn a Bachelor of health Science later this year.]

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by Carrie Adams

When Team X-T.R.E.M.E. stepped out onto the Leesburg field, escorted by a bagpiper, the festival area that is normally buzzing with activity suddenly quieted and turned their attention to the eight figures crossing the lawn.  What would follow as the team took to the course, two wounded warrior athletes included in the effort was unlike anything we’ve seen at a Spartan Race.  Hands down, this was the most widely read story we published in 2012.

It was the first time the team would take on a Spartan course, but it wouldn’t be the only time we’d see the team, complete with blacked out gas masks, run in 2012.  They’d return to the Carolina’s Beast and will also be onsite in our upcoming Times Square demonstration.   They’ll be coming with two of their wounded warrior athletes, Eduard Lychik (single leg hip disarticulation), and Marine Corporal Todd Love

(trimembral amputee of both legs above the knee and left arm below the elbow.)  Love was a part of the Leesburg team and his performance and determination throughout the course was nothing short of inspiring.

I had the privilege to see them in action on that day in Leesburg and the blog post from that day was our biggest of the year.
What’s your excuse now?  Get registered TODAY.     To read about that memorable and emotional day, click HERE.

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by Carrie Adams

“The military is in Spartan blood.” – Joe Desena

Spartans are active soldiers, former soldiers, Veterans, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, fathers, mothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and friends of troops.  Veterans and military personnel are even entitled to a discount when registering for a Spartan Race as well, a very small gesture of “thanks,” but one that we are honored to provide.   Since mid-2011, Spartan Race’s main military partner has been the Air National Guard. We could not be more proud to align ourselves with such a courageous group of Americans!

If you are a Spartan Race finisher, chances are you have been face-to-face with ANG’s logo, as you were attempting to successfully complete the traverse wall obstacle.  Some of you, whether racing or spectating, have competed in the Air National Guard Pull-Up Challenge – the most popular festival challenge at our events.

In 2012, a portion of all Spartan USA revenue is donated to Homes for Our Troops,a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that assists severely injured servicemen and servicewomen and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials and professional labor and to coordinate the process of building a home that provides maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently.

Spartan also launched a Military series in Fort Carson, Colorado in May of 2012.  We’re returning in 2013 May 4th!  Click HERE for event information on this special edition Spartan Race.  The Military series was a huge success and it was coordinated through the Army Department of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR), a comprehensive network of support and leisure services designed to enhance the lives of soldiers (active, reserve and guard), their families, civilian employees, military retirees and other eligible participants.

In keeping with the longstanding Spartan Race tradition of giving back, a portion of the proceeds from the Spartan Fort Carson event was donated to direct military nonprofits including the Green Beret Foundation.  Future military series events will do the same and will donate to other organizations to help address the unique needs of each respective host installation.

In 2011 Spartan teamed with Pro vs. GI Joe to create a rehabbing with the Troops program that featured MMA superstar Tito Ortiz.  We put up a special Spartan Race course in Southern California, see the video HERE.  SR also partnered with Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization that annually sends 100,000 care packages to military personnel, their families and wounded service men and women.  Donating money to their cause for FB likes going into the 2012 Calendar year.

Team X-T.R.E.M.E.’s Todd Love

Many military service men and women have graced our race courses.  From Team Riley in Glen Rose, TX, to Team X-T.R.E.M.E. in Leesburg, VA and everything in between.  Every Monday on the Spartan blog, we’ll be featuring some of our favorite military inspired stories.  Last week, we gave you the recap of Team Riley, an inspiring team running to honor a fallen brother.

Each Spartan finisher runs for their own reason, many of those reasons are bigger than themselves and we’re excited to tell you their stories in 2013 each and every Monday on our blog.  Spartan Race would like to say “Thank You” to so many men and women who have served, who serve still, and who will serve in the future.

For his week’s installment, we’re introducing you to a Beast.  Kevin Phillips took on his first Spartan Race, the Beast no less in Killington, VT.  That’s quite the introduction to the Spartan Race series.  Phillips enjoyed the race so much, he’s planning on earning his Trifecta Tribe status in 2013 (finishing a Spartan Sprint, Super Spartan, and Spartan Beast in one season) and in his own words, reflects on what the Spartan Race series has to come to mean to him.   Kevin spent four years in the Air Force and is currently a graduate student pursuing his MBA at the University of Michigan.   We look forward to welcoming him to future Spartan battlefields.

