Leanne is the prototypical introvert; a self-described bookworm, she’s silly and geeky. Up until recently, she hated spending time in the sun. She hated sweating, too. In fact, she says that she used to hate everything, including herself.
Leanne was born to a single mom, but mom was a workaholic and was hardly around. To make matters worse, when Leanne was just four years old, she was sexually abused by a trusted family member. After such a traumatic event, Leanne’s mind was scarred; she couldn’t help but see her body for much less than what it was worth. In her own words:
“The assault had taught me that my body wasn’t for me, that it was trash.” — Leanne McDonald
From that day on, Leanne hid her pain from the world, and it bottled up inside, dragging her deeper and deeper into an unhealthy lifestyle. The first thing to go was her eating, and this sparked the beginning of a dramatic weight gain. She weighed 180 pounds in 6th grade, 246 pounds by the beginning of high school. Before her eighteenth birthday, Leanne’s emotional distress and lack of support had forced her to live on the streets. Eighteen days after she turned 18, she gave birth to her first son. With each successive pregnancy over the next three years, Leanne’s weight “ballooned,” and when the time came to give birth to her third son, Shane, she weighed 400 pounds, and the poor state of her body and the stress of childbirth brought her and her newborn close to death. She suffered convulsions due to her high blood pressure — also known as eclampsia.
For three weeks, Leanne was moored in the hospital, terribly sick and highly medicated. Her blood pressure was erratic and uncontrollable. Meanwhile, her newborn son, born 5 pounds at 31 weeks, failed “stress test after stress test.” Lying on the operating table during one of her surgeries, Leanne made a solemn promise to herself: “If he makes it, I’ll do what I need to do to be the mother he deserves. I won’t be sick anymore. I’ll lose the weight.”
LEANNE KEEPS HER PROMISE, DARES FOR MORE.
After a long struggle, Leanne finally walked out of the hospital with her newborn. They had survived, and Leanne kept her promise to Shane. Although she had heard about Spartan Race and had seen racers’ incredible feats of athleticism on Facebook, she “knew” that she would “never in a million years finish a Spartan Race.” Even though she dreamed of sharing in the “bravery and camaraderie” of the Spartan community, she somehow felt it was out of reach. So, for the time being, she let Spartan Race pass by. Instead, she dedicated herself to home workout programs, and her dedication paid off: she lost 110 pounds.
Then, suddenly, in April 2016, she said “f — it” and signed up for the Super in Austin.
As soon as she clicked that red registration button, her body knew it was go-time. “I felt my heart race with fear and excitement,” she said. “This was my time to prove myself. I wanted to see what I was made of.”
LEANNE MEETS HER DREAM TEAM — 10,000 STRONG
Leanne showed up to the venue ready for anything, surrounded by her small team of friends, all of whom believed in her. “I felt empowered but nervous,” recalls Leanne. “Intimidated but excited.” A stranger helped her over the six-foot starting line wall. She distinctly remembers the announcer, rallying the Spartan troops on his microphone:
“Who am I?”
“I AM SPARTAN. AROO! AROO! AROO!”
It lit a fire in her heart. With that, she was off.
For four miles, Leanne gave the course everything she had. She fell, and she fell again, but much to her surprise, there was always a Spartan nearby to help her. And it wasn’t always a member of her team; more often than not, it was a complete stranger. Leanne was dumbfounded.
“Here I had thought all this time that Spartans were intimidating dirtbags who thought I was a weakling,” she reflects. “It was quite the opposite.”
Completely sapped of strength less than halfway into the course, Leanne started to realize that her team was far bigger than the few friends she brought with her. She fell in a rocky river, and instantly a Spartan helped her up, and the two were each other’s balance to the far bank. When she was hungry and dehydrated, a Spartan gave her food. At the slip wall, an obstacle that almost had Leanne bow out and submit to her burpee penalty, a Spartan volunteer gave her (literally) step by step instructions. With his help, she made it over — “even though I knew I couldn’t do it.” And all throughout the brutal 9-mile course, Leanne heard over and over again from Spartans fitter than she that she was an inspiration to all of them — in their words, “a badass.” Seven hours after she started, Leanne hurled herself over the fire jump into the final pool of water. Pale and delirious, she crossed the finish line with her team. Finally, it all started to make sense.
