Sunday, June 2, 2013

Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead. ~ James Joyce

 Dear Blogland,

This is my Dad.
This is MY Dad, standing at the starting line of his very first Spartan Race, at 62 years young.
I couldn't be more proud.

Many of you are familiar with the crazy adventure I've been on the last few years, transforming my life, losing weight and trudging on the quest for Increased Awesomeness. In the process, I found a passion for Obstacle Racing and a real support family in Spartan Racers. Starting in May of 2012, I crossed my first Spartan Race finish line and "knew" as they say, that my life would never be the same. Finish line after finish line followed, and I had trouble expressing to my family - who was not athletic or competitive at all - WHY I would willingly do these things. Yet, they kept seeing the physical changes, as well as the mental changes, as I became healthier and happier. Finally, my Dad wanted to know what it was all about, and came to see my finish my greatest challenge yet - the 2012 Vermont Spartan Beast. He stood at the finish line into the darkness, waiting for me to cross - which I did, muddy, bloody, exhausted and most of all, accomplished (here's the whole story) .  After which, in a comment on my blog, he said: "If there is a prouder father anywhere in the world right now I'd like to meet him and tell him about MY daughter! And who knows... maybe these creaky old bones, now inspired, will "get off the couch" and do something too. You've set the bar high - I wonder if I can 'Spartan Up'?"

Dad shows a muddy wall what's up.
And so it began, Blogland. For the last eight months, I watched my Dad take a turn and change HIS life. A computer geek all his life, "light hiking" would be the extent of my Dad's athletic experience. He's never been in any sort of race that I know of, not a fan of competition, and never would've considered spending money on a gym membership. Weight came and went in spurts (due to an irrational love of Little Debbie and Coca-Cola).  After seeing my VT Beast Finish (which was symbolic of a lot of mental finish lines for me), that all changed.

One day, he wrote me and told me of his plans to attend a local boot camp to learn how to workout (it's a funny concept for most of my readers... but it is something you need to learn!). Twice a week he'd email me and regale me with his Adventures At Bootcamp from the previous night - how the chest fly machine nearly wrenched his arms out of their sockets, how he was improving on the treadmill, how he was actually enjoying the assisted pull up machine. My personal favorite, however, was the day he learned how to Burpee. They weren't comfortable or easy (when are they ever?), on injured 62 year old shoulders and knees that have seen a few bumps along the way, but he learned how to push through and modify - because nothing is more iconic of the Spartan Race, than the Burpees (of Death!!). He wanted to be "ready."

Dad takes on Canada's crazy Upper Body Killer!
Being an excellent student, my Dad started studying the races. What else would he need to prepare for? What clothing should he have? Where to get such footwear? I knew he was serious, when he informed me that he had mounted a regulation size rope-climb rope in the garage to practice with (which, to this day, remains the victor in every attempt my Dad and I have made to climb it. ONE day, Rope, the Varney's will get to the top!).

Suddenly, May was upon us. I'm sure my Dad had "The Final Countdown" playing in the back of his head. First-timer nerves (and questions) bubbled up as The Day drew closer.

Dad (afraid of heights) owns the Cargo Net!
Then, disaster struck, just a week and a half prior to the race. I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis (at 30!! ARGH.), and prescribed NO activity and decidedly no obstacle races for the foreseeable future. As I kissed my racing season goodbye, I was suddenly heartbroken - I was supposed to take my Dad through his first Spartan Race. Dad and I were supposed to cross that finish line TOGETHER.  Now what?

Ultimately, my Dad did the only thing a true Spartan would do - he decided that, even if he had to go it alone, he had trained, felt as ready as he was going to be, and he would find that finish line, whatever it took.

It seemed there was a Spartan Spirit in my desk-jockey Dad, after all.

Race Morning dawned over the Montreal Sprint, a brisk 45 degree high, cloudy, with periods of rain. This is where I should mention, there is nothing my Dad hates more than being cold. I was anxious FOR him, as I really wanted him to have the full awesome Spartan experience, so he could understand my passion, not just be cold and miserable the whole time.
... and does his penalty burpees!

Apparently, my fears for my Dad were completely unfounded. At 62 years old, without any "buddy" on course with him, my Dad took down one obstacle after another.

The heights didn't get him.

The temperature didn't get him.

The new challenges didn't get him.

The lack of experience didn't get him.

I am also very happy to say that three sets of 30 penalty burpees ALSO didn't get him. He followed my advice to take them slow and steady, and did every single one.

I can't attest to what may have happened out on that course, as only my Dad can say (Perhaps a Guest Blog coming on?), but I can say that my Dad, too, "Knew at the Finish Line."

Upon crossing the US border, where the cell phone would work again, I immediately received a call. I was worried he'd be hurt (we're all protective of our parents, right?), or that he'd be miserable, or that he would've not finished.... But instead, he told me that a) He was HANGRY (racers, you'll understand), and finally understood my need for immediate food consumption after races and b) He had returned from his international soiree VICTORIOUS.
Varney Determination.

The picture to the right, although not glamorous, is my second favorite picture of my Dad from that day. It's cloudy, it's super muddy, it just looks cold, and he's covered in mud. His face is showing that point that every Spartan hits at some point, EVERY race; it's the moment that you're tired, uncomfortable and wondering what you were thinking when you signed up for this. It is also the moment you Spartan Up, start really earning your eventual medal, and separate yourself from the masses that are still sitting on their couch, because YOU - spartan racer - keep putting one foot in front of the other. In this picture, my Dad doesn't necessarily look like he's having a good time. We all know what those muddy, wet clothes feel like. It doesn't look like the end is in sight. On his face, though, is Determination. What that says to me is: I. Will. Finish.

Welcome to Spartan Race, Dad.

However, I must conclude with the photo of the day, capturing the moment perfectly (yes, Varney's have all the luck, getting awesome fire jump pictures at their inaugural Spartan Races):

Forged from the flames, my Dad emerges SPARTAN.

Still Smilin' at the end!
For all of you that doubt yourselves, are afraid, unsure, feeling out of shape or non-athletic, or too old... My Dad disagrees. 62 years young, he got off the couch (or, more fittingly, out of the office chair), changed some habits, got moving more, ate a little less and took one step after another towards getting healthy. Why? Because he decided he could.

Decide you can. Regardless of your age, weight, fitness or perceived limitations. You'd be amazed at what you will find you are able to do.

As the cuts and scrapes heal from this crusade (Dad. Don't forget the Neosporin), my Dad and I are looking forward to tackling a race together, when the doctor says I'm good to go. I never thought I'd say this, but I am thrilled at the prospect of carrying sandbags side-by-side with my Dad, or (maybe?!?!) holding the rope, as my Dad climbs to the top and hits the bell. Mostly, I look forward to crossing a finish line - A Spartan Family, getting healthy, training and being triumphant, together.

Oh, and Dad... AROO! AROO! AROO! ... I'm so proud of you. I can't wait for the world (BlogLand is a big place!) to know about MY DAD.

Editors Note: A HUGE Thank you to veteran Spartan, Dave Huckle for the great photos!