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Spahten Stories: Team Mike McNeil

Editors note: You’ve seen em at races sporting the Team Mike McNeil logo, you’ve heard the name and you’ve probably met one, two or all of them. Maybe, you have no idea who they are and what they are up to. Team Mike McNeil have been our Spahten brethren since day one and I am proud to give the mic to Mr. Mike Hastie to tell their story. Why he’s speaking in third person I have no idea… lol!

Photo 2Turn the clock back to early 2012… Mike Hastie is about a year into his newly found fitness journey, but is becoming bored with the daily gym routine.  Longtime friend and fraternity brother Scott Houghtaling suggests he try a Spartan Race.  Mike has never run a race of any kind before, but figures it sounds like fun and will be a good test to see if all the time in the gym is paying off.  Mike recruits Mark Gearin, also a newly formed fitness fanatic, and the trio runs the 2012 Amesbury Spartan Sprint together.  Instant obsession occurs.  Did someone say Kool-Aid?

logoWe immediately go looking for the next race.  We find the inaugural running of the Fenway Spartan Sprint (then called the Time Trial) only a few months away, but the $100 price tag has us wavering.  Scotty says “What if we ask the Mike McNeil Organization guys if they’ll cover our entry, and in turn we’ll raise some money for them?”  Brilliant.  Mike approaches the MMO with the proposition.  “How much are the entry fees?” they ask.  “$300 total” Mike replies.  “Go for it” they say.  “How much do you want us to raise?”  “If you raise $301, we’ll be happy”.   And just like that, Team Mike McNeil was born.  (By the way, we raised over $7,000 by race day).

2+ years and who knows how many races later, and here we are.  We’ve raised over $20,000 for cancer research.  We’ve been featured on Spartan Race promo videos and regional news casts, and we’re only getting started.  Our black & red team shirts can be seen at nearly every New England area race as we run alongside our New England Spahten brothers and sisters.  We are so humbled by the support and generosity of the NES community, we even added the NES logo to the sleeve of our team shirts.

Photo 1So that’s who we are…but who is Mike McNeil?  “Mikey”, as he was affectionately known, was a dear friend and fraternity brother of ours.  At the young age of 11, Mikey was diagnosed with Pheochromocytoma, a rare form of cancer that affects the adrenal gland system.  Countless surgeries and chemotherapy took quite a toll on Mikey, but he didn’t go down without a fight.  This awful disease attacked Mikey’s body for 16 years, and on March 9th, 2009 it finally got the best of him.  He was 27.

Mikey was a warrior.  Even though he knew his days were numbered, you’d be hard-pressed to find him without a smile on his face.  He lived his life to the fullest, and had as much fun as he could before he left us.  He personified the “never quit” attitude, fighting to beat cancer time and time again, only to have it come back with a vengeance.  Not a day goes by that we don’t think of him, and we use his battle and his courage as a wind at our back as we make our way up every hill and over every wall.  We’re always looking for more ways to raise money for the fight against cancer. His fight is now our fight, and we will never quit.

15To stay up-to-date on all things Team Mike McNeil, please “like” and “follow” us on our Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/TeamMikeMcNeil
For more information on the Mike McNeil Organization, please visit https://mikemcneil.org/
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Spahten Stories: Myrna (MaReachAthlete) Velez

Editors note: By now we all know Ma and if you don’t, she is one of the kindest people you will meet. Her heart and soul are poured into her cause, Family Reach (which she explains in this piece). Thank you for sharing, Ma!

ma4Once upon a time, a long time ago (OK, really it was the early 70’s), a little girl was visiting her Abuelita in Puerto Rico and saw a muddy hillside. And she climbed to the top of the hill and slid all the way down. And as she slid she squealed with glee… I guess that can be the beginning of doing things that may not be considered “traditional”.

