“WOW…What a year 2018 turned out to be! Let’s recap my journey through these sometimes-hectic months. I use the word “hectic” very deliberately and here’s why.
At the end of 2017 I underwent cancer surgery for a very large lump that had quickly developed in my lower left lip/jaw line area. Once it was removed the medical professionals sent it to pathology where it was discovered to be cancerous. With that being determined, I subsequently met with a radiology oncologist and a medical oncologist to lay out a plan of attack. And yes, it was going to be a fight…a fight between my will to survive any errant cancer cells that might have attached themselves to a nerve leading from the jaw through the skull and into the brain.
The first week of January, 2018 found me getting measured for a radiation mask…a very interesting procedure to say the least. Once the mask was formed to fit my entire head, they cut a hole where the mouth was. A rather unique method was employed to design an instrument that could be inserted into my mouth with the purpose of shielding my tongue and right sight of the mouth from radiation. After all parties were satisfied the end result was simply an extra-wide tongue depressor…and it worked. The mask was then attached to a band with a locking mechanism. The next day, first day of radiation, I found out what the locks were for…I was laid out on the table, mask placed over my head, and it was then locked to the table so absolutely no head movement was possible…I could barely blink it was so snug. Thus, the radiation routine started. For the next 33 days (not counting weekends or any holidays, I visited the radiology department for my daily dose of radiation. That first day of radiation was combined with my first of six chemo treatments. I had minor surgery earlier to have a port inserted in my chest for ease of chemo infusion. On chemo days I was at the hospital for a minimum of 7 to 8 hours…not a pleasant ordeal.
My Spartan schedule was now completely shot…the goal of five trifecta’s was looking pretty glum…I was missing SoCal in January, Arizona in February, and Vegas in March…a quarter of the year down the drain. What’s a guy suppose to do? My radiologist and I had become fairly good friends and I kept asking him how soon I could start after I completed all treatments. I didn’t like his answer since there was a recuperation time factor after the aforementioned port was removed and chest closed up. All this time, I kept working at my regular job and checking the Spartan schedule to see where I could squeeze five trifectas in…and it was possible with extended travel involved.
The end of March saw a different Paul emerge on the scene: very gaunt, tired looking, and just no energy. Radiation had taken its toll…all taste buds had been burned and food had absolutely no taste or appeal. As a result, I went from 230 pounds down to 180 in the next three months. Size 38-40 waist down to 33-34; shirt size from XL to L (even M in some instances/brands). I literally had no clothes that fit…a new basic wardrobe had to be purchased…from undies out! Though I looked and felt like crap, I was determined to start my Spartan season as soon as possible. My medical team had strongly advised to keep working out at the gym during my chemo/radiation treatments…which I did. I have a very strong support group at the gym and they kept me going with words of encouragement and even an occasional lunch thrown in (thank you guys!).
My new Spartan season was planned out and I set the April Jacksonville, FL Super/Sprint weekend as my first outing. I got to Jacksonville (where fond Navy memories emerged as I was stationed there from 1960 to 1962) and quickly realized that I had not updated my racing attire…all parts were baggy and just about falling off. I quickly requested new shirts and ordered new compression pants. The Jacksonville venue was great…flat, wooded, fields, no alligators, snakes, or bugs (that I saw). I was able to complete both the Super and Sprint in my normal time (with just a few added minutes). The weight loss was every evident when the heavy obstacles were confronted…most of the weight loss had been muscle and I now struggled with such items as the atlas ball, plate drag, bucket carry, and sandbag carry. Lesson # 1 learned: muscle loss + radiation + age = slower times. No problem! My philosophy is that no matter how long it takes I still get the same medal, banana, and Fit-Aid as the person who came in first (in the open category).
May saw Ft Carson Super and Sprint come into focus. This venue is like no other…the Army trains on the very spot where they set the course. The hills were not very long but there were lots of them…down – up –up – down –, etc. If it hadn’t been for some quick thinking on my son’s part, I might have DNF’d. That was averted and I now had 2 Super’s and 2 Sprints in the book.
May also brought another new venue, Austin, TX. This area is absolutely beautiful. The rolling hills, rocky climbs, trails that lead to the top of the hills with far reaching vistas make for a very memorable adventure. Day 1 got the Super completed. Day 2 came in with some early morning rain. Spartan’s aren’t bothered by rain so it was game time. Several waves were sent out and the rain kept intensifying. My wave was put on hold and then all hell broke out…thunder and lightning. To add a little spice to this was the notification of a possible tornado in the area. The Spartan staff at the venue made a very careful and wise decision to pull all participants from the course and cancel the entire event for that day…no need to worry about possible tornadoes and lightning with all the metal frames that are used on the course.