My Spartan Experience

by Kevin Phillips

I was once like you. I had participated in races, competed in mud runs, and finished tough workout programs, but the thought of doing a Spartan Race was daunting. The idea of subjecting myself to that type of torture didn’t seem to make sense; crawling under barbed wire, jumping over fire, and climbing up cargo nets seemed ridiculous. Why would anyone do this?

However, while I wanted to stay in shape, my desire to workout wavered because of the lack of having an end goal. Lifting weights at the gym, going out for a run, or completing a workout program was no longer appealing, and though I put emphasis on getting in shape every January, this past year was different because I lacked the motivation to stay focused. Because of this, I decided to take a chance and sign up for a Spartan Race.

What I got in return was one of the best experiences of my life!

While there was significant apprehension in the days leading up to the race, shortly after the event started the uneasiness disappeared. Concerns over not being able to get past an obstacle were replaced with the joy of conquering a challenge; uncertainties of whether I would be able to complete the race were pushed aside, as other Spartan racers motivated me to continue to push forward; and the anxiety and stresses of everyday life becoming too much faded away, knowing that if I could slither through the mud, navigate up a mountain, and perform hundreds of burpees, I was capable of conquering any challenge that I would ever face!

My Spartan Race was unlike any other experience I have ever had, and the way I felt throughout the race and at the finish line was nothing less than euphoric. The demanding course, dedicated athletes, and exuberant fans created a lasting memory that I will never forget.

Now it is your turn!

If you are reading this article you have undoubtedly thought about competing in a Spartan Race, but passed because of the fear of the unknown, concerns over the ability to do the obstacles, or worry that you might not be able to make it to the finish line. No more! Everyone has those fears, but the ability to get past them is what shows true grit and is the mark of a Spartan!

Join me and my fellow Spartans this year by signing up for an event of a lifetime! The Spartan Race you compete in will shatter your expectations and you will cherish your experience for the rest of your life.  Find a race near you HERE and find out for yourself.

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by Carrie Adams

Mark your calendars, Spartans!  Spartan Race is headed back to Times Square Jan. 17, 2013 for our Invitational Obstacle Race Demonstration but FIRST we’re making a pit stop in Far Rockaway, Queens to help out the victims of Super Storm in a joint effort with the non-profit organization,  New York Cares, to help those still recovering from the devastation.

For the first time, Spartan Race will be hitting up the urban jungle in a Times Square demo like you’ve never seen!  This invitational demo will feature some of our most beloved and feared obstacles and will have participants show the viewing public what a Spartan Race (well, short one) looks like!  We may even do a burpee or two as well, we’re known for those!   The Spartan Race Times Square Challenge is set for Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., at Broadway Plaza between 42nd and 43rd Streets, in Manhattan. (updated location)

Before the demo in Times Square goes down, Spartans will get a chance to get out into the community and help out those in need.  We’re announcing the Spartan Muck Out, a two-day volunteer project to help clean-up efforts in Far Rockaway, Queens, that will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 12 and 13.  Both days, busloads of Spartan volunteers will depart 47 Trinity Place (corner of Rector Street) in downtown Manhattan at 8:00 a.m., returning at approximately 6:00 p.m.  The Muck Out will involve clearing debris and damaged items from homes and removing drywall and other damaged parts of buildings. Experienced New York Cares staff members or trained, experienced volunteers will oversee each work crew.

Joe D., Spartan founder and resident burpee dictator, Joe Desena is excited about bringing the world of Spartan Racing together with the world of Spartan charity.  As you know, Spartans give generously.  ”We are doing all we can to change lives all over the world with these events.  There is no better time to change your life than in the New Year.  That doesn’t just mean your body.  As Spartans, we want to give back and of course, we’re doing it in the best way we know how – by getting dirty!”

We’ll be joined by some familiar faces.  Team X.T.R.E.M.E. (www.team-x-treme.org) is heading out and bringing retired U.S. Army Sgt. Noah Galloway, (amputee of the left leg above the knee and left arm above the elbow), Eduard Lychik (single leg hip disarticulation), and Marine Corporal Todd Love (trimembral amputee of both legs above the knee and left arm below the elbow.)  We’ll have some of our elite racers and everyday competitors on hand as well, showing off the Spartan demonstration course!

Want to get involved in the Muck Out?

