HOPKINS COUNTY, Ky. (7/29/13) – A former Madisonville-North Hopkins High School football player recently completed the national once-a-year Spartan Death Race in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Ryan Walker of Murray wanted to participate in the event to prove to himself that he could endure and complete the one-of-a-kind challenge.
Walker, 30, said he has been training for the event since December and knew the June competition would be both a physical and mental challenge. Out of the 225 people from across the U.S., who started the race, only 41 finished.
The Spartan Death Race is not a race of time and distance. It is instead a mental and physical challenge unlike any other, he said.
Walker completed the three-day event with no sleep, little rest and endured extreme conditions.
"I lost 15 pounds while training for the race," said Walker. "I lost another 12 during the race. It took about a month to put the weight back on and more than a week for my feet to heal. In fact, I just lost a toenail a couple days ago."
Although the event was physically grueling, the mental challenge changed Walker's perspective about life.
"It changed my way of thinking," he said. "I have a more positive way of thinking. Instead of saying, 'I can do something,' I say, 'I will do something.'"
Walker, son of Mike Walker of State Farm Insurance in Madisonville, is also a State Farm agent in Murray. The MNHHS graduate played football and did powerlifting in high school and went on to play football for Centre College.
Married to Ashley Walker, who is a physical therapist, Walker considers the race the hardest obstacle race in existence. Coming in 31 out of 41 was a personal achievement that he believes will affect his mental determination throughout the rest of his life.
The three-day competition began with all participants building a rock staircase up the side of a mountain only to be required to clear the path ahead with handheld shears. After that, he carried 30 to 40 pounds of rocks while hiking through the night. The next morning, they had to chop wood and then carry the split wood for about a half mile. That meant multiple trips to carry enough wood to be allowed to go on to the next level.
"Once we got to the woods, they told us some scary stories about bears to try to get us to turn around," said Walker. "Once you entered the woods, you couldn't turn around even if you decided to drop out of the race."
Walker said many participants dropped out along the trek due to frustrations. But it was all part of the ordeal and the challenge, he said. After the woods, about half of the entrants were still in the race.
Next came Walker's biggest challenge - swimming. Even though the event was held last month, the mountain lake water temperatures were very cold, he said.
"Swimming has been a weakness of mine," he said. "When we got there, one of the leaders in the race asked me if I could help him take his wet shirt off. He was shivering uncontrollably and couldn't lift his arms to take his own shirt off. The organizers definitely made attempts to make the rest of us discouraged. But that's all part of the race. It's a mind game to see how people react and it certainly works."
Ryan's brother, Russ Walker, attended the Vermont Death Race with him. He sat listening to the radio of announcements of progress along the way. Russ also shared Facebook comments made from various "friends of friends" along the way to his brother. Ryan said the comments helped encourage him to go on.
Walker said he would like to participate in another Spartan Death Race as a coordinator because of the race's ability to deepen the strengths of the participants.
"So many people dropped out because they lost their wills to do it," said Walker. "It is really a microcosm of life. Life is unexpected."
Rita Dukes Smith
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