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An Open Letter to Spartan Race: The Spartan Family Trip
Published by Spartan Race on Fri, 2014/11/28 - 01:00
Sometimes, here at Reebok Spartan Race we receive letters from racers. Sometimes, we are so moved by how it has impacted their lives, we feel it ought to be shared. The following is a letter from Aaron Ott, a member of the Lone Star Spartans team in Texas.
As promised, this letter is meant to be circulated to whoever at Spartan Race HQ you can get to listen.
I want to begin by saying, "Thank you." Thank you – to all the Spartan Race Staff (from Joe De Sena to the newest hire) for creating and executing a race series that has facilitated so many meaningful moments, memories and family lessons for us five Otts. In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described strategies for people to be more effective at their chosen pursuits. His book The 8th Habit, however, was a response to a noticeably growing trend that many people, though becoming very effective, were yearning for something more than that… significance. The "8th habit" was to ensure that the corporate ladder people climbed was actually leaning against the right wall. Many might have successful careers and be good at their jobs, but still ask themselves, "Does it matter?"
This letter is my attempt to convey the significance of your enterprise, and what it has meant to the Ott family. First, a quick history of our Spartan experience…
During the summer of 2012, I perceived a need in our family for some meaningful events and trips that could create significant memories with my kids. My wife concurred and during online browsing about athletic events I stumbled upon Spartan Race. Curiosity grew as I played the promo video for the family, and we decided to run a
Sprint. Registration for five of us was not in the budget, so we decided to volunteer at the
2012 Beast in Glen Rose, Texas in order to earn our registrations for the Sprint in Burnet, TX the following summer in 2013.
That first experience, just as volunteers, had us hooked. Everywhere we looked we examined closely the Spartan ethos, and the manner that you had crafted a comprehensive lifestyle activity. Following that first experience, our enthusiasm to run our first race exponentially grew. When we finally ran the Sprint in summer of 2013, we volunteered again because that side of the weekend/race experience was too valuable to miss. Later in 2013, we volunteered again at the Beast in Glen Rose. By this time it was becoming a family tradition to wake up at 12:30am to leave Houston at 1:30am in order to arrive for volunteer check-in by 6am at the race venue.
After that Beast, Spartan Race had filtered into our family DNA. "Spartan" was becoming the adjective we applied to almost everything that required excellence. Our family culture was awash in conversations about what it meant to be a "Spartan student," a "Spartan brother, sister, husband, wife," or even a "Spartan Christian" (I’m also a minister). When the Super/Sprint weekend was scheduled in Burnet, we already knew we would volunteer both days, but hadn’t decided yet to run both races. Late in that winter though, my sons and I decided that 2014 would be our first trifecta (which meant definitely both races in Burnet). Our enthusiasm grew even more after those challenging struggles, (the Super was a real test for my sons and me; my daughter ran the Sprint with us the next day) and we spoke about it probably so often as to greatly annoy our more sedentary acquaintances. My parents lamented they couldn’t "watch the grandkids" do a Spartan Race (living far away from us), so they generously flew us out to Sacramento to run the Super/Sprint weekend there in October. My nephew joined us on the Sprint, with my sister and parents all volunteering to join in the experience from that side.
This all led up to our "season finale"at the Beast/Sprint weekend in Glen Rose, TX, where the boys and I achieved our first trifecta on Saturday, and the girls ran the Sprint with us on Sunday. Six Spartan races in all for 2014; three Sprints, two Supers and one Beast. For all these weekends we both volunteered and enjoyed the challenge of the course. They are two sides of one coin for us. It’s not just a Spartan "race." It’s a Spartan "trip" that’s a designated family time enjoying a Spartan "lifestyle." ?Spartan Race has become to us what the Boy Scouts are to other families. The Spartan ethos filters into aspects of character, endurance and excellence. It’s not merely that Spartan Race clothing and ancillary products that completely litter our home, it’s that we have come to relate to others in this way, build new friendships, and even meet our neighbors when we construct a periodic home "Spartan" practice with obstacles set up in the front yard. My father (age 75), after witnessing the boys run in Sacramento, and having such positive interaction with staff, is inspired to run the Sacramento Sprint in 2015. The cousins (my sons and my nephew) related to one another on a level never facilitated before through other activities. You didn’t merely create a race series. You influenced the course of a family culture. Thank you.
