In Fear Of The Spartan Race–A Battle Lost In My War Against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

7 Jul

“These races introduce a lot of risks,” says Jean Knack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, which hosts hundreds of traditional marathons each year. “We don’t encourage members to participate in events with man-made obstacles where there’s a decent chance of getting hurt.”

-“American Gladiators” by Nick Hell, Outside Magazine, January 2012


When Drew was home for spring break this past March, he casually mentioned to me that his friend John Pfisterer had signed him up, along with two of their other buddies, for some sort of obstacle race on June 8th.  I told him that sounded like fun, but since it was three months away, I didn’t ask about the details, and I put it out of my mind.  About a week before the race, I remembered that it was coming up, and I asked him more about it.  He said it was called a Spartan Race, and I thought that was ironic because Carey’s grandparents were from Sparta.  How appropriate that Drew would be running in a Spartan Race.

During a quiet moment at work the week of June 3rd, I decided to visit the website,  It took less than two minutes for me to break into a cold sweat.  The first click I made was on the waiver that each participant had to sign.  Here is how it began:

“In consideration of being allowed to participate in any way in the above referenced Spartan Race competition(s), race(s), related events (the “Event”) and/or activities, I, _____________________________________, the undersigned, acknowledge, appreciate, and agree that:

The risk of injury and/or death from the activities involved in the Spartan Race and its related events is significant including, but not limited to the following: (i) drowning; (ii) near-drowning; (iii) sprains; (iv) strains; (v) fractures; (vi) heat and cold injuries; (vii) over-use syndrome; (viii) injuries involving vehicles; (ix) animal bites and/or stings; (x) contact with poisonous plants;  (xi) accidents involving, but not limited to paddling, climbing, biking, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, travel by boat, truck, car, or other convenience; and (xii) the potential for permanent paralysis and/or death. While particular rules, equipment, and personal discipline may reduce this risk, the risk of death or serious injury does exist.”

Was this some sort of cruel joke? I’ve lost one son in the worst way imaginable, and now I’m going to let another one participate in an event that requires this type of waiver that speaks of the risk of injury and/or death being “significant”?  To make matters worse, when I scoured the website searching for some mitigating statements that it really wasn’t that bad after all, such comfort was nowhere to be found.  How do you think I felt about the answer to the question under FAQs, “What kind of obstacles are at a Spartan Race?”:

“There are some staples in our repertoire…We will not, however, spell it out for you.  As well, you will get no course map to inspect.  There is fire, mud, water, barbed wire, and occasionally Hell on Earth.  There WILL be obstacles to catch you off guard.  Curve balls, so to speak.  Get over it.  We’re here to rip you from your comfort zone.  If you need a road map for each step of the way, then maybe this race isn’t for you.”

Damn straight, it isn’t.  He’s not doing it, I resolved to myself.  NFW.  I don’t care if he’s 22 and can make his own decisions, and I don’t care if pulling out is going to embarrass him in front of his friends.  Our family, after what has happened to us, gets a pass on these things, and Drew and his friends will have to understand and accept it.  It’s not happening.  Drew hadn’t trained for anything like this, either.  My post-traumatic stress disorder clicked into overdrive.

The first order of business was to email Carey at work to inform her of my dictatorial decision and to solicit her support, and I did so in the most mature way.  I emailed her the verbiage from the FAQ answer and closed with the following calm and rational words:


However, support for my decision was not forthcoming.  Let’s just say that Carey felt I was being completely irrational and that I was not living up to the resolution I made in my May 28th blog post to get a grip on my emotions when it came to things like this.  She pointed out that Drew was in near-perfect physical condition and routinely ran his pick-up basketball opponents into exhaustion on a daily basis.  Additionally, even though he hadn’t specifically trained for this, he finished 3rd out of 150 runners when he ran in a 5k for the very first time this spring at Widener.  He hadn’t trained for that either.

