Tales From the Chicked: Heather Rayburn

by Carrie Adams 

 Heather Rayburn, age 37, recently finished her first Spartan Race.  She sent us an email giving us an insight into her experience in Colorado as a legally blind competitor.  While participants faced all kinds of obstacles on race day, Rayburn had her own set of unique challenges before even stepping foot on the course.  Hear her tell her story in her own words about how she found her Spartan finish line and how she’ll be back next year to take it on again…


As I came out of the first mud pit obstacle I had no idea there was another.  And another.  Oh yeah, and another.  It wasn’t because of lack of preparation on my part – it was because I just couldn’t see that far in front of me.  I have been legally blind/visually impaired since age 12  with non-correctable, less-than 20-500 vision.   So the 2012 Colorado Military Spartan Race was literally was one surprise after another.

Since vision impairment is a hidden disability, I wear a bib/tag for all events that says “Visually Impaired”.  This is so that people don’t think I’m just slow for no reason.  I also have a Guide who trains and competes alongside me.

There are some benefits that stem from the lack of vision.  I can’t tell how steep a hill is or how far there is left to the end of an obstacle – so I just keep going.

There was a moment on each of the wall obstacles when I asked myself what I had gotten into.  Not being able to see the top of the wall is one thing.  My Guide helps me here.  The really interesting part is then being at the top of the wall and dropping what seems like forever to the ground; my feet would find terra firma before my eyes.  Even with my trusted guide, dropping from many feet up was daunting.

Some obstacles affected everyone regardless of vision, like the downhills on the Rucksack and Sandbag carry – everyone was ‘slip-sliding away.’  I still have no idea where I was supposed to throw for the grenade toss but I did my burpees and went on with a smile.

My guide (by the way, he is also my husband) and I became separated in the mud crawl.  Somehow people got between us; I could not stop for him and so I just kept crawling forward…and forward…and forward.    Once in a while my Guide and I would yell back and forth some words of encouragement or direction.  The directions he gave were simple “keep crawling forward a bit more.”  He could see the distance and kept telling me “Just a little further”… or “just a bit more.”  Usually he gives a distance estimate and I wondered why he didn’t.  One quarter mile later I emerged from the pit muddy and bloody with my M16 and waited for him to find me.  I guess I looked recognizable enough because the next thing I knew we were jogging into new territory.

The terrain was extremely challenging for me as it was very uneven in every direction with lots of sand, small rolling stones, and cactus.  It was fantastic!  Frequently we would move to the side so those coming from behind us could pass and I could maneuver safely.  I am so impressed with the Spartan Spirit!  Many of the folks coming by had encouraging words for me, asking if I was doing ok, or offering assistance.

In the end I attempted every obstacle – and did a lot of burpees – but was amazed at how many obstacles I conquered.  The grenade toss and spear throw were “automatic bupees” since I didn’t know where I was aiming.  Obstacles like the uneven upright log steps and directions like “step forward, through space about 5 feet and about 2 feet up” made me laugh more than anything.  The log-climb obstacle was interesting as I really couldn’t see from one to the next but with good instructions my hands and feet found each like a ladder.

The fire obstacle had been causing anxiety since we observed the lighting of the flames.  Brian kept saying it would be fine and reminding me that I jump creeks and other things occasionally and I reminded him that water and fire are very different to tumble into.  We stood beside the fire and my Guide counted about how many steps the others were taking so we had a place to start from.  We bolted forward, side by side, toward the flames.  I heard him yell “JUMP!” and so I did, leaping the fire successfully.  I was up and over the cargo net with relative ease as it is a repetitive task.  I followed behind my husband through the Spartans – they took him out and I passed unscathed to receive my medal!  I was told by the Spartan Staff that, as far as they know, I am the first VI/Legally Blind competitor to finish this race.

Thanks to my husband and Guide – I never would/could have done it without him and also to Spartan Race for yet another affirmation that you don’t know what you can really do until you try.

I think the biggest thing I learned is that I am not bound by obstacles.  My vision, or any disability really, is an obstacle, just like the obstacles in the Spartan Race.  How you deal with it is up to you.  Some obstacles, like some days or some tasks, take more concentration, more instruction from others, and more determination to conquer.  Sometimes I wanted to give up but there was a bigger picture.  As my Guide and I were negotiating steep, rocky inclines people were passing us and giving me encouragement.  I saw people of all ages, shapes, sizes, races struggling, grunting, swearing, and dealing with whatever their issue or dis-ability was and I realized what makes a Spartan – determination to conquer any and all obstacles in my path be it a wall to climb, a mud pit to crawl through, or to navigate a world that ends a few feet in front of me.  For this morning’s workout, I wore the shirt I wore to Spartan; the small tears and remnant stains remind me to push a little harder, train a little more, because I will be back again next year for more!

Team SuperBlind is already registered for the 2013 Colorado Military Spartan Race and I am already looking forward to it.  Let the training… continue.  AROO!


17 Responses

  1. avatar

    What a fantastic lady and a true inspiration to everyone. I am training today, I know I’ll get to a point where it’ll hurt and I’ll have a moment or two of wanting to stop …….. I’ll think of Heather, feel completely disgraced and put in the effort that’s required. A Spartan race is massive but to complete it visually impaired is an enormous achievement – CONGRATULATIONS HEATHER X

    • avatar

      Thank you. I draw strength and encouragement from your comments. We all want to stop – but you will keep going and you will be an inspiration to others.

  2. avatar

    Well said Cathy. Heather really showed such a wonderful attitude and fortitude. I’ll be keeping her in my mind too when I want to take the easy way out.

  3. avatar

    What a beautiful and inspiring story! Way to go, Heather – you’re awesome!

  4. avatar

    I am doing a sprint in December and a Super in January. This lady is going to be my inspiration, especially when I get scared or wonder how I am going to finish. Thank you, Heather!

  5. avatar


  6. avatar

    Awesome Woman Awesome story. Inspiring! Thank you for that.

  7. avatar

    Heather, I am running obstacle course races all summer with my students that are legally blind. We have loved training together for it. I am sharing your post with them. If you ever come race on the east coast, we’d love to have you on our team! Keep kicking trash!!

    • avatar

      That is so awesome! I love to hear. I also run a page on Facebook for Blind and Visually Impaired Runners and Guides. Come say hi! And it is so awesome to teach the kids to never give up and that anything is possible.
      Thank you for sharing!

      • avatar

        and your kids too, the page is for blind and visually impaired runners and athletes and guides. We have triathletes, marathoners, 5k runners, and newbies…young, old, and in between.

  8. avatar

    You are an amazing woman! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m vision and hearing impaired myself. I did the race in Texas and loved every moment of it. I must say, You really inspired me! thank u

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