“I got my medal and I cried. Right then. Covered in mud, sweat and bruises, I cried. I did it. No one could take that from me.” — Leanne McDonald
Before Leanne even got in the car to head home, she understood that something profound had happened. In Leanne’s words, “that was it. I actually felt like a different, unstoppable person.” The bravery and camaraderie she had always dreamed of but never thought she could have — was finally hers. “The people I had encountered on the course were my people. They were fierce, unrelenting, kind, humble, passionate, caring…
“I knew my next stop was the TRIFECTA.”
ONWARD, TO THE “IMPOSSIBLE.”
With the Super squared away, the two parts left of Leanne’s TRIFECTA were one Sprint and one Beast. Two months after Austin, Leanne was at it again — this time at the ATT Stadium Sprint in Dallas. Despite her excitement keeping her up the whole night before race day — and while battling hunger and nausea — she completed her Sprint in three hours and collected part two of three. In fact, the experience changed her frame of reference in a powerful way.
“I knew if I could do it on no sleep, hardly any food, and after a volunteer shift, then I could definitely take on the Beast.”
So, for the past three months, Leanne has been hard at work. Several classic Spartan workouts are now her bread and butter: running and walking long distances while carrying heavy sh — ; doing burpees until she “almost” vomits; and walking with her kids to the grocery store and carrying back the heavy bags as a team.
“We call these ‘mini Spartans.’”
Since committing to her first promise to Shane, Leanne has made incredible progress. For one, she has gotten her body fat down from 58 to 38 percent. But weight loss isn’t her only concern; she’s working on her agility and strength as well. With laser-like focus, she’s set on the Beast. And every day, she reignites her competitive drive by reading what she has written on her bathroom mirror: “Act, Think, Be an Elite Spartan.” She knows that, in most people’s minds, what she’s doing is insane; but that doesn’t stop her.
“I’m 260 pounds. I’d underestimate me, too. But I know that if I can do what I’ve done, I can do anything.”
With 2,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook, Leanne has all the accountability she needs to stay on track. But now, it’s not just about her; Leanne has dedicated herself to helping others through the power of her story. In addition to documenting her story meticulously on social media, she started her own business called Team Find Your Fierce. There, she has been the catalyst for many women to stop settling, change their own lives for the better, and, as Leanne puts it, “be free.”
Through her hard work and the encouragement of others, Leanne has accomplished incredible things; however, she’s only just beginning. Leanne has set audacious goals: earn her TRIFECTA at the Dallas Beast, become a personal trainer, get SGX certified, and — within five years — take a spot on the elite podium. As for the here and now, Leanne strives every day to keep the Spartan Revolution rolling.
If you’re struggling with doubts about your own ability to change your life, let Leanne be an example of the amazing things any person can accomplish with grit and tenacity. Leanne says it best in her own words: “If a suicidal sexual assault victim, high school dropout turned teenage mother, and later 400-pound mother of 3 at twenty-six years old can f — ing do it, anyone can.”
We agree 100 percent. Get out there.
LEARN MORE. DARE MORE. ACCOMPLISH MORE.
Spartan Race exists to rip millions of people off the couch and teach them that anything is possible with hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Leanne is just one example of how a few simple, healthy choices can start a revolution in your life.
VISIT THESE PAGES TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SPARTAN RACE:
- Spartan Race — What is it?
- Spartan Endurance Events
- Spartan SGX, Spartan’s Official Training Program
- How to Spartan Up Your Nutrition
- Read the Free “Spartan: A Way of Life” eBook
This blog was originally published on Spartan.com.