In June, I had tentatively planned to head to Ohio for my first Beast of the year along with a Sprint. That trip did not materialize.
My son and I headed to Utah in July for the Super. In my opinion, that was the most difficult course I have encountered. The steepness of the hills was just not what I wanted in this stage of my recuperation. It was one of the longest Super’s completed – almost Beast time. Will I go back to Utah? Absolutely not. Don’t get me wrong, the area is ideal: cool ski area, great scenery, friendly people, relatively close to home – all positive factors. The overriding negative deal breaker is the steepness of the hills. My scarred lungs just can’t handle it. Even after going through several large canisters of Boost Oxygen, I still could not breathe. It wasn’t the altitude – it was the long steep hills, plain and simple.
One more minor occurrence in July: I turned another year older…now officially 77.
August was a very interesting month. My radiation side-effect had hit pretty hard and the weight was coming off quickly. I didn’t realize how much it had affected my Spartan events until the Asheville, NC Super. The venue was a muddy mess…2 to 3 inches of soupy mud just to get to the festival area and that was the dry part! The festival area was very bad. I had met up with a friend from AL and we were going along the course the best we could. We came upon the vertical cargo net and up I went. Crossing over was not a problem even with all the muddy webbing. As I started down, I slipped and fell all the way down landing flat on my back with a thud…the runners went quiet as they ran to help me. Thank goodness the foam pads at the bottom were adequate as I was able to gather my wits about me, get up, shake it off and continue the race. Lesson # 2: I was not my normal self-confident Paul…I realized that radiation/chemo had taken hold of my body and that I would need time to heal. I finished both the Super and Sprint but my times were not record breaking. The parking lot was a major obstacle in its own: a wet grassy field that sloped down hill from the road to a creek. The early finishers were in for a shock as many of them had to have their cars pulled out of the mud. Since I was slow, the sun was able to dry the grass and allowed me to escape the venue.
Spartan headquarters had heard about my story and asked if they could share it with local media. The small daily newspaper in North Carolina picked up the story and called for an interview. I also did a phone interview with a local Asheville radio station. When I arrived in NC I went to a local Walgreens to pick up several items. Walking to the checkout counter I saw the clerk reading the newspaper. She put down the paper when I got to the counter and her eyes just about bugged out of the sockets…she looked at me and screamed ”It’s you!” while she pointed to the article in the paper. I smiled and we chatted for several minutes just like we were old friends. Read the article, here: Black Mountain News
Also in August was the mighty Breckenridge Beast and Sprint. For those of you who have never been to Breckenridge you are missing out dearly. My oldest son joined me on the Beast. Starting out at just under 10,000 feet we immediately go up from the starting gate, jump in and cross an alpine lake in waist deep (higher for shorter people) ice water…that will wake you up! The course is relatively simple…you go up to 11,500 feet, back down to 10,000 then back up, grab a sand-bag and go to the top of the mountain. From that point, it’s all down hill -Spartan style. My daughter-in-law and her daughter joined us for the Sprint on Sunday – their first Spartan event…I don’t think they’ll do another…not their cup of tea!
I took September off and worked out with my personal trainer lifting weights. I had lost so much of my muscle that I had to start with light weights in the area of 120 pounds. By the end of our six-week session, and just in time for the Dallas Beast, I was up to lifting 225 to 250. It was also during our lifting sessions that I made a mental association: The weight I had lost was slightly higher than a 45-pound weight plate…if you’ve ever lifted such a plate, you know what I mean. That gave me a completely new insight to where I had been and where I was. I literally felt renewed and took on the training just a bit harder and longer.
The end of October is punctuated with the Dallas Beast – or as we like to call it the Kris Kyle / Chad Littlefield run. The Spartan staff really go all out at this venue to honor the military and that is evident no matter where you look. The group, Operation Enduring Warriors, (OEW) also participate and, if you’ve never seen them in action, you are missing out on witnessing a group of very special warriors. My son and I also had the honor of meeting with Spartan founder Joe De Sena at Rough Creek Lodge. We spent just about an hour with him simply chatting about our experiences with Spartan Race, what kept me motivated, etc. He even invited us to go to Iceland with him. I politely thanked him for the offer but told him that was an event far out of my current ability. We posed for several typical Joe photos, he picked up his kettle bell and we said goodbye. In that hour of time, I found him to be warm, sincere about getting to know us, and a straight talker.
