by Carrie Adams
“For those of us who lived through these events, the only marker we’ll ever need is the tick of the clock at the 46th minute of the eighth hour of the 11th day.” – President George W. Bush
Roughly fifteen minutes before 9 AM on September 11, 2001 Spartan Race founder Joe Desena glanced up from his desk on the 59th floor of an office building across the street from the World Trade Towers and then immediately dropped his phone to the floor. “I didn’t even feel myself let go of it.” He remembers. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
What he was seeing was the final seconds of Flight 11 as it careened towards WTC 1 and then violently slammed into the North side of the building. “I couldn’t speak,” says Desena. “I could hear my buddy Bobby yelling for me from the phone on the floor, but it was like my brain couldn’t process what I had just seen.”
The horror would repeat itself shortly after 9 AM when, alongside the rest of the world, Desena watched Flight 175 enter the landscape and strike the south tower (WTC 2) as the North Tower continued to burn. “I pressed my hands up against the glass, everyone screamed… and then it was just…silent.”
Desena and his coworkers watched, stunned, as the buildings lay ablaze and ultimately collapsed; each one sending a billowing cloud of dust and debris all that could be seen through the glass, “Everything went gray… and the rumbling of the collapse was like a train roaring through the building.” And even though the collapse(s) took only 12 seconds Desena says, “It felt like eternity.”
New York City wasn’t the only target, Flight 77 struck the Pentagon that day, and United Flight 93 crashed into an empty field in Somerset County, PA, when the passengers defied their hijackers. It was a dark day with victims from 115 countries.
And Desena left the office that afternoon with some co-workers and was met by debris and an eerie sight. “We were walking in ankle deep soot,” he recalls. “The coffee vendors cart was sitting there, coffee still percolating on the pot, money on the counter, but there were no people. It was like a gray ghost town.” Desena slowly made his way to his Midtown apartment where his motorcycle was waiting. He was lucky to get out of the city and head to his dad’s house in Queens. “That day changed everything, “says Desena. “But there were other changes that came from it. People were looking one another in the eye again. People were remembering how it felt to be human. And we can never forget what happened that day.”
Lower Manhattan would burn for 99 days after that, 20% of the US population would know someone who was killed of the nearly 3,000, and it would cost nearly $600 million just to clean up the wreckage from the Twin Towers devastation. And the United States mobilized swiftly to the threat. Less than one month later, the United States was on the ground in Afghanistan and we haven’t left. “Our military has been putting their lives on the line because of that day, and it hasn’t stopped,” says Desena. “That isn’t lost on us at HQ.”
And in building Spartan Race, Desena kept that day in mind. “We were in a new place as a country. We needed hope and we needed to believe we could have a new life and embrace healthy, hopeful things,” says Desena. “And even though life was moving forward and we needed to move forward, there are still men and women in harm’s way. Richard (another one of Spartan Race’s founders) is a Royal Marine! The military is in our Spartan blood. We honor that.”
Since our inception, Spartan Race has been committed to the Armed forces. In 2012, a portion of all Spartan USA revenue has been 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. 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.
and then their eight person team that included two other Wounded Warrior athletes Todd Love and Jonathan Mozingo, took part in the first every Heroes Heat in one of the most memorable appearances in our history. They are set to be a part of the upcoming Spartan Beast in the Carolinas October 13th and 14th. The team is a non-profit organization with an ongoing mission to Honor, Empower and Motivate our nation’s wounded heroes and it was started by Jeremy Soles, a United States Marine Corps and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. Known for donning blacked out gas masks for endurance events that restrict 25 – 30% of oxygen intake, Team X-T.R.E.M.E. completed the brutalizing 10.5 mile course and all the obstacles on Saturday. With over 75 obstacles to speak of, it was no small task. The gas masks are worn as a symbol of encouragement and inspiration for their fellow wounded brethren and to honor the sacrifice of our nation’s wounded veterans.
There is always more we can do, because the fight continues every day. The fight to preserve liberty, to honor the fallen, to move forward with grace and deliberation; all the while never forgetting where we’ve been and what’s been given to get here. And at Spartan Race HQ we’re remember September 11th and recommitting to changing lives for the better with our race series and giving back where we can. So, today, on a day that we all remember so well, we want to say, “thank you” to all who have paid a price for our precious freedom, and we assure our community that we’ll never forget. And to Desena it’s a simple idea, moving forward from such a tragedy, “We can’t let it break us. Never quit. Never surrender.”