I’ve always loved to do things not quite ordinary. Growing up I loved to play spies, cops and robbers, and go camping just as much as I loved my Barbie dolls. My favorite playmates were my godmother’s son, Johnny (yes, he was my first crush), and cousins who liked to go outside and romp and play. I grew up watching Police Woman, Wonder Woman, and Charlie’s Angels and dreamt of a life where I could be a hero and help others (while still having my hair look awesome). Fast forward to my early 20’s and I had lots of jobs, and had no idea where my career path should be, but I knew I wanted law… or teaching… or a superhero. When I was in my early 20’s, Johnny was diagnosed with leukemia. We were the same age and still relatively close. I wished upon all hope that we were a bone marrow match but we weren’t. He finally found a match towards the end of his treatment. However, the treatments he went through after the transplant didn’t help him post transplant, and he passed away way too soon. All I felt was anger at myself for not being smart enough to be able to figure out how to help him. That loss and helplessness never quite went away.

ma1But the one thing I did take away was to take risks. The worst thing that can happen would be failure and I was not afraid of that. So I applied and was accepted as a federal agent with the US Border Patrol (Class of 349). With great honor and pride I dedicated my life to serving our country and protecting our border in the southwest. In my class, it was full of Navy Seals, Army Rangers, former SWAT, and me. Can we say odd lady out? While at the academy, I befriended and was adopted as a sister by two awesome classmates, Manuel Oropeza (MannyOP) and Roy Duron. Both former military, they saw I was alone, with no one around to help me. They trained by my side, looked out for me and made sure I never ever gave up. The physical training was grueling. Some of the instructors and a few fellow agents made it their mission to try to have me quit. Quitting was never an option. MannyOP and Roy would run extra laps with me, helped me build upper body strength through training, and taught me how to climb over the 8ft high walls, monkey bars, and rope line hand over hand. The concept of fraternal love and family that you choose became a part of my nature.

After I got married to another agent in 2001, I left the patrol in 2002 when my son Mikey was born expecting to return. I became happily divorced in 2004 right before my second son Manny was born and had to start all over again. I couldn’t return to the patrol as a single mom. So one of my best friends helped me start teaching as an aide while I returned to school full time at night as I raised my sons by myself. It was a point of honor for me to earn my degree and, have my sons see me have my bachelors degree conferred. I started teaching law enforcement in a vocational high school, went back and earned my masters. Now I am an administrator in a middle school and am working on my doctorate.

ma3Unfortunately, brain cancer took MannyOP from me, my sons who are his godsons, and his daughters who are my goddaughters about 7 years ago. Again that same feeling of anger and helplessness washed over me. I had already begun volunteering with Family Reach, an organization that helps families with children battling cancer by easing their financial burdens. I may not be smart enough to create a cheap and easy cure for cancer, but I can always help a family out by easing their burden in some way. Through their Reach Athletes program, I have been actively fundraising for years and have been honored to be their Ambassador with the Obstacle Course Racing community. And why OCR? Because of Johnny and MannyOP. If it wasn’t for them, I would have never experienced the life I’ve lived. Johnny let me play with him even when other boys didn’t want a girl around. MannyOP… well he was my brother in green (the color of our uniforms) and never wavered in backing me up.

So now I continue to train, run OCR’s dedicated to MannyOP, Johnny and those battling cancer, and raise my sons to be real men of character. You will usually find me and mine on the course, always with a Reach Athlete/FamilyReach something on and always trying to raise money to help others. Happily this year, I became a NE Spahten (even though I live in New Jersey: thank you Sean Gifford & Paul Jones) and our NES Family backed me up by joining Sean Gifford and I for the 2014 Spartan Charity Challenge. Between our NES donations raised by fellow Spahtens, NES fundraisers with BattleFrog donations, FIT Challenge fundraisers, and winning 2nd place as highest fundraising team with Spartan Race, we raised over $10,000 this year alone. <<>>

ma2My training consists of TaeKwonDo at Dragon Kim’s Karate in New Jersey, anything and everything outdoors with my dog Babygirl and my sons, as well as incorporating carrying tires and my wreckbag in everything. I run listening to military cadence and you may hear me calling cadence to myself out on the course. Dancing Salsa/Mambo, Chacha, Tango & scuba diving rejuvenates my soul. In the midst of all of this, I’ve lost over 75 lbs, learned how to scuba dive, and jump out of perfectly good airplanes. I have had my left ankle, and right wrist reconstructed. Pretty much had about every body part broken and fixed. Even though my knees can hurt really bad in a race I still press on, because I have families battling cancer who need my help and two sons whom I need to lead by example. I eat relatively well, love pizza, and realize that wheat is the devil whom I love to dance with. And btw, I’m still waiting to see if the actor/wrestler Dave Bautista meets me and falls in love (hey, a lady can dream lol).