To join in the clean-up process, Step 1 – Create an account here: http://www.newyorkcares.org/users/create_account.php
Step 2 – Go to this link and click sign up for Saturday, Sunday, or both.  (Link:http://www.newyorkcares.org/volunteer/volunteer_opportunities/search_projects/projcodesearch.php?projcode=Spartan+Race&location=&neighborhood=&dow=&x=0&y=0&pass=1&page=1)
Step 3 – Show up and muck out!
Once you sign up you will receive an auto email with more details and my contact info!

See you in the Big Apple!

About New York Cares

New York Cares is New York City’s largest volunteer organization. New York Cares runs volunteer programs for 1,200 nonprofits, public schools and city agencies to help people in need throughout the five boroughs. Since 1987, New York Cares has made it easy for all New Yorkers to work together to strengthen the city, and last year helped 400,000 New Yorkers in need. For more information, visit newyorkcares.org

 

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by Carrie Adams

Spartan Race is no stranger to Guiness Book World Records.  Some of our founders, including Noel Hanna have a few on their walls.  On Veteran’s Day in 2012 a very special record was broken by another familiar Spartan face, well, gas mask.  Introduced to Sparta in Leesburg, VA female Team X-T.R.E.M.E. athlete, call sign “Justice” was the record breaker!  A member of Team X since January 2012, she’s participated in two of our Spartan events and recently became a world record holder when she was the first female to complete a marathon’s full 26.2 miles in a gas mask.  Completed as a Team X event, it was done in honor of all Wounded Veterans and was an accomplishment not lost on the Marine, who when masked is referred to simply as “Justice.”

Justice, whose real name will be withheld out of respect for the anonymity of the team and the commitment to their focus on their wounded comrades, has been a member of Team X since January when she went through the INDOC process.  She was asked to join after 48 grueling hours of physical and psychological testing.  The INDOC testing phase was the third and final stage of Team X-T.R.E.M.E.’s intense indoctrination process.  The first step Justice underwent was the submission of a two minute video.  Upon acceptance of the initial video submission there is an invitation to join the athlete community to show a candidate’s dedication to the organization by raising money and awareness.  If proven in the community, the candidates are invited to participate in the Richmond, VA 48 hour test.  The most recent INDOC with seven candidates actually resulted in no new team member invitations, a nod to the difficulty and exclusivity of the process.

Justice not only succeeded, she excelled, and has been a remarkable addition to the team.  For her first Team X event and weighing in at just over 120 pounds she carried 45% of her body weight for 26.2 miles through the New Mexico high desert while wearing a gas mask at the 2012 Bataan Death March.  At the Spartan Race in Leesburg she carried almost 90% of her body weight with wounded warrior athlete USMC Cpl. Todd Love on her back throughout the course rotating with the rest of the male-based team every half mile.  Not once did she miss her turn to carry the weight, not once did she falter or complain.

She repeated that again the Carolina’s and will be in attendance of many more Spartan events in the 2013 season.  We look forward to her return and congratulate her on her incredible record-breaking accomplishment!

Want to join her?  Sign up for one of our many events in 2013, it looks like we’re going to have nearly 60 worldwide by the time the year is over.  Join us!

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by Carrie Adams

With more than a million service men and women beginning the transition back to civilian life, and with Veterans Day just past, Spartan Race wants to honor those who have served this country.  One day a year is not nearly enough, the thankfulness and pride should be a part of the landscape and the fabric of this nation, and it is a part of the Spartan culture.

Spartan founder Joe Desena has been quoted as saying, “The military is in Spartan blood.”

Colorado Military Series

Spartan’s longstanding commitment and partnership with the military is evident since our creation, and it will always be a part of our organization.  “Two of Spartan Race’s biggest commitments are getting people from all walks of life active, healthy and open to new challenges and supporting the brave service members of the Armed Forces,” said Spartan Race Founder Joe Desena.

Spartans are active soldiers, former soldiers, Veterans, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, fathers, mothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and friends of troops.  Veterans and military personnel are entitled to a discount when registering for a Spartan Race as well, a very small gesture of “thanks,” but one that we are honored to provide. Since mid-2011, Spartan Race’s main military partner has been the Air National Guard. We could not be more proud to align our brand with such a courageous group of Americans!

If you are a Spartan Race finisher, chances are you have been face-to-face with ANG’s logo, as you were attempting to successfully complete the traverse wall obstacle.  Some of you, whether racing or spectating, have competed in the Air National Guard Pull-Up Challenge – the most popular festival challenge at our events.  All of you, have undoubtedly said “thank you” in one way or another to our military for keeping us safe.

