Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Right Thing To Do

The beauty of Sparta, perhaps both the ancient and the obstacle course world, is that they are always trying to make things better. Yes, some of that means making things tougher but the pushing is a way to try to improve the system both personally and perhaps society at large. In fact there's a story told of ancient Sparta of an old man who went to the Olympic games, couldn't find a seat to watch. As he went from place to place, he met with insults and jeers, as nobody made room for him. But when he came to the Spartan section, all the boys and many of the men rose and yielded their places for him. Whereupon all other Greeks there applauded the action, and commended the action beyond measure; but the old man, shaking and with tears in his eyes, said, it seems all of Greece knows the right thing to do but it is only the Spartans that do anything about it. 

I think that probably applies to all of humanity; we all know in the best parts of us that we have to do something helpful for strangers, for people who aren't as capable of us to make the world a better place, to do the right thing. But in the end, even if everyone else cheers it on, it's only those who do it that do the right thing . So it was a privilege to be standing once again among those type of people as we got ready for the charity challenge. Last year at Spartan's world championship, Alexander Nicholas put together a team and invited me to it. (Both years the charity challenge has been the day after the championships when those who participated the day before are sore in that muscle, what's it called oh that muscle called everything) The man is so generously epic that he has led me and others on their first Spartan who were strangers on that first course and does so at a gym in New York. This year, we joined forces and put together the team. Last year the rules were that teams could only have 5 people and your first three finishers were what counted towards points; this year they allowed you to have unlimited teams but it was the first four who mattered with one of them having to be a woman with Spartan acknowledging the simple reality that can you really have a victory without a good lady somehow in your life? 

The ability to participate with teammates in a race designed to challenge you alone is a way to help those in need where people literally can help each other obstacles both literally and figuratively. But Spartan had done not just that but improved on last year's challenge by more than doubling the amount winnable by charities to a total of ten grand, they had still found other ways to make it better. Rather than just the best racers winning money, Spartan had set up a way for teams to raise money through donations in connection to the event. Furthermore, they were donating money not only to the top 3 racing teams but also to the top 3 fundraising teams, acknowledging that there's more than one way to be helpful and that different ways should be rewarded.

As we put together the Epic Strong team we tried to make it to where everyone was triple threat of brains, athletic talent and good looks (Though no on else was, fortunately, I was exempt from all three rules . If you look at the picture of our team before the race, you can see why I am the one who "coincidentally" is most covered up by the most loose fitting clothes.) We had Joey and Erica from New York a couple who have muscles in their abs than I have in my entire body. David, a high schooler who I had races against in the area where I won a marathon. There were the elite women of Jackie, Sue (representing like me the Lone Star Spartans out from Texas) and Jenny who I had met in the California Beast. Let's make it clear everyone of these ladies had chicked me at some Spartan or another. There was Chris whose training was tough enough to where he had won the elite heat of the Spartan Sprint that morning and was ready to start the charity challenge less than an hour later. There was Alex, an epic strong type of guy who like most of the team had done the beast the day before. And there was Alec (not pictured here) a trail runner from Atlanta who was too fast for the camera.

As we got ready for the race, knowing most of us had to be pretty exhausted from previous race. With the knowledge that based on their biceps alone, that my teammates were going to have to carry the team, I thanked them for joining the team and said try to give it as much effort as you did yesterday since it's less than a third as long. They smiled one of those contagious smiles and we got ready. I didn't know quite how to approach it but this race meant a lot to me so I gunned with conviction and since the first mile or was pretty much running uphill, I was actually in the lead for most of the first mile. Unsure whether this was a sign of things to come or whether like the cross country days of old, I was just playing the rabbit, I kept going. I would actually get passed very little for the first three miles and when I did, it was almost entirely by my teammates. The last bit was obstacle heavy and I missed two of the obstacles, my grip still exhausted from the previous day. I was comforted knowing that my teammates were somewhere in front of me and so I would help 8 people in 4 obstacles, 3 on my team and 5 who were on other challenges.

When I got to the finish line, I would learn that we'd taken most of the top male spots and the top 3 female spots (see what I mean about having the right ladies in your life?!). I'd see pictures of teammates like Alec making things like the rope climb look easy.

There were people here who'd sign up to do obstacles and take on the obstacle of raising money. The top fundraising team was a set of Canadian Mudd Queens, a team who'd raised money to combat childhood cancers; I'm not sure there's a worse kind. I'd meet a member of Team RWB a group raising funds to help Veterans to help them fight through life when they had served and fought to give us ours. I'd once again talk to people and Winter herself from Team Winter ( who has done more in her adolescence than most people do in a lifetime. She has helped fight men's prostate cancer because her father passed away from it when they were both much too young to deal with that. There were teams there to help people with medical bills directly, people fighting against domestic violence, and more than a few teams mine included fighting for various cancer causes. As I met people from some of the other charity teams reminded that we have too many problems in this world but we have more than a fighting chance because there were people like here who would do a lot more than stand up and give up their seat to give someone a rest.

In the end, our team Epic Strong won the athletic competition and Team Winter took second place, a repeat of last year. But as we stood there and received checks and podium stands for the top 3 teams in each category, I couldn't help but  think about some things while feeling grateful. There was a lot of high fiving, of taking in the message of the finishers shirt that Spartans fight for those in need. If you focus on just the needs, the fear, the tears can be overwhelming. But as I watched not just those podium finishers but other finishers some which literally  had carried their teammates through some of the obstacles and finish line, I couldn't help but think well of course if you focus on just the problem, it may seem impossible or improbable that the problems will ever be solved. But if you look beyond the problem and focus on the right part of the message, Spartans fight for those in need, if you focus on the fighters, you realize there is far more than hope. There may be some obstacles, some ups and downs, some heavy burden, some teamwork necessary and crucial and vital but that hope and change will prevail if you don't give up till the end, no matter how tough the obstacles get even if the finish not as clear as it jumping over a fire in a Spartan race.

Less than two years ago, my only connection to the ancient Greek world was the marathon story.
Now Sparta is also part of it but they were strangers than. That world has helped me get in the best shape of my life, literally having taught me how to handle some things better, teaching me the ropes. I've got a long way to go but I'm a lot better at dealing with Spartans than I ever have been. Our winnings will be going to Livestrong this year. This was an organization that only a couple more years before that I'd also never heard of. Since then, they have helped guide me to good doctors for second opinions, good counselors for me and Kiana. But beyond medicine, it was through them I got to meet some people who choose joy, some people who even if you got to love them forever, it wouldn't be quite long enough but that connection makes living stronger and dying, whenever it comes, weaker.

The people who stood up in that ancient Greek auditorium were strangers to the man they offered their seat for. Many of the people who donated to the various charities, including Livestrong, were passing it forward to strangers. As I headed home turning around to catch one last sunset on my best summer ever, I kept daring to dream that maybe, just maybe, autumn would let me keep falling in love with life. And that the good that this team had done that day may only ever help strangers, people who I'll never meet or have a seat to watch how it helped. But I was greatful to be part of an event, a team and some friends who had stood up to do the right thing on a Vermont Spartan Charity Challenge.

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