At that point, though, Carey didn’t yet know just how torturous a conundrum I was in as a result of words I had just written for my Father’s Day blog post, which had not yet been posted.  It has since been posted, and as you may have read by now, I wrote,

“The only way that I can live with this horrific truth [that my taking Jeff to Florida when he was struggling would have saved him] is by making sure that I never again allow anyone I love to become a victim of my inaction.”

So how could I not act?  If anything serious was to happen to Drew in this race, I knew I could never live with myself.  Not after I failed to act when Jeff was struggling. Not after writing those words above.  At least in Jeff’s case, I literally never even thought to take him to Florida. That was pure cluelessness on my part. In this case, it would be benign neglect–I’d be consciously choosing not to act, even though I knew about the significant risks. That would be even worse.  As race day approached, I felt so trapped.

Fortunately though, I found a solution in the way I ultimately chose to define “taking action”.  After it became clear that neither Carey nor Drew shared my fears and that he was determined to test his strength and stamina whether I liked it or not, I knew there was only one thing I could do.  On the night before the race, I went to Drew’s room and talked it out with him.  I explained to him that after what happened to Jeff, it was hard for me to see either him or Brett take any risks at all with their safety.  While I understood this was unfair to them and that his excitement about the Spartan Race revolved around the challenge to overcome all the obstacles, I appealed to him that if doing so seemed to involve excessive risks, he needed to be willing to back down and move on to the next obstacle.

Drew listened and then assured me he would do the right thing.  So calm.  So rational.  So Drew.  I hugged him, wished him good luck and tried to get some sleep (though I didn’t get much). I walked away and consoled myself in the thought that I had indeed taken some type of action. And of course I told Drew to text as soon as they had finished.

The next morning while I was walking our greyhound Dobi in the park, my mind was all over the place.  I went back to October 2010 and remembered how helpless I felt as Jeff’s drive and determination to fight back against the situational depression he was feeling suddenly deserted him.  Now, 2 1/2 years later, Drew was bursting with the drive and determination that Jeff lacked, but instead of beaming with pride over that, I was fearing what would happent to him in this Spartan race.  As these thoughts cascaded through my mind, I noticed it was 11:15am, over two hours after the race had started.  Where was that damn text from him?  There was no way that 4 miles, even when littered with obstacles, could take over two hours.  I was sure something had gone terribly wrong.  Again.

But the text finally arrived at 11:28am and I have to admit, I said a prayer of thanks.


The exclamation marks in his text indicated that it had gone well and he felt good about it.  It turns out that his team finished in the top 15% of teams in the competition, a terrific result.  I have to tell you, though, I was an absolute wreck all that morning and in a virtual panic mode.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still has its hooks deep into me.





Now that I was assured that the death part of the waiver form was no longer applicable, I then wanted to find out what other damage had been done.  I asked Drew how it went and how difficult the course was:


To be fair to myself, these texts confirmed that I wasn’t totally out of my mind.  Drew did get somewhat hurt, and there clearly was risk associated with competing in this event.   As I confirmed when I later checked him out, the gashes and scrapes on his arms and back were not insignificant.

So what does it all mean?  Well, for one thing, I thought I was making progress and getting better, but obviously I’m not.  Many thousands of men and women run Spartan Races every year, and if there was anything other than a statistically insignificant number of people who get seriously hurt in these events, it would be widely publicized and known by now.  Yet I was convinced that my well-conditioned and athletic son had put himself in grave danger by competing.

Such are the after-effects of what Jeff did over 2 ½ years ago.  I wonder if he has any remorse for the havoc he has wrought.  But it doesn’t matter, because just like my father was, I am a fighter by nature and will never quit.  Inspired by Drew, who overcame all the “insane” obstacles during his 4 mile race, I will do the same and overcome the obstacles that lie before me.  And unlike my eldest son, I will fight this war with all my might until I emerge victorious.  It is simply a question of when I will win, not if.

I concede that I lost the “Battle of the Spartan Race”, but no matter how long it takes, I am way too strong to not win the broader war against PTSD.