Life is an epic adventure to enjoy, take risks, and pay forward all the blessings on this earth. In continuing with my mission, this coming 2015 year I plan on FIT Challenge with my sons (they are beastmen in the making), a BattleFrog 5k with my boys, Double Trifecta and the Death Race (when I finish the proceeds for my share will go to FamilyReach). Let us never forget that the day after the VT Beast is the Charity Challenge Race again (Hope more of my NES brethren can join us again for that yellow medal!). If I’m not wearing my FamilyReach/Reach Athlete shirt I’m wearing my NESpahten with MaReachAthlete on the back. Anyway, when you see my boys & I please say “Hi”, shout out a hearty “AROO” or a big and loud “WEEEPPPAAAAAAA” (a Puertorican variation of Woohoo). Feel free to follow me on Instagram/Twitter @Ma_HonorFirst. See you soon!

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Spahten Stories: Mario DaSilva

** Editors note: This story amazed me when I first heard it, and inspired me to say the least. Through perseverance and sheer will, the man we now know has transformed himself into an elite athlete. When you have days where you think you can’t do it, it’s too hard… Remember this story! Mario is not only an inspiration as an athlete, but is truly humble. He is a friend to everyone and anyone who wants to be his friend. We here at NES love this guy and could not be prouder at the accomplishments he has made.

Before-and-After-300x236I haven’t always been athletic. Far from it, I was a beer drinking, 2 pack a day smoking, McDonald’s Eating (breakfast, lunch and dinner) 210lb slob!

When my little girl stated crawling I was playing with her and within 15 maybe 20 minutes I was winded and went outside for a smoke. As I was standing there smoking away it clicked! If I’m this tired crawling around with her what the heck’s going to happen when she stats walking and running? I put out the cigarette and quit right there and then.

As overweight as I was I took up running the next day to curb the urge to smoke and to start changing my life for the better. It wasn’t easy by any means, it was Horrible, Brutal, but I stuck with it and today 8 years later I’m proud to say I’m a lean 155lbs that can run Marathons, Spartan Beasts and anything in between then drive home after the event.

marioI guess you can say I started June 25 2011 when I decided to Run in the Warrior Dash in Amesbury Ma. I saw the ad for it in Men’s Health and figured why not it looks like fun. It was really cool running through and over obstacles all the while trying to get to the finish line through the most mud I’d ever seen in my life! It was a Blast!

I completed the race with a time of 37:15, at 1st I was like this was fun but my time was horrible of course I was comparing it to a normal 5K time. Once I spoke to a bunch of people I realized my time wasn’t bad at all. so i decided to sign up for a few more OCR’s.

I’m attracted to obstacle races because I love the challenge of the courses, the thrill of running, the camaraderie and friendships you make at these events. That’s what keeps me coming back.

My training consists of a lot of running, long runs and short speed and hill work. I also weight train a few days a week keeping it heavy. I do circuits with heavy weight to keep my body confused from getting bored.

mario2My diet is pretty strict, No Deep Fried Foods, No Beer, No Fatty Meats, No Pastries, Breads and Pastas. No Soda. I live on Fruits, Veggies, Lean Clean Meats, Fish, Protein Bars/Powders and Tofu. On rare occasions I’ll splurge a little but never ever with Deep Fried, or McDonald’s, BK, Wendy’s or Sonic.

Other than Obstacle Racing my other Athletic pursuit is Road Racing and Marathons after all that’s where my love for Obstacle racing started.

In my spare time, what very little time I have I enjoy watching Movies. Action, Adventure, Comedies, Mystery and Dramas. I don’t get into who’s playing the roles and don’t watch movies because of who’s in them. If it sounds interesting add it to my list. I don’t watch Television because of all the commercials, with Movies/DVD’s I can just stop it go to bed and resume it the next chance I have time.

ps. Peanut Butter is my Kryptonite!

pps. Abs are 80% diet!

mariolast

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Spahten Stories: Dennis “Old Dog” Michaud

dennis1I was asked to write up my OCR story. But, I’m not sure how to start, unless I also give a little background history.

I’ve never really been an athlete. Sure, back shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth when I was a kid I played sports, but I certainly wasn’t a top performer. While spending a few years in the Army, I really had fun doing the Army’s version of a playground on a regular basis; ropes, monkey bars, climbing, crawling, and carrying heavy stuff. That was fun stuff and they paid me to do it, and if you will forgive me for bragging just a little, I was pretty good at it.

