by Carrie Adams
The plane in the sky was hardly visible in the clouds, but circling overhead was 30 year old double amputee Sgt. Noah Galloway and he was less than 60 seconds away from a tandem parachute landing in the Spartan Festival grounds to kick off the first ever Spartan Heroes Heat.
The jumpers came in hot, just past a small tree line in an open field, a dramatic beginning to what would be an inspired day of racing. Galloway immediately left an impression on the eager crowd. Galloway was introduced to the Spartan community in a prior blog post , you can read more about his story HERE.
The 30 year old Alabama native is missing two limbs, his left arm above the elbow and his leg above the knee. He would be the first ever Spartan Racer to parachute his way into the race but when he landed, in the open field in Leesburg, VA he wasn’t alone. A team was waiting, Team X-T.R.E.M.E., a group of incredible individuals that includes Sgt. Jonathan Mozingo, amputee of the left leg below the knee and United States Marine, Cpl. Todd Love, trimembral amputee of both legs above the knee and left arm below the elbow. In addition to the three wounded warrior athletes, the team had an additional five members including Team X-T.R.E.M.E. founder, Jeremy Soles who had a bagpiper usher them over to the start line for their heat.
No loud music blasted for the start, and the normal speech to pump up the athletes was a replaced by a simple quote about service, dedication, and gratitude and an acknowledgement of what was about to take place. Over the course of the next 10.5 miles and nearly 5 and a half hours, Galloway, Love, Mozingo, Soles and the others would battle the course alongside warrior athletes, community members, volunteers, and other Spartans who took part in the historic heat.
Team X-T.R.E.M.E. is not stranger to endurance challenges. The team is actually 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. The venue in Leesburg, VA is a unique location, normally reserved for horse racing, but it wasn’t horses that were unleashed on the landscape this weekend, it was people who would ultimately hurdle, climb, crawl and run their way to the finish line.
The course was rugged and muddy, each obstacle posing a unique challenge to the team who took turns carrying Team X-T.R.E.M.E. member, USMC Cpl. Todd Love who weighs in around 100 pounds. Love was carried throughout the course but regularly completed obstacles solo including a heroic hill climb near the halfway point of the race, the cargo nets and rope climbs. Love is a 22 year old Marine who in August of 2010 nearly lost his life and all but one of his limbs in a devastating explosion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He would not only battle back from his injuries on the battlefield, but set out to push himself in all things physical, proving that overcoming obstacles isn’t just something you attempt, it’s something that you embrace.
From hoisting cinder blocks, to wall climbs, cargo nets, spear throwing and taking on the infamous finish line gladiators wielding pugil sticks, the team ensured that each member of the team completed the obstacle before moving forward, always together. Another notable addition to the group was Junior Marine, Luke Slowinsky. Soft spoken and polite at his eleven years of age, Slowinsky will one day join the Marine Corps, but currently raises money and awareness for wounded warriors as a sign of respect and admiration. He also completed the 10.5 miles alongside his heroes and earned his Super Spartan finisher medal.
Spectators, racers, staff, and volunteers gathered to watch the team work their way through the course and the images of the athletes completing the obstacles was inspired, humbling, and a reminder of all the reasons why so many of us run; for reasons that are bigger than ourselves. When the team was nearly finished, a crowd had gathered and more would come and congregate near the finish line where they would ultimately cross the same way they began, as a team. As the team rushed the finish line and medals were placed around their necks, there was a roar of cheers and clapping from the festival grounds. Many faces were lined with tears.
Leading the final charge at the finish was Galloway, Love, and Mozingo, now soaked and dirty, their gas masks speckled with mud earned on the course. After rinsing off and demasking, the team entered the festival grounds and thanked the crowd who had remained to shake their hands, offer encouragement, and thank them for their service. In an unexpected twist, Jeremy Soles, alongside Team X-T.R.E.M.E. presented Spartan HQ with a hand carved log with the names or their wounded warrior athletes in the side, a physical reminder that will reside in Spartan HQ in Vermont, and will undoubtedly make rounds up and down the training mountain with our founders and staff. Our way of honoring the such a gift.
Mike Morris graciously accepted the gift saying, “You have all honored us with your presence here today. There isn’t much we can say that you guys didn’t show out there on the course. There wasn’t a dry eye out there when you guys went by. Thank you for all you do.”
Masks removed, the men (and one woman) are revealed to be mortal, not the superheroes that seems far more likely. Humble and gracious, they spent the remainder of the day with the people who were so touched by what they accomplished. And at the end of the race we all were moved and inspired by what we saw, and what they accomplished. And the words that were uttered just before they began seemed even more true now, “This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, not matter the odds or consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself lie a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world – no, you move.”
What are you waiting for? Find an event and get signed up TODAY. If you want to learn more about Team X-T.R.E.M.E., their mission, and support their cause, visit their FB page or website, http://www.team-x-treme.org/. For information about Warrior Athlete Noah Galloway, visit his FB page or his website, www.noahgalloway.com. To learn more about Todd Love, visit his FB page. Find more photos of the Heroes Heat HERE on the Spartan Race Facebook page.
[Editor’s Note: Rarely does a story resonate so deeply and touch so many as the story of Team X-T.R.E.M.E.’s involvement in Saturday’s Leesburg, VA Super Spartan Race. Personally, I was so thankful to bear witness to such a heroic feat by such remarkable men and women. Weeks of preparation came together in an open field in a non-descript part of our racing venue in front of thousands of waiting spectators. From start to finish, the feats of heroism demonstrated by the team and their community were monumental. Spartan Race was honored to host Team X-T.R.E.M.E. and their warrior athletes and community for the first ever Heroes Heat where warrior athletes ran alongside Spartan runners. Spartan Race has long been dedicated to the armed forces and the men and women who serve and protect. We look forward to the inclusion of more Heroes Heats in upcoming Spartan Races and we wish to thank Team X-T.R.E.M.E. for gracing our event with their presence, for their positive message of support, inspiration, and courage and for joining our community of athletes and our Spartan Race family. We will never be the same for what we witnessed on the course in Leesburg, and we will also never forget.]