Now some very specific praises…
We would praise the staff we’ve interacted with anyway, but this year we also ran five OCRs organized by other companies and our experiences there made us appreciate the Spartan staff all the more. A few specific examples would include:
Volunteer coordinators: Angela Overstreet (and before her Lizzy Dickey) have cared for us, communicated with us and welcomed us warmly whenever the "the Otts" were coming to work a race. They have made volunteering, for us, a requirement to our overall Spartan experience. The way they keep us fed, watered and cared for at the race venue has given rise to our expression of being "Spartan spoiled" as a volunteer. This represents the greatest contrast to our experiences at other OCRs this year, where volunteers were left without instructions, without contact with staff and often forgotten. At other OCRs, we’ve had to take initiative and get our jobs done – often without staff support – to ensure the safety of racers.
As for a "volunteer’s heat?" On several occasions it was an afterthought we had to remind staff of in order to run the course at all at the end of the day, and at one event my sons and I ran the course as quickly as we could out of genuine concern the company would be all packed up and gone when we got back. ?As for "Spartan spoiled," that trend continued in Glen Rose this last time as we were stationed at the finish line for the Sprint. Being fed, given drinks, making sure we had what we needed, all the while experiencing the joys of placing medals on racers as they crossed the finish line. It’s a special time for us to encourage others in that capacity, and the staff allowed us to enjoy it to the full. I only wish I could remember the name of the gentleman in charge of us at the finish line there. I’d praise him by name as well.
Angela was very gracious with my daughter on Saturday, releasing her after she had volunteered for half the day so that Jessica could accompany us back to the hotel. Following the Beast, we needed rest. As volunteers, our experiences with staff have been that they are professional, personal, personable, compassionate, efficient and excellent. They are a major reason for us being such a fanatical "Spartan family."
One word… Dustin (I wish I knew his last name). He makes the starting line experience uniquely "Spartan" and exciting, bringing an energy, enthusiasm and spirit of adventure to the moment. This may seem like a trivial thing, but a good or bad Master of Ceremonies can add to or subtract from – considerably – the whole experience. Our experience with Dustin as a person, as a personality, leaves us anticipating each Spartan Race with anxious joy. Other OCRs were tepid by comparison. In one instance my sons and I walked up to the starting line, and the announcer said, "Hey guys. What are you doing?" We replied, "We’d like to start. We were volunteers earlier." His response? "Oh… ok. Go!" A far cry from Dustin’s "Let me hear you…WHO AM I?" that we gloried in at Burnet and Glen Rose.
Professional. Organized. Personable. Warm. These are a few adjectives that come to mind for Spartan Race Staff. But "prepared" tends to top the list. When we’ve come to event locations, we know that it’s all taken care of. Little to nothing is left to chance or thrown together at the last minute. Internally, it might have been, but to us it has not appeared that way. From the placement of restrooms, to the visibility of merchandise booths, from the starting/finish line orientation, to volunteer check-in tents, to parking, there’s been nothing wherein we’ve said "Hey, they need to get on top of that. It’s all fouled up." You’ve even raised the bar in terms of making it "spectator friendly" (I’m thinking of my parents watching the grandchildren navigate through obstacles in Sacramento).
Again, this is a stark contrast to other OCRs we’ve run, where many elements were so chaotic and disorganized as to make us mutter "Bless their heart. They’re trying their best." In other OCRs, we’ve witnessed obstacle construction be so shoddy as to result in injured racers, elusive restrooms far from festival areas, water stations that ran out of water (in Texas heat!), from things as annoying as the water truck driver looking impatiently at us with that "Come on! Hurry up! I want to get out of here!" stare as my sons and I washed off mud, to things as trivial as not having t-shirt sizes that we had notified in advance (a large t-shirt still looks like a dress on my sons). In all these things we are "Spartan spoiled" when we’re spoiled at a Spartan Race. Perhaps your staff haven’t done many other OCRs because they’re too busy, but we have and can attest to the contrast.
I said before that Spartan Race has become to us what Boy Scouts, or other comprehensive/immersion pursuits are to others. That would not be so for us had not Spartan Race maintained that magic balance of being both athletically challenging and family friendly. Compromise on the former and we’d feel it was just another "mud run," an outing, an excuse to get people together and party with a "tough guy" theme (i.e. Warrior Dash, Foam 5K…you probably know of many more). Lose the latter distinctive and you’d be slightly tougher version of a muddy party, but without my participation or my children (i.e. Tough Mudder). That special balance you have maintained ("STFU" tshirts notwithstanding), has enabled me to fully involve my kids, and recommend that anyone else do the same. As a minister, I can recommend the race, the web site and the WODs to anyone I meet at church or through my fire department (I’m the dept chaplain) without embarrassment. Obstacle names like "Pole dancer," "Hold your wood" or "Arctic Enema" make other courses seem very adolescent, not for serious adults. Incidentally, don’t ever even consider relaxing the 30 burpee penalty!