Now, fast forward 30+ years and about 110 pounds and 10 pant sizes later to October 2011. My exercise routine was walking from the recliner to the refrigerator and back. I was approaching a benchmark birthday, 55, double nickels, cue up Sammy Hagar if you like, and I knew I needed to do something about the shape I was in, but lacked the last bit of motivation to actually do something about it. I was surfing the net one day and discovered this event call Warrior Dash and that was the last bit of motivation I needed. This was the stuff I used to enjoy. I signed up that day. I signed up at a local gym shortly thereafter. I had 9 months to get ready.

dennis2As you might imagine the first week at the gym was not pretty. That first day on the elliptical after just 8 minutes I was soaked in sweat. My body just did not respond the same as it had 30+ years before. I ached in places that I did not know could ache. I was going to the gym 4-5 days a week and sweating. I don’t perspire I sweat, and I had not discovered tech shirts, I was still wearing cotton. I started to eat just a little smarter, but I can’t say I radically changed my eating habits. Weight started to come off and with a little research I found that there were other races similar to Warrior Dash and there was this one that was 3 months sooner.

So I signed up for Renegade Playground Challenge. I now had maybe 5 months to get ready. About this same time I heard about a local 5k that was happening on Jan 1st. Lowell 1st Run. I figured a new year, why not. So I signed up. By this time I could do maybe 25 minutes on the elliptical. Let’s jump back 30+ years, at one point I was able to run 5 miles in about 35 minutes or so. My goal for this 5k was under 45 mins and I knew that would be a challenge. Got on the treadmill at a slow pace and did a 5k in about an hour. I had about 6 weeks to go. I was still well above 200lbs at this time, but progress was being made. Kept going to the gym and sweating. January 1st arrived and honestly had no idea of what to expect. Well I met my goal. 42:29.68

dennis3Next up, I volunteered at Tough Mudder at Mount Snow, just to get a sense of what an obstacle course race was and the people doing it.  I got lucky that day, I was assigned to the finish line, and while I was a bit intimidated by how many “hard bodies” I saw, I did see a few of the “softer” bodies that were more in line with what I looked like, and they survived and were smiling at the finish line. I was still a little north of the 200 lb mark at this point, but definite changes were taking place, such as needing new clothes, the belt just was not cutting it.

Back to the gym I went. Now it was time for me to get serious, I was going to be doing an obstacle course at a freakin’ mountain in another month. Back to the gym and sweating. That month passed all too quickly. Well, by this time I had seen some of the Tough Mudder, watched a few videos on YouTube, and have to say that it was with more than just a little trepidation headed for Stratton Mountain.

My wife and I went up the night before, to get a good night’s rest, (yeah right). Any thoughts of a good night’s rest went out the window as we turned the corner approaching Stratton and there it was. I had skied Stratton many years previously, but knowing I was going to be climbing UP and DOWN while doing the various obstacles certainly changed my perspective. In case you don’t know, Stratton is a big ass hill. We settled into our room, took a walk, discovered where the start/finish area was, it was at the bottom of the big ass hill. Walked over to the resort area, had dinner, actually met a few people who were going to be doing this same event the next day, as well as the folks putting on the event. This helped put me a bit more at ease, that and several adult beverages. Back to our room my wife and I had a very restful night.

dennis4The morning finally comes, the sun came up, and it was a nice day. We made our way to the festival area, I got thru registration, signed my waiver, hung out for a bit, and then it was TIME. I made my way to start line, where one of the people I had met the evening before was the announcer, I don’t remember any of what he said, I was focused on that big ass hill right in front of me. Every wave was sent off to a different song and I do remember what was playing as I started up that big ass hill; For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), by AC/DC. I remember going thru hanging tires and doing the monkey bars and then my only memory is thinking to myself; “Why am I doing this and when will we ever start going back down?” We started back down and lo and behold, a Slip’N’Slide, way cool. I love Slip’N’Slides or any obstacle where gravity does all the work. But then we started back UP AGAIN. I later found out this was only about halfway through the course. I vaguely remember going through a spider’s web of ropes that was placed in a very muddy area, but otherwise I can only remember thinking to myself; “I’m never doing this again and when will we ever start going back down?” Well, we did finally go down and the finish line was in sight, ran through the bus, jumped into the mud pit and crossed the finish line. My goal going in, based on results from other people in previous years was less than 1 hour.

