#WhyIRace: Spartans and Spartans-to-Be Share Stories at Palmerton

More than 10,000 Spartans gathered in Palmerton two weekends ago. Some vied for the podium, some hoped to make a new PR, and others simply came to give themselves a new challenge. Every racer, regardless of category, showed up for a reason.

#WhyIRace: “All Part of the Journey”

While the Spartan elites toiled under the weight of two 50-pound sandbags on a hellish ascent up the double black diamond slopes of Blue Mountain, racers in the Competitive Category started to gather at the starting line. One competitive racer, Michael Laconti (45, NJ), was stretching his legs by the water station. He had run this race last year and hoped to improve on his time.

“Last year I did it in a little under 4 hours,” he said. “I’ve been training all year, non-stop, 6 days a week.”

This race represented just one step in a long journey for Michael.

“I lost about 100 pounds over seven years,” he said. “It’s a personal journey for me. I don’t preach it like Scientology, but for me, it works. If you love something, do it. Do it with passion. If you love it, it loves you back.”

On Michael’s left shoulder was a tattoo: four block capital letters. “It’s from Gladiator,” he said. “When I was 270 pounds, I saw the movie, and there’s a part of the movie where Maximus loses everything. He connects with his past and finds a reason to live and to get everything back…kind of like me. I lost everything, I was divorced, I hadn’t seen my son for a long time, I was out of shape, I didn’t have any friends…But I found a way to get back.”

Michael’s first race was in Citi Field in 2014. He has run at least 10 races, including Citi Field and the Super in Palmerton this weekend.

Michael post dunk-wall, looking victorious.

#WhyIRace: Motivation, Accomplishment

Two more racers, Chelsea from Baltimore, MD and Sean from Allentown, PA came to Palmerton together with their annual passes. Each had a reason for racing.

“I was a soccer player when I was in college,” said Sean. “I did not care about anything, was just having fun, came to do this [Spartan Race] with a friend, and felt so great after such a great workout. It became my motivation to get back in shape.”

“There’s a really big sense of accomplishment, especially after one like this,” added Chelsea with a smile. This couple completed the Super on Saturday as well as the Sprint on Sunday.

#WhyIRace: to Motivate Others

A racer named Andy came from the Bronx with a group of friends to complete his first Trifecta. “I began this journey last year,” he said proudly. “[Obstacle Course Racing gives me] so much excitement. I began my own small company called “Garifuna Fit” to teach people to stay fit through doing obstacle runs, eating properly.”

When asked why he runs Spartan Races, Andy replied that he does it “to motivate others.” Andy ran in the Open Category on Saturday, but he hoped to be ready for the Competitive Category by next year. He and several friends stuck together for the entire race.

“My group of friends gets bigger every year,” he added.

#WhyIRace: One Delta Down — Three to Go

Many at Palmerton were running their first race, but some, like Danielle Rieck, were seasoned veterans. Danielle revealed that she had recently completed her first Perfect Delta and aimed to complete three more Deltas: one Endurance Delta and two Trifecta Deltas.

Danielle accomplished her first Perfect Delta despite some early doubts. “When [the Delta] first came out, I was like, whatever!” she laughed. “Then the pieces started falling in, and I thought I might actually go for it.”

To new racers who might find multiple Deltas unfathomable, Danielle offers humble encouragement: “The first race is the real adventure. If you get to the start, you can get to the finish. You just have to keep moving forward.”

High Aspirations from the Sidelines

The race at Palmerton attracted 2,500 spectators from Pennsylvania and other mid-Atlantic states. For example, Jannira came from Allentown, PA with her sister Lissenia to watch her brother-in-law, who ran in the Competitive Category on Saturday. Both women had plans to run a race in the future.

“After I get fit, after I have my child, I definitely want to join,” said Jannira. “It started with just [my brother-in-law], and now, all of a sudden, everyone is starting to jump on board.”

Lissenia had run her first Spartan Race in June, six months after having a baby. “I fell in love right away. My son” — she gestured to the small boy tugging at her right hand — “he’ll be doing his first today, too.” (She meant the Spartan Kids Race.)

When asked how her family members have reacted to her husband’s Spartan journey, Lissenia said they were scared. “When we talk to them and show them the videos, they get scared.” Of what? “I guess not being in shape or failing…but just finishing is what matters. Regardless of how long it takes.”

At the top of the mountain, another spectator, Denise Stone (Schwenksville, PA), sat with her children by the Atlas Carry to watch her boyfriend and some of his friends complete the Spartan Super. Like Jannira and Lissenia, Denise had plans to race. Her first race, she said, would be the Sprint next weekend at the same venue.

“I was more nervous before, but now that I see it’s just a lot of climbing up the hills, I think I should be OK,” said Stone. One of her children had run in the Spartan Kids Race earlier that day.

“It was OK,” he said with a coy smile. At 13 years old, he seemed ready to take on a bigger challenge next year.

John Hawley: Sharing the Glory

Earlier in the morning, John Hawley stood by the finish to watch his daughter, Spartan Pro Alyssa Hawley, earn third place in the elite wave. He had arrived in Palmerton at 2AM that morning and slept in his car.

Alyssa Hawley and her father embrace by the finish line.

“It’s fun to follow her around and share her success with her,” said John.

As Alyssa hugged and congratulated her competitors at the finish line, John Hawley revealed that he, too, was on a journey.

“A year ago, I couldn’t lift my left arm,” he said. “There was a pinched nerve in my neck, and they didn’t know how to fix it. At my first Spartan, I missed 6 obstacles. For each one, I worked on something, and I finally made all the obstacles in Montana. Alyssa was there to share it with me.”

What’s your #WhyIRace?

What’s the reason that keeps you going?

(This blog was originally published on Spartan.com.)

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