Spartan Race has managed to maintain the reputation of being both extremely tough and very accessible. We love it for how it has kept that balance. Balance is a difficult thing. Many companies don’t attempt such a balance. You have set the standard though; one by which all others are measured. The Spartan "code" works its way into so many aspects of character, family, relationships and professional pursuits. Again…thank you. This is an aspect that I greatly hope does not change about Spartan Race, even as you inevitably must expand, grow and adapt to fluid market dynamics.
Some thoughts about competitors…
I have many friends now through Facebook networks that run others races. Some of these are jumping on the "Battle Frog" bandwagon. Because of the "brand loyalty" we’ve developed to Spartan Race, I was at first concerned they’d cut into your market share. I’m now no longer fretting about it. Battle Frog looks fun, and I’ll probably take my sons to go run one (they’re both in high school NJROTC) because of the "Navy Seal" component. But where is the international appeal? Do they really envision that athletes in Australia, the UK, Canada, France and South Africa will want to play "Navy Seal" for a day? Spartan Race has chosen such an ancient theme as to have unlimited appeal across cultural, national/political and regional boundaries. You’ve created a "Spartan ethos" that is so distinct as to become a command (i.e. "Spartan up!"). Spartan Race is indeed a race series, but it cannot remotely be characterized as merely a race series. You’ve created a lifestyle "cult" (I mean that in the best possible way) that connects people across space and time beyond the popularity of today’s headlines.
When I view other OCRs, particularly the ones attempting to be national (not merely regional) competitors, I have to ask, "Where is their cultural entry point?" In order words: How could you "enter" those as a cultural phenomenon? What do they offer beyond just a race series? They are events, not lifestyles. One does not "apply" TM or BF to life’s challenges in a spiritual, relational or professional context. I’ve seen many a "baby Spartan." Do others really expect to see a corresponding rise of "baby mudders" or "baby seals?" They may experience some success, but Spartan already has "first mover advantage" and with responsible innovation, that dominance need not wane.
There’s much about Spartan Race that I hope does not change, but there’s also much that I’m sure must change to avoid lethal stagnation. You’ve inspired us to accomplish physical feats we did not imagine one year ago. Trifecta? Good lord! But now we’re considering adding, on top of a trifecta for 2015, a Hurricane Heat or even a HH12HR. These accomplishments serve as living analogies to struggles we face in other arenas, and the "Spartan Up!" attitude with which we must approach them. As a minister, I write on Spartan Race as a means of "spiritual discipline," and mine loads of illustrations from race day for teaching purposes.
Some believe Spartan Race is becoming over-merchandised, but I say there is a principle of saturation wherein you surround yourself with symbols of your dreams and goals. How is it that the one who thinks there is too much stuff for sale might also have a home overrun with gear from their university or favorite sports team? Surely the same principle applies when making yourself (Spartan) your favorite "sports team" or inspirational figure.
My great hope in writing this letter is simply to encourage you. It is a small thing to offer back some encouragement to a group of people (for I know that organizations, businesses, and yes, even *gasp* corporations are comprised of people) that have given so much to us. The Ott family has derived immeasurable benefit from Spartan Race and I wanted to make sure you knew about it. High praise goes not only to the staff I knew by name, but also to those we’ve interacted with whose name I never got; such as…
- finish line staff, Glen Rose Sprint, 2014
- registration staff, Sacramento Sprint, 2014 ("Catherine," I think)
- Obstacle and finish line staff, Glen Rose Beast, 2012 (I volunteered at the Tyrolean Traverse on Saturday, while my family was at the finish line)
- Obstacle and finish line staff, Glen Rose Beast, 2013 (My son, Elijah, and I volunteered at the 2nd bucket brigade on Sunday while Joshua, Jessica and my wife Naomi were are the finish line)
- Workout series leaders for Houston and Austin, 2014
Thank you. We expect for the 2015 season you will see even more of the Otts. We feel as though Spartan Race is like "family," and I felt it was time to tell you why.
Aaron F. Ott