Dennis Michaud

racewire

Lawrence, MA
Bib #: 887 | 55M

Time: 57:52
Pace: 18:36/M
Division: 5K

Overall Place: 462/535 | 86.4%

dennis5In less time than it took to write this sentence, I wanted to do another one, luckily I was all signed up for Warrior Dash at Gunstock Mountain, another big ass hill. I survived and wanted to do more, well a few months later I happened to discover a group of like-minded individuals, the NE Spahtens and did my first event as part of this team at Blizzard Blast 2013.

Dennis Michaud

racewire

Lawrence, MA
Bib #: 279 | 56M

Time: 54:11
Pace: 17:25/M
Division: 5K

Overall Place: 452/498 | 90.8%
Age Group: M 50-59
Age Group Place: 16/17 | 94.1%

dennis6I’ve done around 25 more events since. I don’t like to call them races, I prefer event. I’m never going to be the fastest, but my goal is that one day I will be oldest doing at least that particular event. I’ve come close twice. Weight is still an ongoing issue for me, although I am under the 200lb mark.  It’s a battle. 30+ years on the couch and weighing close to 270lbs at max was the major contributing factor of having degenerative joint disease bilaterally in both hips and knees.  I like to say that I can still do everything now that I did at 25, I’m just not so quick and my recovery time is longer.  I got a few years left with my original parts, such as they are, and plan on doing these crazy races as long as I can.

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Spahten Stories: Michael Foresto

tuffnote: Here’s another installment in the “Spahten Stories” series. I’ve met Mike a few times now and am super impressed by him. He’s a kind soul who works hard, raises his family right and doesn’t seem to let anything put a damper on his spirit. I hope you enjoy the story he shared. – Nate (ps. have a story you want to share? e-mail me nate@nespahtens.com)

I work in the field of information security. My current role is that of Technical Account Manager at a start-up DLP (Data Loss Protection) company in Waltham, MA. Marketing lingo currently labels us as, ‘Advanced Data Security’. I’ve been in this field for 14 years since joining Symantec in 2000. In my job, I atrophy my large muscle groups by sitting at a desk in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. But, I do like what I do.

I also enjoy coaching my son’s soccer teams, music, reading and playing video games with my son and, sometimes, even wife!

I’m currently reading Strong by Jeff Bauman, it is intense, riveting and brings tears to my eyes every other page. Music-wise we are listening to Broken Bells, Empire of the Sun and Capital Cities – but my go-to bands are Radiohead, Muse and U2. Up until recently I played indoor soccer on a weekly basis, but have taken extended breaks recently to train and focus on other events that serve to build my confidence instead of sapping it. I will explain.

The race is a metaphor for life and my challenges with suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. As in life, you have no choice but to continue forward in a race. In OCR you can’t rely on any single strength to get you to the end, at some point you will need it all – and then some. The same applies to living with MS. As a result of it, I have strengths and weaknesses. In order to complete a race, I need to nurture my strengths and improve on my weaknesses.

This means, continue to run. Continue to build upper body strength. Continue to stretch and mold my body into the fittest machine possible. I believe this gives me the best possible outcome. If I lose 5% of my fitness/athletic ability during a relapse, but have added 5% or more through training, then I have the motivation, right there, to continue to train and race for the rest of my life!

There will still be challenges, but I am confident I can overcome then. And if not, I have the greatest team on the planet to pull me through.

When the National MS Society expanded into Obstacle Course Racing with MuckFest MS 2013, I joined them. Previously I was interested in road races and completed my first half marathon at the end of 2012.

This race hooked me. Looking back the first MuckFest had perfect weather and a really amazing atmosphere. I felt invigorated by all the people turning out to an event that very quickly became the closest of all races to my heart. My family showed up and I ran with my wife and seven close friends and cousins. The obstacles were challenging enough to keep me interested and easy enough that we could all cheer each other through each person’s unique challenges. Some, afraid of heights, had challenges on the cargo net or fireman’s pole, others, like myself, overcame claustrophobia in the darn tunnels. We all got dirty and loved it. Finished as a team and enjoyed that buoy of spirits you can only get by completing something challenging as a team and coming together for something bigger than yourself.

That was my first race.

After the MuckFest I wanted to choose a real challenging course, then train for it all year. My choice, for some reason, was the Spartan Beast at Killington, 2013. To say I didn’t know what I was getting into is an understatement. After completing this race I wrote the most meaningful and heartfelt blog post that I have ever written.