-Rich Klein


4 Responses to “In Fear Of The Spartan Race–A Battle Lost In My War Against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

  1. James Rosa July 7, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    Although I have faced many battles in my own life I still can’t fathom your pain. Your worry for sons is completely understandable but risk is a part of life that we all take. Just walking out of our homes is a risk! The only thing you can do is give your boys the tools to make the right decisions. From reading your posts the one thing I am certain of is that your a great Dad and in the end, no matter what happens, that is what I suspect is the most important thing your sons need from you.


    • kleinsaucer July 7, 2013 at 10:00 am #

      James- I know the battles you’ve faced, and for that and many other reasons, all four of us can not wait to celebrate the joyous occasion ofyour wedding today! You’ve got a big hug coming for all the support you’ve given us over this difficult time. We love you, man.


  2. Stormtrooper May 4, 2015 at 12:36 am #

    I wish I could have read this post more than 1 year and 2 months ago, unfortunately I couldn’t. I have been looking for someone sharing this kind of feeling before or even any sort of experience. So far with just some exceptions I have not found other victims of this “race” (Spartan Race), as you refer statistically insignificant, but the hurt and the post-race recovery has been the ultimate life-race for me. Even harder to overcome and without any clear finish line and new unpredictable as well as painful obstacles along the way.

    On March 1st, 2014 I finally decided to listen to my adventurous wishes looking for adrenaline and achievement of non-stopping stance and go-for-it attitude before turning 30 years old. This without taking as you say enough reflection and cold-thinking when signing those disclaimers/ accepting those risks that could not be clearly explained before the race. Felt invincible “a Spartan”, this kind of marketing that gets you enrolled. The race started and not so far, the first flashes of danger started to appear when the barbed wire, hot-burning sand and the cuts in my back, head and arms were showing the magnitude of what was coming. After few other obstacles the last of this flashes emerged: jumping fire, in my mind there was some kind of reason trying to understand the scene, my body and will were pushing to overcome it, loose gravel and everything was set for disaster. In less than a second felt the real meaning of pain, the real speed of the nerves transferring that scream through my arms into my mouth, and the victims when they recalled hearing someone shouting out loud before they realize its them. I roll over to set the fire off, taking off my still flaming clothes and asking for help to a paralyzed improvised staff that just stared. Had to walk to first aid due to the precarious planning there was no measures for accidents in that obstacle. I remember walking (nearly fainting) with this staff around 50 yards before an ATV picked me up. The first aid procedure was nearly as painful as the accident but managed to stay conscious to call my wife and to try to calm her down (she was 2 months pregnant) during the 1 hour ambulance trip to the nearest hospital.
    Second degree deep burns all over my arms, hands and right leg got me in there a couple of weeks, according to doctors I were pretty lucky due to not face burnt or skin graft was required(just in the line). After some visits to the surgery room for cleanses (I could just handle one on the room), it started the long recovery process with all its details, limitations and subsequent trauma.
    Walking one step at the time, trying to be strong and a real man not just a “Spartan” for my family and coming child, I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel to recover and left behind this experience, but my “obstacle race” was not yet over, at near 1 month before delivery, my baby boy passed away (went to heaven way too soon) and this light went off.

    One year and 2 months have already passed since the accident and nine months from my baby boy loss, and just wanted to share my experience in your post as a victim of this “race”, as a surviving parent and as a friend.

    I cannot stress enough the point of the risk of these “in vogue” races (I have made some research and unfortunately there has been already some fatality on the “Tough Mudder” same kind of game).

    I feel the same about your phrase: “…making sure that I never again allow anyone I love to become a victim of my inaction”, so in this case I brought pain to my family to myself and want to make sure everyone is conscious of the risk “behind the obstacle” to give a second thought. Yes, life is risk in every way and every time, but knowing and avoiding unnecessary risks is the smart move. Afterwards nothing is the same…

    Storm trooper

    • kleinsaucer May 16, 2015 at 10:24 am #

      I am so deeply sorry to hear this. I pray that you heal over time from both your terrible accident but also the unthinkable loss of your precious son. We share the experience of such a horrific loss. I send my warm heartfelt prayers to you always.


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