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Thousands of 'Spartans' brave grueling obstacles, aide numerous charities

MIDWAY — Thousands of “Spartans” brave enough to crawl under 300 feet of barbed wire and conquer 28 other grueling obstacles Saturday not only won bragging rights, but also consequently participated in multiple humanitarian causes.

The Reebok Spartan Race series came to Utah for the third time to host another globally recognized obstacle race at Soldier Hollow in Midway: the Utah Spartan Beast. Collectively promoting human health, additional agencies joined the event with their own altruistic missions, including efforts to battle cancer and to provide developing nations with affordable clothing.

“We like to knock people down so they can pick themselves back up,” said Joe De Sena, co-founder of Reebok Spartan Race. “We want to impose obstacles that are scary and make people uncomfortable, because it makes everything else in life easier.”

After rinsing themselves of mud and sweat at the finish line, some drained-yet-exhilarated competitors noticed a pile of used shoes sitting next to a charity stand named Dunk Your Kicks. Some would glance at their own muddy shoes, and decide to slip them off to join the pile before walking away barefoot.

Buddy Sanchez, the Max Care Foundation representative who oversaw the Dunk Your Kicks station, said he expected to collect a couple thousand muddy sneakers by the end of the event.

Instead of being “buried alive” in landfills with perhaps “a couple hundred miles left on them,” the sneakers will be refurbished by an international recycling company and sold to developing nations at an affordable cost, said David Plotkin, chairman and co-founder of the Max Cure Foundation.

“You get a warm, fuzzy feeling from doing something nice, so to these people that finish this race, congratulations to them. Then on top of that, they get to do something to help somebody else,” Sanchez said. “It’s wonderful.”

Scott Eischstead, a runner from Lehi, nonchalantly left his white and red pair of shoes in the charity’s pile, despite the fact they appeared to still be in glowing condition after being rinsed of the mud.

“I figured, 'Why not?'" Eischstead said. “Somebody else can use them more that me, and I can just buy some new ones, so it’s no big deal. They’re nice shoes. Somebody will enjoy them.”

For each pound of sneakers collected, the Max Cure Foundation will receive $1 from the recycling company for its mission to fund pediatric cancer research and to aid local low-income families with a child battling cancer, Plotkin said. An average pair of sneakers typically weighs 1.5 pounds.

“What I love to say is, ‘Your pair of sneakers could be the pair that actually saves and changes lives,’” he said.

Plotkin co-founded the Max Care Foundation when his own son, Max, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 4 years old. Now 10 years old, Max is a cancer survivor.

“My focus is pediatric cancer and making a difference in this fight, but the fact that so many other amazing things come from Dunk Your Kicks just makes it that much more of an amazing fundraising campaign,” he said.

Reebok Spartan Race also teamed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training by creating an online training program to prepare competitors for the race, according to De Sana. As they trained, the participants also raised funds to support cancer research.

“We involve different programs around the world based on what people are motivated by and excited about, and so if it’s something that excites folks here, we get excited about it too,” he said “We just want to help.”

With each Spartan Race, De Sana hopes “to change the lives of everybody that comes in and get them motivated to stay fit and stay healthy.”

More than 7,000 people competed in the 2013 Utah Spartan Beast, De Sena said, despite the fact that the Soldier Hollow course was specifically “unforgiving” this year, due to the heat.

“We wouldn’t have minded a little cooler weather, but we’ll take it,” said Mike Morris, the event's vice president of production. “It’s better than 40 degrees and pouring rain.”

The adult racers, ranging from ages 14 to 70, ran 12 miles up and down steep hills and mountain ravines, and encountered 28 obstacles including numerous mud pits, a rope climb, heavy weight drags and climbing walls.

Prior to the event, the course remained a mystery to the competitors in order to force them to be ready for anything, De Sena said. Rachel Gordon, a competitor from Spanish Fork, was indeed surprised, not expecting as many muddy obstacles or uphill battles.

“It was so hard, way harder than I thought it would be” she said. “The first five miles were pretty easy, but then the rest I was like, 'OK, I’m done.'”

Gordon completed the race, nonetheless, with enough spirit to kick her shoes off for charity.

The competitors were all timed, ranked and judged based on age and gender. Every half hour from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., waves of 200 competitors took off from the starting line. The average race completion time for the 12-mile course was about three hours, Morris said.

In the men's elite wave of racers, Hobie Call from Erda won first place with a time of 1 hour and 30 minutes flat. Hunter McIntyre from Malibu, Calif., placed second, and Cody Moat from Fillmore placed third.

In the women’s elite wave, April Luu from Petyon, Colo., won with a time of 1:55:48. Leann Brinton from American Fork placed second, and Halley Tollner from Salt Lake City placed third.

Call, an avid obstacle course racer, said this year’s race was indeed challenging, but it was “awesome” as always. He said he especially appreciates the efforts Reebok Spartan Race organizers take to include humanitarian causes in the fun.

“To come out and do something just for yourself, where’s the glory in that?” he said. “But when there’s a purpose and you’re doing it for something other than just yourself, it means so much more.”