Local runners take teamwork to a different level
Teamwork. Inspiration. Tenacity. These were the qualities driving a history-making team made up largely of Monroe Countians at the 2013 Spartan Race in Conyers, Ga. on March 9.
“Team Extreme is a group of war veterans who have lost appendages and I saw one of them who had only a prosthetic leg and one real arm crawling through the mud. I thought, ‘If he can do it, then so can I.'” said Smithville native Michael Mills.
Mills, a T12 paraplegic, had competed in several wheelchair races since the late 90s, but knew the Spartan Race would be a different experience altogether.
The four-mile course was filled with grueling obstacles that would be difficult for the most experienced athlete and, after someone made the comment that he couldn’t do it, Mills’ resolve became strong.
It was then that Mills enlisted the help of a few old friends. Amory native Kevin Patterson was the first to join, followed by April Riley Cook of Nettleton.
“It all started on Facebook. Kevin said, ‘We’re doing the Spartan. Are y’all interested?’ I didn’t know if I had what it takes. Then he explained what it was about,” Cook said.
What it was about was Mills’ dream to show others what is possible by being the first paraplegic to ever compete in the Spartan Race.
The team grew quickly to include locals Nathan Steele, Joel Outlaw, Brandon Odom and Scott Fears.
Some members had to get reacquainted with physical exercise when training began.
“I hadn’t exercised since middle school so I started out walking. After a couple of months I started doing burpees. I would strap a cinder block to myself and drag it around my house. I just started moving,” said Odom who lost weight and gained confidence in the process.
Steele’s training included weightlifting and a little jogging.
“It helped me a lot. I was over 400 pounds a little over a year ago. Now I am 270 pounds,” Steele said.
The group was later joined by Georgian Will Collins and Elite Spartan racer John Sales.
When race day came, Mills suddenly realized how big this whole thing had become.
“When we started, I knew my team was doing something big, I just didn’t know it would be this big. When they announced that our team was about to make history I felt a lot of pressure,” said Mills who had been writing a weekly blog for Spartan.
One mile into the race, Mills’ wheelchair got a flat tire and, as the Spartan crew tried to find a tube to fix it, Mills decided there was no time and went ahead to
complete the race with the flat.
“The difficulty wasn’t the course. It was the flat. A lot of the hills were super steep and sometimes it took everyone of us pushing and pulling to get up.”
It’s about not quitting. People were complaining that they couldn’t finish but Mike was there to show them that they could,” Patterson said.
The team worked together getting through each obstacle and getting the chair to the end of each obstacle.
“We were playing rock, paper, scissors to see who would get the honor of carrying the chair,” Cook said.
The team carried Mike and each other through creek beds, hoisted one another over walls, and did lots of burpees, which can be described as squat thrusts.
“Each obstacle we made work. When we would come to nine foot walls, they would lift me up and help me down,” Mills said.
Outside of a lot of stiff bodies the following days, Patterson was the only one who sustained damage.
“At the end there is a gladiator pit where people try to hit you with a pugil stick. Most people try to avoid them, but we went for them. As we were tackling the first guy, we all fell and a plate on Mike’s chair took all the skin off my shin,” said Patterson, who missed a week of work due to the infection.
Coming to the finish line, knowing that they had just made history, was humbling for all.
“It was just this overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. That medal in my hand wasn’t given to me. We worked hard for that! We were all walking around like roosters with our chests stuck out and our feathers ruffled. It was great,” Mills said.
Since the race, the team has reached celebrity status. Other companies like Extreme Nation are asking the team to do their races and Mills’ Chasing Spartan Michael Mills Facebook page is filled with messages from people who have been inspired by the team.
Mills’ message that anything is possible, no matter what obstacles may be there, seems to be going viral.
However, most of the team members learned this from Mills long ago.
“Just the other day his parents were asking me what he would get us into next. We’ve been doing this with Mike since we were kids,” Steele said.
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About Emily Tubb
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