Simply completing this course was such a challenge. I was prepared for some things, and perhaps in the greatest shape of my life after high school. But the mountain didn’t care. It didn’t care that my legs suffered from spasticity, my body suffered from disability, it just stood there – in the way – of me and my self-ascribed objective.

spartanAt sections of the mountain I felt puny and insignificant. At other sections I felt like the King of the World. When I completed the rope climb, out of chest-high muddy water in front of my wife and son, and hundreds of screaming spectators… it was the greatest feeling in the world. I’m grateful for that, because the next 6 miles or so tested my mental toughness and commitment like they have never been tested before.

With spasticity, which is an unintended stretch or pull on a muscle, in both my legs, continuing to trudge up the mountain became an obstacle in itself. In fact, it was an obstacle for the average participant! I had to take frequent rest breaks, sometimes every 20 feet as my legs just refused to lift. But, I was persistent, I needed to finish that race.

So, in the dark, maybe an hour after sunset I finally finished – in 9 hours.

Please, by all means, relive my story by looking at my blog post – http://mstile.blogspot.com/2013/09/spartan-beast-2013-killington.html

I love to run, and love to overcome challenges. As a soccer player I am geared for endurance and the ability to play through pain when necessary. Obstacle racing adds a new attraction. Full body fitness. Through OCR I have been able to increase my upper body strength – since I want to be able to complete things like rope climbs, hercules hoists, and monkey bars. The motivation to reach an obstacle and defeat it is deeply ingrained. OCR has forced me to identify my weaknesses and given me the motivation to address them.

I will race as long as I am able to.

From what I’ve learned last year. I need to add more mountain hiking, with weight, more running, more burpees and more of everything!

tmI am on a soccer hiatus. I love to play, but recently soccer is a demotivating factor in my life. There is a level of skill and athleticism that I have achieved in the past in soccer. And my body just cannot perform at the same level. Which is OK. The problem is that my most recent soccer form is similar to when I was first diagnosed. I fatigue quicker, I have balance and coordination problems. I can’t kick a rolling ball. In my mind, I visualize the perfect shot, I can feel the form in my muscles before I start the action. But now, it is broken. My foot will whiff past the ball. I may fall over, just from looking up at a cross, or making a tight turn.

I will be OK, I have another athletic pursuit. Depending on the ebb and flow of the disease, or whether I receive a rescue steroid infusion at some point, I will be able to play again.

I have been playing soccer since I was 6 years old. My peak was during high school when I was part of the state championship team and played for the regional team as part of the Olympic Development Program. I chose not to play in college and sometimes regret the choice. Continuing to do what worked for me in high school would have been a smarter choice – tell your kids.

My obstacle race lifestyle motivates me to incorporate a broad range of strength and conditioning routines. Running, weightlifting, body-weight exercises, and tons and tons of pull-ups.

blizzardThe future is full of races. I have a Spartan Season Pass and have yet to run a Spartan Race! I will be trying to do as many races as I possibly can this year and will even try to coordinate business trips with Spartan Race weekends! With help from a friend and coworker we have a team of 25 employees signed up for Rugged Maniac this year!

Lastly, a couple of fun facts about me… I’d like to run through an obstacle course with Jack Bauer. I would follow behind as the obstacles were left in ruins and cruise to an easy finish as he was distracted by the boss at the end of the race and be the winner!

I have a new puppy that is 9 months old. He is a mix of a blue heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) and something – we think a rat terrier. He is smart and loyal and such a great companion. This is the first dog we have owned as a family since I was a child.

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Spahten Story: Ben Millina

ben1TO SAY that SPARTAN RACE has inspired me to do a complete 180 lifestyle turn with life would be an understatement. It not only inspired change in my ethos from the very core of my being, but became the instrument of my resurrection. In 2012 I weighed 300 lbs., I smoked cigarettes, I was on too many prescription medications for a variety of health issues (physical and mental), and I was doing a few other things I’m not proud to mention. The very few friends I had in my rather depressed state of life other than a few small handful of “frenemies” included Adolphus Busch, Jack Daniels, and Mary Jane. The few moments of purpose and meaning that developed in my life at the point derived from the couch and what was coming next on the television. The only exercise received at that time was lifting the remote to change channels, and my nutritional intake was the Standard American Diet (SAD). My life had been progressively falling apart and worsening over the course of a decade. Through various situations, events, circumstances and ultimately poorly made choices, the situation was exponentially worsening and life was completely unmanageable.

