Nothing could have prepared me for experiencing the Tri-State NY Spartan Sprint at Citi Field in person. I had read about Joe De Sena’s Spartan Race, an obstacle course event designed to test you physically and mentally. I had imagined it was all young, male hardbodies grunting and sweating as they ran up flights of stairs and climbed ropes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The competitors included every sort of human being imaginable—and some I didn’t expect, including cancer survivors, PTA parents, wounded warriors—some missing limbs, children, members of the silver-haired set, athletes in wheelchairs and those fighting to get fit. Every color and background was represented: young and old, straight and gay, rich and poor, black, white, Asian and Latino.
Waiting to meet the competitors was De Sena, a former Wall Street trader and businessman who founded the Spartan Race in 2006 after being bitten by the ultra-endurance racing bug. A legend in his community, he has competed in more than 50 ultra-endurance events including ones in Death Valley, the Arctic Circle and at elevations above 5,000 feet.
The people who approached De Sena all had the same goal—to cross the finish line as a Spartan warrior. One little boy, after conquering the Spartan Kids Heat for Special Needs, ran up to De Sena. “Look! I won my first medal,” he said proudly. Numerous cancer survivors thanked De Sena for giving them a goal to work toward and inspiring them to get back into shape—and life.
Watching competitors help one another may have been the most moving part of the day. Teams that included people using wheelchairs carried their comrades up and down flights of stairs. But it was seeing Amanda Sullivan, who survived two horrific car accidents within six weeks and uses forearm crutches and a wheelchair, and her boyfriend, Marine Cpl. Todd Love, who lost both legs and his left arm in Afghanistan, conquer every obstacle that moved me the most. Sullivan and Love are seasoned Spartans who have competed in multiple races. They competed at Citi Field with the support of their team, Operation Enduring Warrior. They embodied the true spirit of the Spartan Race—to push through adversity, change your frame of reference and achieve personal transformation.
The Spartan Sprint provided competitors with a platform to show what they are capable of achieving. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation of quitting and giving up, but for Sullivan, Love and their fellow Spartans failure is not an option—it’s a reason to fight harder. And that’s what Spartans do, they fight to the finish.
While these competitors cite De Sena as their inspiration, what they don’t realize is that they inspire him and the Spartan team on a daily basis. De Sena makes it his goal to attend as many races as he can in order to interact with the one million plus people who have competed in his races since they began in 2006. Their accomplishments are his accomplishments—his true goal is to motivate others to live their best life.
I’m not an endurance athlete but watching these inspiring Spartans made me wonder if I have what it takes. The Spartan Race isn’t about having the fastest time or winning a medal. It’s about fighting for what you want to achieve—and not letting any obstacle stand in your way.