The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine that I have not seen since last September. We were having a talk about our lives and changes that are going on in hers. Changes are happening and I had no idea. While we are not the closest of friends, we had a pretty good heart-to-heart talk as I had gone through what she is going though now. As our conversation ended, she said to me “Family isn’t always those that share your blood.” My reply was, “I have the topic for my next column”.

Many of us are part of obstacle course teams. We train with them. We travel to races with them. We race with them and we eat everything in sight after races with them. They are teammates and the more you spend time with them you realize that they are much more than just friends, they are family.

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One of the definitions of the word family is “a group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock” and there is also “a group of people united by a certain common affiliation”. That is perfect in terms of obstacle course racing.   The people I race with and the people that I go to battle with are my family, the New England Spahtens. Our common stock is the insanity that we put ourselves through on a race-course. Our common affiliation is more than the shirts on our back; it is our love for being on the course and the desire to keep playing in the mud.

I have been with the Spahtens and been racing with team members since 2013. Since I have started with OCR Buddy, I have gotten to know members of many teams/groups. The Crazy Mudder Muckers, Lone Star Spartans, Battle Races, Team Avery’s Army, Spartan 4-0, Colorado Obstacle Racers, UK Solo Mudders and the OCR Wrongens are a few that I have gotten to get to know and become affiliated with in one way or another. I see the family theme run through each group. I have seen posts asking for help within each group and the team member responses. If you do not believe how people in the OCR Community reach out to one another, just look at how many profile photos have changed to the logo of the Colorado Obstacle Racing team supporting them after their tragedy. People care about one another and they show it in so many ways. This whole sport is one big family.

Back to my Spahtens and being family. In my short few years, I have seen almost everything from his family.   I have seen family that has faced divorce, family separation, loss of jobs, relocations, illness, death and almost everything else we can face as human beings. The dozens, if not hundreds of people that have stepped up to offer their hand in support, gave their time, opened their wallet and sat and let people cry on their shoulders. I have also seen engagements, children being born, people being married, promotions and the fun positive things we enjoy in life. The people and responses are the same. In both cases, the responses are filled with love and you do not just get that from crawling through barbed wire with someone. You get it from being family. Personally, I couldn’t count the number of people reached out to me when my twins were born, when I had illness in my family and those who just message me and check in regularly. It is a family that we are part of.

2016 was not a year of many races for me. I had not traveled much last year in my races and I did not get to many events outside of Long Island. When I stepped foot in Killington last year, I received hundreds of hugs from my family and the amount of love that I felt was second to none. People running by me on the course (and believe me, everyone passes me) stopped to say hello and chat while losing a few seconds of their time for me. This family is second to none for me and every time I see someone in something Spahten, I feel at home.

While I am a Spahten at heart and I talk about them, I do it for a reason. I am hoping that each and every one of you that are reading this feel how I do about your group. I hope that you love your group. I hope that you feel that you could not race without your group. I hope that you see a teammate and feel that the person looking back at you is your brother or sister.   I am hoping that you feel the love that I do.

Back to my friend, I saw her up at Killington in 2016. When she saw me, she ran over to me and jumped in my arms as if she was best friend from college. She isn’t from college. She isn’t even from five years ago. I met her a couple of years ago and I heave learned that she is a good person, with a good heart and would do anything and everything for her friends. To me, that is family.

Look at whom you affiliate with. Do they smile when they see you? Are they jumping in your arms and hugging you any and every time they see you? Will they help you at the obstacles, high five you when you succeed and heckle you when you fail? Good. That is your family and I hope you appreciate what they are to you. You will learn, if you have not learned yet, that these friendships will take you to places that you have never imagined. They will go far past any finish line and take you through life. Family isn’t those that you share your blood with, they are those you share your life with.

Love your team. Love your friends. Love your family. Until next time I see you, be epic and keep playing in the mud.

Russell

Russ Blatt has been racing in obstacle course races since 2013 and joined the New England Spahtens that same year. Since that time, he has gone from the New York Ginger outsider to the voice that many turn to within the group. In 2016, Russ created the award winning OCR Buddy, the first mobile calendar application for the entire OCR Community. Find it on Google Play and the App Store.

He is honored and humbled to bring you “Playing in the Mud”.

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