I was on the brink of suicide-literally millimeters away from eternal black darkness. I was beyond the “cry for help”; I was at T-minus seconds to launch into the abyss of eternal darkness…

Then at a serendipitous moment an old childhood close friend walked back into my life. I had not seen or heard from him in over a decade. He reached out to me out the blue during this time to tell me he had to come to Boston for business for a few days and wanted to get together again. My friend was very shocked to see the decrepit state of life I was in. My friend wanted to help, and in doing so simply gave me the challenge to STFU-SPARTAN the F*#K UP. He told me of these wonderful events he was doing known as obstacle course races, and how he recently earned this coveted prize known as a Trifecta. He gave me a simple challenge that no other friend, relative, doctor or well-meaning individual had previously. He simply said, “I cannot help you in the state you are in. If you are going to leave this world-then so be it. I know you have been through a lot, and have been suffering many years. You have tried many avenues to seek improvement, and met those with consecutive failures. But-for the sake the of the “ole college try”, just try one more thing before you cash your chips in. Try to eat better, move a little more. Find a gym you like and be around more positive people who will inspire you. I want you to try one of these races. I’ll make you a promise that I’ll come back home and do one with you when you feel you’re ready…” Knowing I had absolutely nothing left to lose, I decided to take him up on his offer. In that mindset at the start, I had absolutely no expectations for success-at the time I was merely fulfilling a final promise to old friend on my way out.

ben2My friend honestly thought (as he later told me) he never thought that day would come. Eight months later, I did my first OCR having lost 70 lbs. A month later, I did my second-having lost 15 more pounds. A month after that; my friend returned home to New England to do my third OCR and first SPARTAN RACE with me, a hundred pounds slimmer than our last morbid rendezvous. Eternally grateful am I to the simple act of making SPARTAN RACE a goal. It opened a door to a literal new life and my former life is gone. My life now has a solid foundation in health; and my former nemeses of the couch, drugs, alcohol, processed foods, prescriptions, “frenemies”, pessimism, and sedentary life have all vacated. I have made a myriad of new friends throughout the country and even worldwide through the health and wellness journey that began with the simple inspiration of a SPARTAN RACE. The new adopted extended family I have made in life-long friendships along this journey has left me blessed and eternally grateful. I owe a great debt to not only the SPARTAN RACE community, but the greater OCR community as well…as in the great force to be reckoned; the New England Spahtens-AROO!

AROO! AROO! I have also been fortunate to make fantastic friends through the Biggest Loser community in California and the great juicing community through the inspirational Joe Cross of RebootWithJoe and the film Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. This amazing voyage of health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition all started with the goal of doing this wacky thing called a SPARTAN RACE. I do consider myself to be fully resurrected through mind, body, spirit. My former self did perish onto itself and is floating down the Styx into Hades. I followed Leonidas…err I mean Joe DeSena…out of Hades and into Sparta. SPARTAN RACE was the initial spark on this journey I have undertaken. I owe my life to it for what has unfolded over this last 18 months. There is no reservation, or any mountain I would not climb, nor any feat I would not attempt for any one of my new found family that began with the goal of SPARTAN RACE.

The rest of the story continues to be written…

ben3I still have many more life challenges and obstacles to overcome. In reality, I am dealing with more now than I was in 2012. The difference now is that I deal with them by the strategy of STFU and the 9 tenets of the SPARTAN CODE as opposed to that of a sedentary and morbid lifestyle inter-laid with poor choices. I am going back to school to study health, wellness, nutrition, and kinesiology. It is now my sincere hope with life and career path I am exploring to help others with their struggles in life. Having experienced it first hand, I am convinced that a healthy lifestyle and a positive attitude can change anyone’s life. I see so many different facets of our populous out there on the racecourse; all leaving their strife and struggles out in the mud and emerging victorious at the finish line strengthened. From the obese, the addicted, the crippled, the young, the old, to the very fit and unfit-SPARTAN RACE provides a metaphor for conquering life’s challenges. We all finish the race with indescribable feelings of elation; ready to handle whatever life throws next. No matter how long it takes; finishing is what matters most.

Joe DeSena’s statement of, “Sign up. Show up. NEVER give up…you’ll know at the finish line” is the most raw & brutal truth I have ever been exposed to in my entire life. I now proudly say in solidarity with my OCR family that I know my profession: I am a SPARTAN! AROO!