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Retired Veteran Finished A Spartan Sprint While Overcoming Depression

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Sonia Gonzalez-Ortiz
Age: 51
Hometown: Tampa, FL

Staring at the first obstacle of the Spartan Sprint race, I questioned how I would be able to climb over the wall to even begin the 4-mile event. Forcing doubt out of my mind, I focused on the fact that I’d made it this far. There was a time when just reaching a starting line felt impossible.

After years of battling depression, I had gained a lot of weight dealing with the stress of my emotions. As a retired member of the U.S. Navy, I knew working out would help me feel stronger, but I floundered to find the motivation to begin.

While scanning Facebook one day, I saw a picture of a physically disabled friend who had recently completed a Spartan Race. Feeling inspired by her accomplishment, and in some ways like a kindred spirit (though my disability can’t be seen), I immediately began researching races.

I joined a local Cross-Fit gym and began working out with one goal in mind: finish a Spartan obstacle race. Day after day, I made progress, slowly gaining fitness. In the process, I lost 65 pounds—and felt the healthiest and happiest I had in years.

As the gun went off to signal the start of my wave, I climbed over the first barrier and began my journey. Running with a friend, we helped each other conquer the obstacles—and were surprised to find that strangers supported us too.

I’m terrified of heights, and one obstacle required climbing over a giant cargo net. I began climbing when suddenly my mind said: “Stop!” As I hung there, contemplating what to do next, I listened to my friend and my fellow racers cheer me on. I knew I had to keep moving forward. Making my way to the end of the net, my chest filled with pride. I was ready for anything.

I was comfortable and confident for the rest of the race. Running through fields and conquering the obstacles, I finally felt like I was living again—a feeling that was foreign to me during the darkest days of depression.

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Coming up to the finish area, I climbed over one final wall before crossing the line. Overcome with emotion, I cried with a mixture of disbelief and pride. After my tears dried, I couldn’t wait to sign up for my next race!

Running has taught me that you don’t have to fit a particular mold to be a runner. If you set your mind to it, your body will follow.

Can you do an obstacle race?

Since her first race, Sonia Gonzalez-Ortiz has completed two additional Spartan Races, including one of the 8-mile events, and hopes to one day earn the title of Trifecta Finisher by doing three distances in one year. But it all starts with your first race, which may not be as difficult as you’d expect. There’s no timing in Tough Mudder, which is advertised as a team event, and some obstacles actually cannot be completed solo. As long as you aren’t at Amelia Boone’s level (winner of the Toughest Mudder three years in a row), both Spartan and Tough Mudder allow for skipping challenges—but you may very well find it’s more fun to try everything.

Spartan offers races all over the world in distances ranging from 3 to 26-plus miles. Learn more at spartanrace.com.

Tough Mudder has a signature distance of 10 to 12 miles, and new 5-mile “Half” options are available around the globe. For more, visit toughmudder.com.