In 2012, a portion of all Spartan USA revenue is donated to Homes for Our Troops,a national nonprofit, nonpartisan

Operation Gratitude Recipients

organization that assists severely injured servicemen and servicewomen and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials and professional labor and to coordinate the process of building a home that provides maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently.

Spartan also launched a Military series in Fort Carson, Colorado in May of 2012.  The Military series was a huge success and it was coordinated through the Army Department of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR), a comprehensive network of support and leisure services designed to enhance the lives of soldiers (active, reserve and guard), their families, civilian employees, military retirees and other eligible participants.

In keeping with the longstanding Spartan Race tradition of giving back, a portion of the proceeds from the Spartan Fort Carson event was donated to direct military nonprofits including the Green Beret Foundation.  Future military series events will do the same and will donate to other organizations to help address the unique needs of each respective host installation.

In 2011 Spartan teamed with Pro vs. GI Joe to create a rehabbing with the Troops program that featured MMA superstar Tito Ortiz.  We put up a special Spartan Race course in Southern California, see the video HERE.  SR also partnered with Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization that annually sends 100,000 care packages to military personnel, their families and wounded service men and women.  Donating money to their cause for FB likes going into the 2012 Calendar year.

Team X-T.R.E.M.E.

In Leesburg, VA we were first introduced to Team X-T.R.E.M.E. fighting their way through the difficult course while donning their now infamous blacked out gas masks and then returning to the Carolina’s to take on a Beast.  They will be at several upcoming Spartan events including the NorCal Beast and the SoCal Super Spartan.  They have become partners and friends of Sparta.  Their faces hidden and their identities unknown, the team captured the attention of the Spartan community and it spread like wild fire.  Aside from the wounded warrior athletes, the rest of the team are distinguishable only by the call signs stitched into the patches they wear on their arms, and they intend on keeping it that way.  This deliberate anonymity is in recognition of their mission to honor, empower, and motivate wounded warriors and to remain selfless in the process.

From Spartan Race HQ, thank you to all our Veterans.  And let us all honor you with not only our words of thanks but with how we live out the freedom you have so selflessly ensured for us.

“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

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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

As our Spartan Race 2013 season just kicked off with a Beast in the Carolinas and preparing to head to Fenway in November (we’re not scared of a big Green Monster), we’ve got something special in between!   Where the urban jungle meets primal Spartan… A treasured landmark will be the backdrop to a Spartan demonstration like nothing we’ve done before.   That’s right, Spartan Race is headed to Times Square!

For the first time, Spartan Race,  will take over New York City’s famed Times Square, for a public demonstration of the best that Spartan has to offer.  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.  The date is Thursday, Nov. 1, from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., at Duffy Square (between 46th and 47th Street), in Manhattan.

Think we can’t do mud in Times Square?  Think again.  We sure can.  We’re Spartans after all!   We’ll be joined bysome familiar faces, Team X-T.R.E.M.E. will be on hand with with U.S. Marine Sergeant Jonathan Mozingo, amputee of the left leg below the knee, and Marine Corporal Todd Love, trimembral amputee of both legs above the knee and left arm below the elbow, and spectators will love the opportunity to see it all go down in one of the beloved New York city locations!    No charge for spectators, just head on down and watch it unfold.  There will be plenty of surprises to keep everyone, even the pugil-wielding Gladiators, on their toes!

The week leading up to the event 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

As she washed off in the all-female community shower in the field, Marine GySgt Barbie Ritzo Brown’s hand brushed past a hard lump on her breast.  The then 35 year old knew her chances of having breast cancer were small, but there was something troubling about the lump.  So she returned her fingers to the spot on her breast and the small node she estimated to be the size of a gumball.  It couldn’t be more inconvenient timing for Ritzco, she isn’t just in the field, she’s participating in desert operations preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.  All told, the veteran Marine had been serving for 18 years.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Hawaii, Japan, Romania. 

“Been there, got the shot glasses.” She says. 

But that day in the shower she made a choice not to report the lump.  A choice that would begin a journey that would take her overseas and back again to face not just an enemy abroad but a deadly enemy occupying her own body.  She chose to put her country, her team, her soldiers, and her mission ahead of herself and continued on her regular day-to-day work schedule of 12 hours on and 12 hours off, eating one hot meal a day and sleeping in a cot in a hut in the desert at triple digit temperatures preparing for war so she could serve, alongside her beloved Marines, as scheduled in Afghanistan.

