What is Para Elite you say? I'll tell you what it is. It's a group of people who just want to have an equal opportunity to race as athletes with the bodies we were given. It's taking what’s left of us and dragging it through sand and mud to climb the mountains that represent adversity. It's using crutches, prosthesis, chairs, or the eyes and hands of someone else to pull us over walls and through our fears. It's jumping over fire with the fear of being burned after having already survived massive burns. It's leaning on your teammates to keep you focused when all you want to do is stop. It's more than surviving, more than just getting through the day. It's showing up, putting forth your very best effort, and accomplishing things you never imagined you would. It's being a Spartan.
Team Blacksheep- Light Blue(Lamoni Riordan, Matthew Melancon, Lindsay Hood, and Mason Hall)
Team Synergy Prosthetics- Dark Blue (Pat Lonsdale, Sean Harrison, Kacey McCallister,Dave Ganas)
Team Some Assembly Required- Green(Joe Fonseca, Trevor Battah, Jeremy Ogle, Caitlin Conner)
Team Wheels and the Leg Men- Purple (Bryce Cobb, Jerome Tschauner, Tyler Rich, Travis Strong)
Team ATF 1- Yellow (Phillip Quintana, Nate Harrison, Randy Nantz, Christopher Wolff)
Team ATF 2- Red (JD Harvey, Dan Vale, Tina Hurley, Joshua Sager)
Team Shadow Blades-Orange (Gideon Connelly, Keith Concar, August O'Niell, Kionte Storey)
Team Spartan USA-White (Amy Palmiero-Winters, Jeff Soelberg, Earl Granville, Muji Karim)
Team Handi Capable- Gray (R. Michelle Burnette, Andy Chong)
Open Para Division (James Norris, Frederick Morgan, Jonny Espada)
They brought us in by the sound of bag pipes, ready to send us to battle. That battle would be against other Para Athletes but more so against ourselves. There was a grand prize of ten thousand dollars on the line and our biggest obstacles were our own bodies. We all had bodies that varied with different levels of functionality. A point system was created to keep the teams on a level playing field. Anyone with a lower limb limitation was going to have to work extra hard in the sand, and anyone with an upper body limitation would have to work on just about everything else. We sang out with a battle cry, "Aroo, Aroo, Aroo," and it began. The greatest race the Mojave Desert has ever seen.
The course was an extremely sandy and rocky 4.78 mile course containing 20 obstacles. Everything from climbing walls to rolling mud and barbed wire to monkey bars and the multi-rig. This was the exact same course that able bodied athletes started running just a half hour or more before we did. Wheelchair athletes were able to use GRIT Freedom Chairs to take on the terrain. These chairs have handles you pump back and forth to propel the chain driven chair forward. The athletes would get out and crawl at times, their legs not functional, and a teammate would push the chair for them. Other times you can see teammates carrying someone to help them keep moving. There may have been times where the athletes wondered what they were doing out there, but not one of them regretted it. For once, we were the elite. We were the ones given the chance to prove how much we deserve to be treated equally.
This was my very first obstacle course race. I had very little idea of what I was getting into but I trust my teammates with my life and they are my rock. We moved as one, walking or running together. Strategizing weeks in advance and every moment possible before the race. During the race we would adjust and strategize even further. We came to win, to set the bar for future Para Athletes but also for ourselves. We were given an opportunity and to come with anything less than our everything would be an insult to those who worked so hard to make it happen. The athletes who came before this race, the pioneers so to speak, deserved nothing less than our best effort. We were grateful to be there and even more grateful to be a part of history. My team had the honor of winning first place among an amazing group of athletes. We worked as a "well oiled machine" according to one of the Spartan commentators. We listened to each other, we put our pride away, and we worked together as one. Had one of us been missing, it wouldn't have been the same. Out of the four of us, we only had 4 hands and 7 legs. That didn't stop us though because we leaned on each other.
Every single athlete was there to do one thing, and that was to pave the way for other athletes. History was made that day and next year will be even bigger. It's things like seeing the Yellow Team from the Adaptive Training Foundation, who knew they were the last on the course, climb up a hill with no sight, no chair, no stability, then come down to the monkey bars and try and try until they got across, that makes you get off the couch. They had zero excuses and zero quit. There wasn't a dry eye around because we all knew how hard it was on their bodies but more importantly how important it was to overcome those obstacles of fear.
Thank you for a chance
Thank you. Thank you to Spartan for giving us a chance to show you that we are Elite Athletes. Thank you to athletes before who have been the pioneers working to see this day through. Thank you to those who organized the whole event and had patience with all of the athletes needs. Thank you to all of the sponsors who helped support the event and to the organizations that sent athletes. And a big thank you to my team, because I hate burpees and you guys are beasts.
*Photos were taken by Oscar Mike, Spartan, and Gallemore Photography.