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How a Mormon father of four became a world-champion obstacle racer despite a chronic health condition

Cody Moat, a father of four and high school coach from Fillmore, Utah, competes in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship held at Lake Tahoe from Sept. 30-Oct. 1. Moat won the title for the second time.
Cody Moat, a father of four and high school coach from Fillmore, Utah, competes in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship held at Lake Tahoe from Sept. 30-Oct. 1. Moat won the title for the second time.
Photo courtesy of Spartan Race

SALT LAKE CITY — By day, Cody Moat is a high-school shop teacher, a devoted husband and a father of four. On an obstacle course, he's also a Beast.

Moat, a native of Duchesne, Utah, who now lives in Fillmore, Utah, earned that gnarly title by completing Spartan Race’s most difficult level of obstacle racing, the Spartan Beast, where racers face 30 or more obstacles — such as climbing a wall and crawling under barbed wire — while running a course of 12-16 miles.

Spartan Race, a military-style challenge sometimes known as a “sufferfest,” was founded by Joe De Sena in 2010. Once a year, elite racers from all over the world gather for the world championship, which Moat has won twice, most recently this past September.

His first world-championship win was in 2012, just six months after Moat tried obstacle racing for the first time.

The recent win, at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe in California, was especially sweet for Moat, who turned 39 in August and has battled health issues including a chronic thyroid disease, plantar fasciitis and a severe ankle sprain, yet finished first on a 16-mile course with nearly 40 obstacles. After completing the course in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 34 seconds, he pocketed a $15,000 prize. (He told an interviewer after the race that he had no plans for the money, yet.)

Moat is not the sort of man who uses five words when one will do, and he pauses to think before he answers a question. He'd clearly rather be crawling under barbed wire in mud than talking about himself.

He's also not the type to advertise his athletic achievements with bumper stickers on the back of his Chevy truck. The Moats do have one Spartan Beast sticker, affixed to the family's SUV.

The Deseret News connected with Moat by phone after his most recent win and talked to him about endurance racing, training through pain and a chronic thyroid condition, his faith (he's a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and finding time for world-class workouts without sacrificing time with his family. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Deseret News: You just turned 39, which makes you five years older than you were the first time you won the Spartan World Championship. Do you feel any effects of aging or are you getting stronger with time?

Cody Moat: In obstacle racing, none of the courses are the same, so we can’t compare our times. The race just all came together, and I feel like it was close to, if not as good, as I was in 2012.

DN: Amazingly, you won your first world championship the first year you took up obstacle racing. What was your first Spartan Race like?

CM: I missed the spear throw in my first race ever. I didn't know what I was doing but somehow managed to stumble through the race and get second place.

DN: You and your wife (Leona Moat, also a Spartan racer) have four children (ages 15, 12, 10 and 7). How do you manage to be a good husband and father and yet train to compete on an elite level?

CM: First off, I work out in the morning when the kids are getting up and getting ready for school. I don’t feel like we’re losing a lot of family time. I wake up at 5 a.m. and work out usually until 7. Even if I wasn’t working out, I probably wouldn’t be doing a lot of family things from 5 a.m. to 7.

I hit it hard. My mode of training is, we’re going to go hard for two hours and get it taken care of, and then we’re done. If that’s not good enough, then that’s not good enough. Family first, that’s the most important thing.

I’m sure I could spend more time with my family, no doubt there, probably anybody could. But we go to as many races together as possible; that’s always been a family thing. If anything, it’s my coaching at the high-school level that’s taken more time away (from my family) than anything.

DN: In addition to teaching carpentry and drafting at Millard High School (in west-central Utah), you coach three sports: cross country (the team has been Utah’s 2A champions for the past three years), track and wrestling. It must be intimidating to the kids to have a Spartan Beast as a coach.

CM: Hopefully I’m a nice enough guy that they don’t feel that way.

DN: In one interview, you said that while growing up you idolized the Sylvester Stallone movie character Rambo. Is that true?

CM: Actually, that was a mistake. I said Rambo and I meant Rocky, but I had no way of changing that once I’d said it.

DN: You have a fulfilling career and family life. Why do you continue to put yourself through the pain of training and racing?

CM: There are a couple of reasons. For one, I have some health issues that I’ve been fighting and working through, and in order for me to stay on top of those, I need to be in top shape. And in order to be in top shape, I need a race to keep me motivated.

People say, "Haven’t you done this long enough? You’re old. Why don’t you stop?" It’s about fighting the health issues that I’ve got. That’s the major reason. But another is, honestly, I love it. I love the sport, and I feel like I’m still competing well. It’s what I do when I have time off; I go up on the mountain and I run, enjoy the outdoors.

DN: Have you ever had a serious injury in training that you had to deal with, and if so, how did you get through it?

CM: I had a really bad case of plantar fasciitis (a debilitating heel injury) for a few years. I took some time off and did cross-training, but it didn’t heal up, and so I decided, I’m just going to push through it, and it got better. Then last year, I sprained my ankle really bad in the summer. It was just a battle; I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to do the championship race. Then there are my thyroid issues; that's what keeps me trying to stay in shape. That's not an injury, but when it’s been bad, it’s been bad.

DN: What’s going on with your thyroid?

CM: I have Hashimoto’s (thyroiditis); it’s an autoimmune disease where your body is attacking your thyroid. (According to the American Thyroid Association, the condition can lead to fatigue, weight gain, muscle aches and exercise intolerance.)

For a while, in 2013, I had to completely stop racing because my heart rate was over 200 while I was jogging. I’m not supposed to have my heart rate near that high, and I wasn’t even pushing hard. Basically, my thyroid had changed to hyper; I lost weight, my metabolism shot through the roof, and my resting heart rate, which was under 50, was now at 72. When I would run, it would go over 200, when it would normally be around 145. It was kind of a big deal, so I got out of racing for a long time until I got it under control.

DN: Your wife, Leona, is also is a Spartan racer, showing that you can be a mom of four and also a serious athlete.

CM: I think my wife earns as much credit as myself. She has also raced for many years and has placed as high as 18th in the world. This year, she placed 23rd which may not sound that impressive, but all the athletes ahead of her are younger women, most of whom are not married and do not have children.

DN: Recent studies have shown that prayer results in measurable changes in the brain of an athlete. Do you pray while you are competing, and do you race and train on Sundays?

CM: I do not compete on Sunday; I do not workout on Sunday. For me, it makes all the difference in the world. So many days I'm on the verge of injury and when I take Sunday off, I come back Monday strong and ready to go.

A few years back, Spartan Race wanted to make Sunday the big elite race day. They gave me all sorts of reasons why Sunday should be the big race day. I told them that I would be done with Spartan Race if that was the direction they were going. There were several other well-known LDS Spartan racers who also took a stand, and to this day, Saturday is still the big race day.

There have been many times in races that I've prayed for help, especially when things get tough. I have always felt strength during those times. Sometimes it's just a prayer to endure; other times it's a prayer to calm down and stay relaxed, while other times it's a prayer to be able to compete my very best. I would not still be racing if it weren't for heavenly help.

DN: What do you get out of obstacle racing in terms of life lessons?

CM: Obstacle racing teaches all the values in life. It teaches determination, endurance, grit, hard work, confidence, humility. I honestly can't think of a value that obstacle racing doesn't help with.

DN: Your wife has said the two of you have a "goal-oriented family." What's the next goal for you?

CM: I’m not sure. Everything revolved around this race, and now I need to figure out where to go from here. I need to stay in shape, and I need to continue keeping my health up, which means I’ve got to have something to train for, but what that is, I don’t know yet. I’d really like to go back and do another world championship next year.