Barbie’s sister reached out to me and when I heard her story, I knew it was one that needed to be shared in her own words…

Time passed without my reporting the lump until a few months later when things calmed down and I told my Flight Surgeon about the lump. He does what all good docs do and referred me to someone else to have it checked out. I cancelled the appointment several times, prioritizing hectic work situations and severe sleep deprivation ahead of my appointment. Besides, we were scheduled to deploy again in November 2010. So, once again, I cancel the appointment; actually I think I just forgot about it. I told my doctor, “The lump isn’t going anywhere. It will still be there when I get back.”

I wasn’t going to let a lumpy boob stop me from deploying. Hell no! I went through too much to get to this point to not deploy with my Marines and my Squadron.

As scheduled I deployed to Afghanistan.  Well, me, my M16 service rifle, 50 rounds, a Kevlar Flak jacket, gas mask, and unbeknownst to anyone else…my lump. I really didn’t think much of it. There is no history of breast cancer in my family, except for my first cousin Linda who was diagnosed at 30, but because of moving around so much we lost touch during my time in the military. I closely monitored my lump and when I noticed it became slightly larger, I had the doc check it out.  He said it felt like a cyst and that he’d recheck in a month and that sounded good to me, but a few weeks passed and it seemed to have grown again.   By now, it has taken control of my nipple.  Another warning sign – inverted nipple.  That’s not a good sign.

But I was in Khandahar at the time, one of the world’s deadliest places. We were working non-stop to support a flight schedule of fighter jets that were constantly dropping bombs on the ground and saving grunt’s lives.  In the first few months, we sent 23 Marines home as angels. It felt like every night and day, we were under attack by rockets. We spent hours in bunkers waiting for a sign that all was clear. I was responsible for the lives of the ten Marines under me. We hoped all our training would work, that we’d be able to do our jobs and the situation was extremely stressful. Truth be told, I think that is why my lump doubled in size in such a short time. Every night taking a shower I would dread washing myself because I knew that lump was there. I would cry in the shower every single time. I knew in my heart what it was.

In addition to the stressful environmnet, there was no mammogram equipment at the hospital in Khandahar. It is basically a “stop the bleeding point” for troops before they med-evac them to Landstuhl, Germany. At this point I am finally advised by the doctor about my situation.  I am told to pack a bag because I will be gone for a few days. I have no idea that I would not be returning at this point. I was briefed that if the worst case scenario occurs, meaning, Breast Cancer is the diagnosis, then they would send me home. I pile onto a C-130 medical flight headed to Germany. It took a few days to get there. We had to make several stops along the way to pick up combat wounded troops. I finally arrived in Germany at the hospital and was immediately escorted to see a general surgeon. He examined me and we assumed the worst. It looked horrible. A giant lump, an inverted nipple, and swollen lymph nodes…I was a walking pamphlet for Breast Cancer.

He performs a core needle biopsy. The results won’t be available for a few days. I was lucky enough to arrive on a holiday weekend. It was February 11th, 2011. Valentine’s Day would be on Monday. Great! I was able to squeeze in the mammogram and an ultrasound before everyone went home for the day. That was good news. I sat in the barracks for a few days with the rest of the Wounded Warriors. Some will not be returning to the combat zone. We all played the waiting game. My results came back on February 23rd, 2011. I already knew what it said. I was just awaiting confirmation. The Chief of Surgery sat down with me and he tells me that it’s pretty much what we thought: Breast Cancer. I had already prepared myself for this moment while sitting alone in a room for a week. I never told anyone I had left Afghanistan. I didn’t want to worry my family. Now that I knew the results, I had some phone calls to make. I guess that was the hardest part up until now. I called my mom, my husband, my sisters, Brenda and Tammy, and then my dad. I told my mom that I was flying into D.C. and they will start whatever treatment is necessary at Walter Reed in Bethesda, MD.

It was a long year for me. I tried to remember all the details of this journey, but that is impossible. One thing I will never forget is the hurt and pain I felt in knowing that I was not going to return to my Marine family. I trained for months with them for deployment. We had gone through so much together. I felt ripped-off that I would not be able to complete my deployment with them. I was forced to abandon them. I hoped that they would be strong. This would be the defining moment of my leadership and training. If I have trained them right, they would be successful without my physical presence. I would be useless as a leader and a complete failure if they did not succeed. In the end, they all returned home safely. Mission accomplished!

