Spartan Race returned to Georgia this past weekend for its second Atlanta-based event of the year. Promising a race just over 8 miles long, and hosting many of the staple obstacles which faithful Spartans have come to love, I was eager to make the 7 hour trip north to spend a day with an incredible team of avid OCR fanatics. Little did I know that this race would provide an epic experience unlike any that I’ve encountered in my 4 years of racing. This Spartan Race was about to challenge my own preconceived notion that taking a slower pace in lieu of racing individually is less desirable, while also providing the slickest, slipperiest, muddiest course that I have ever had the experience of traveling. This race would truly be one-of-a-kind.
My husband and I arrived shortly before the sun rose, as rain pelted the dark forest surrounding us. The race was located at Durhamtown Plantation Resort, the largest off-road resort in the country, and the course had been plotted to wind through the dense woods and along the hilly ATV trails. Upon checking in and surveying a festival area riddled with puddles, we quickly came to the realization that our feet would not dry until we returned to our car later that day.
Our 8am start time approached, and we joined roughly 20 members of team MudRunFun who had committed to helping Darien, a 17 year old young man with Cerebral Palsy, earn his 2nd Spartan medal as he seeks to earn his trifecta. The rain had morphed the course into an endless path of squishy, shoe sucking red clay, and the hope of gaining sure footing became further lost with each racer who sloshed through the mucky mess. Obstacles became slick, nearly impossible for the average racer to complete on their own, and running was almost hopeless, as many who attempted to increase their pace found themselves uncontrollably falling to the ground while their unstable feet slid out from under them.
It was in these moments, as the clay and and slick obstacles challenged even the most seasoned athletes, that true teamwork was shown on that Spartan course. Strangers held out their hands to aid those seeking the top of a slippery climb, offered a knee or shoulder when a boost was needed, and provided an encouraging word as the challenge of an obstacle began to bear down on a fellow Spartan. I was certainly not immune from these challenges, and found that obstacles which I typically do not struggle with became intensely demanding with a thick layer of mud caked over them. I accepted my penalty burpees in stride as I slid off of the Monkey Bars just shy of the final rung, failed the Rig obstacle, and aimlessly threw a slippery spear into empty space.
Darien exhibited a true Spartan spirit that day as he progressed through the course with determination. He rarely made use of his wheelchair, pushing onward on foot with the aid of a team member at each arm. His chair, caked in mud, was pushed, pulled, and carried along closeby, providing aid as needed when Darien became weary. Darien’s drive was inspiring, not only to our team but to any who passed by. His determination to complete each obstacle and finish his race was incredible, and those of us who were there to ensure that he earned it were proud to be part of his team.
While assisting Darien with completing his race, our team bonded in only a way that a diverse group of people can on the OCR course. We laughed, we shared stories, we danced to the music of a fellow teammate who was thoughtful enough to bring a radio, and we even discussed our favorite foods which we joked we would recommend Spartan include at their water stations in the future (bacon, chicken wings, and mashed potatoes anyone?). We were there to help Darien and to support one another. We banded together as a unified team, determined to cross the finish line with each member that we had started with.
And finish together we did.
Darien was carried over the fire jump and we triumphantly followed behind. I have to say that watching him cross that finish line is a moment I will never forget. Not once did he complain, not once did he consider giving up, and he made me realize that Obstacle Racing is not always about being the fastest person on the course, but it is also about banding together as a united group of able-bodied and adaptive athletes to push onward until each person reaches the finish line. I was honored to be part of this experience, and I look forward to being part of helping Darien complete his trifecta at the South Carolina Beast next month.
Congratulations on completing the Atlanta Super Darien! We are so incredibly proud of you!!
Now to wash all of this mud out of my clothes, car, shoes, hair….. and enjoy some mashed potatoes. 🙂