The Spartan Athena

I always wanted to run a Spartan Race but was intimidated. I would listen to Spartan Up podcast and enjoyed hearing the stories of amazing, accomplished people sharing their journeys and successes. One day, Joe DeSena interviewed Robyn Benincasa, an ultra-endurance athlete and founder of Project Athena Foundation. Project Athena Foundation is a non-profit that helps women who have endured a medical setback to achieve an adventurous dream. Robyn herself, had endured medical setbacks, and found that placing an adventure on her calendar helped her recovery. Her message resonated with me.

 

Fall seven, get up eight- Japanese proverb

 

In 2012, while 6 months pregnant, I was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor. The tumor was a size of a fist and would need to be surgically removed. Because my pregnancy was so far along, the decision was made to postpone surgery until after I gave birth. The mental endurance race was on. I thought of each step as a race with hurdles. In my mind, I was running the course. Hurdle one, bring my son into the world safely for both him and I. Hurdle two, recover enough and regain my strength to endure the thirteen-hour brain surgery that was to come in eight weeks.  The eight weeks were an incredible mental endurance race of dealing with a newborn and a three- year old, monitoring my own health, and making myself as strong as possible for the impending surgery.

Eight weeks later, I had brain surgery. The surgery lasted thirteen hours, I jumped hurdle three. I was alive. The weeks after had multiple hurdles and the obstacle course became harder and more complex. Another surgery to my brain, was followed by six weeks of radiation. I wasn’t allowed to lift more than five pounds for months, but I was allowed to walk. So I walked. I did what I could to become stronger and stronger. I didn’t just want to survive, I wanted to thrive. I wanted to be that person that someone overcoming some great obstacle would look to be assured that they can do it too. They could see it is possible, with grit, determination, patience, and a belief in a higher power, that you could take this experience and use it to propel you forward. I want others to see that you can tap into your inner strength and use it to turn your situation around.

 

Fast forward three and a half years……

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I had recovered. I was living a normal life, with a supportive husband and two small children, and continued teaching art to urban youth. I wanted a challenge and to elevate myself to another level. I was ready. I applied to be an Athena with the Project Athena to hike the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to the North Rim, 24 miles, in one day. I was accepted and completed the months of endurance training to be able to complete the hike. I never believed physical endurance is my strong point, but I knew I had the grit to hang in there and do it. I took Robyn’s advice and put adventure on the calendar.

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In August of 2016, with lots of guidance and help, I completed Project Athena’s Rim 2 Rim, a 24-mile hike, in 15 hours. It was one of the most difficult things I had to do physically and mentally. I faced fears I never acknowledged. It was an enlightening and amazing experience that I will forever be grateful for. I learned to become comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to grow into the person I really want to be.

 

Becoming Comfortable with being Uncomfortable

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Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is my new mantra. In order to grow and evolve, we need to get out of the comfort zone and endure a little (or a lot) of discomfort. My next step in growth, was doing a Spartan. I have always admired the grit and determination of Spartan athletes and was frankly intimidated. I never signed up. But, I thought about what Robyn said, put something on the calendar. Spartan was now on the calendar. On the heels of months of endurance training for Athena, I was to do the Spartan Sprint at Citizen’s Bank Arena. I knew I would most likely need to take penalties and do burpees, but we all have to start somewhere. I humbly accepted the challenge, and took my less than perfect self to the race.

 

I registered for the Sprint, and also registered my six-year-old son for the Spartan Junior.

While doing the Spartan, I just thought about everything I endured over the last three years, and that this race was just like life. Our lives are filled with obstacles. Do we go over them, under them, around them, find alternative solutions, or just accept them and not move forward?  Some are easy and some seem insurmountable. I know that I do not want any obstacles to stop me from living the life I dream.  What will keep us moving forward is grit, determination, and the will to keep getting up when life, or an obstacle, knocks you down.

 

Little Spartan

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What was most surprising is the confidence it gave my six-year-old son. I saw a fierceness and determination in him I never knew. He was a little competitor running his race with confidence and vigor. The Spartan Race gave my son a sense of pride and accomplishment and an understanding that he can do and be whatever he wants to be. I hope that this is the beginning of both of our journeys, to climbing the mountains of life with the spirit of the Spartans and the power of Athena forever gracing us.

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