All alone, I arrived in Bethesda MD. My mom arrived the next day. She drove down from PA. It was a Friday. On Monday, I was scheduled for the million tests and scans that we all know too well. I was shuffled for weeks between radiology, cardiology, oncology, surgery, social workers, physical therapists, etc. All the while it seemed as if every person in that hospital had either seen my boobs or palpated them in some way. I was diagnosed at Stage 3B. They could feel about 3 swollen lymph nodes. My lump measured 8cm by 9cm and my eight cycles of Chemotherapy started on March 24th, 2011. I had a Bilateral Mastectomy on August 12th, 2011. After my surgery, the surgeon said 11 out of 11 nodes were cancerous. Only a few of them were actually affected by chemo. Some hadn’t responded at all. I had Radiation Therapy daily for six weeks ending on November 22nd, 2011.

As early as my initial diagnosis, I informed my doctors that I would not stop running. I told him I was running the Crossroads 17.75K on September 17, 2011, which was 30 days after my mastectomy, and he said he was operating on my boobs not my legs. That was exactly what I wanted to hear and my legs haven’t failed me yet. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon October 20, 2011, Disney World Half Marathon January 7th, 2012 all during treatment.

Surgery to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes was performed on January 18th, 2012 due to being tested BRCA2+, which makes me at a high risk for Ovarian Cancer. I continued to run and completed the Thrills in the Hills Half Marathon in GA on February 25th, 2012 and the next day on February 26th, I finished the Augusta Half Marathon. A few other races I completed are the Cherry Blossom 10miler, Irish Sprint, Hollywood Half Marathon, Run for the Dream Half Marathon, Run for the Dream 8k, NYC Hope and Possibility 5M, Disneyland Half Marathon, Awesome 80s Run, Tough Mudder, YSC Tour de Pink East Coast Philly to DC, and Air Force Cycling Challenge.

In the next few months I am registered and preparing for Spartan Race in SC and TX, NYC Marathon, Hollywood FL Half Marathon and LA New Year’s Half Marathon, Just to name a few…

I am a member of the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Vets, which helps train and prepare mentally and physically for my races. The Spartan Race is one of the challenges on my Bucket List. It is a tool that I have been using to motivate me and push me through my hardest days. I try to remain positive and active and moving forward. A few weeks ago, I was able to skydive as part of a Fearless Women’s movement and in November, I am going surfing in Costa Rica. I’ll be running with the Team X-T.R.E.M.E. Heroe’s Heat at 9:50 and am thrilled to know that Susan G. Komen Charlotte chapter will be a part of the day!

Read more about Barbie’s story and her involvement in The SCAR Project HERE.

[Editor’s Note: October is Breast Cancer awareness month, and in light of the battle so many of our women (Spartan and otherwise) face, we’re going PINK in our October races to give a voice and a light to those who have been affected.  South Carolina will feature a survivor heat and we’ll have Susan G. Komen of Charlotte on-hand who will get 50% of the proceeds from the heat planned in their honor.  For all women, breast cancer is a terrifying thought.  And while only 7% of all breast cancer diagnoses come to women under the age of 40, when you do the math, it’s not a comforting statistic.  According to cancer research, roughly 227,000 women will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer this year and a going rate of 7% that is still almost 16,000 women.

The reality is that breast cancer can strike at any age, and women of every age should be aware of their personal risk factors for breast cancer.

There are several factors that put a woman at high risk for developing breast cancer, including:

A personal history of breast cancer or some noncancerous breast diseases.

A family history of breast cancer, particularly in a mother, daughter, or sister.

History of radiation therapy to the chest before age 40.

Evidence of a specific genetic defect (BRCA1/BRCA2 mutation); women who carry defects on either of these genes are at greater risk for developing breast cancer.  According to Barbie’s sister Brenda, she and her two sisters have this defect making their risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime close to 80%

A Gail Index score of at least 1.7% for the development of breast cancer within 5 years, or 20% lifetime risk (to age 90). (The Gail Index uses risk factors such as age, family history of breast cancer, age of first menstrual period and first pregnancy, and number of breast biopsies, to calculate a woman's risk of developing breast cancer within the next five years.)]

 

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