November was an interesting month. Initially, all I had planned for was doing a double-beast weekend in Spartanburg, South Carolina. That quickly changed when I got an email from the owner of Boost Oxygen asking if I’d like to come to Connecticut for a week to help film a commercial for Boost Oxygen. Now I may be old but I am not stupid…the answer was Yes! That week just happened to be prior to the double beast weekend so some planning had to be undertaken. Davida and I travelled to Hartford, CT where we stayed with my brother for several days. My sister and her husband met us in Stockbridge, MA for lunch and we were able to get some family time together. On Wednesday we went to the commercial filming location in Darien, CT. This also just happened to a very typical New England damp and cold day. We filmed the indoors portion and then they requested to go outside and film me running. I agreed because I thought they said rum! Oh well, outside we go. I surveyed to grounds and suggested the course …downhill! After a number of runs through the course we all went inside to warm up and have lunch. After lunch we travelled to Milford, CT to home headquarters of Boost Oxygen. The film staff was there and we got to meet all the personnel from the office. That evening we had dinner at a seafood restaurant where I was able to have a bowl of authentic clam chowder the way I remember it (I was raised in New England and seafood was a staple).
On Friday, we travelled to S. Carolina for my first double-Beast weekend. Saturday was a good day…met up with several friends on the course and we just chatted the whole way…chatted so much it took us over 6 hours to complete a relatively easy course. Time was not a significant factor as I’ll never podium so why not enjoy the adventure and the friends that we know and the friends that we don’t yet know?
On Sunday morning I was a little apprehensive about day 2. My running mate had to cancel due to his father’s illness so I was running solo (with 4-5,000 friends to be met). I decided to give it my all and simply went for the gold ring. As it turned out, I actually surprised my self with my best Beast time …under five hours! Holy smokes, I can actually do this if I don’t lolly-gaggle and talk to everyone I come in contact with. Davida and I flew home on Monday after a week well spent with numerous self-discoveries.
Three weeks later found me in Mulberry, Florida for my final Spartan weekend. I had one more Beast and a Sprint to complete in order to earn the 5X Trifecta medal.
Catching the “red-eye” out of Denver, I landed in Tampa at about 5:30AM to a warm and pleasant morning. After snaking through the airport, I found the rental car desk and proceeded to fill out paperwork galore. The clerk saw my Navy hat and started a line of conversation stating that her dad had been stationed at NAS Jax (Jacksonville for you non-Navy personnel). I replied, so was I and inquired what time period. Turns out we were both at that base during the early 60’s but I did not recognize the name or squadron. As a courtesy, she upgraded me to a full-size SUV for the same rate. I said thank you and started out to my lodging in Bartow. Driving east from the airport you have to pass downtown Tampa (on your right) and I noticed the lights of incoming traffic…multiple lanes for miles. I kept that in mind as I had and early morning Monday flight out and did not want to get caught up in the traffic jam.
After getting several hours of sleep I headed out to the venue to check on the terrain and festival area. Met several Spartan friends and we chatted for a while…renewing friendships…all part of the Spartan community. Saturday morning rolls around and there is a definite difference in the air. The weather forecast was for clear, sunny and warm for Saturday and possible rain on Sunday afternoon. I had been watching the weather and I knew there was rain moving east and it was scheduled to hit on Sunday. Most people don’t realize that the weather pattern in front of the storm can be just as wicked as the storm itself. I got geared up and took off at my assigned time slot. Less than two miles into the race I knew something was wrong…I couldn’t breathe properly. It dawned on me that the air was very heavy with humidity (at least for me coming from western Colorado where a humid day is one with 15-20% humidity). I started puffing on BoostOxygen to help with the lung issues and quickly went through two canisters. I huffed and puffed through the entire course and turned in my absolutely worse performance in my Spartan career…7+ hours to complete a 14-mile trek on basically flat ground…yikes! Back to my lodging I went feeling exhausted, dirty and wanting to sleep.
Sunday started with cloudy skies and a light drizzle. They were starting the various waves later than normal and I took off at 10:15…first open wave of the day. By this time the rain had started intensifying to the point that most of in the starting gate were already wet through and through. Ironically, I felt great. The rain was cool and the heavy air from Saturday had past. When we were given the go signal, I took off at my normal jog pace (slow and steady). The first obstacle were the hay bales and I surprised my self as to how easily I rolled over them. I started thinking that I still felt good so I kept jogging … from one obstacle to another…I was alive! The rain kept coming and the more it rained the better I did. Lesson # 3: let it rain more often! About mile 3.2 we heard the first clap of thunder and the volunteer at the obstacle was yelling to get going before they shut the course down. Spartan does not take chances of an errant lightning strike hitting a metal frame with multiple people on it so whenever there is thunder and lightning in the area the course is shut down for safety reasons. When I heard that first thunder roll, I actually started running (and if you know me, running is generally not something I do) as I wanted to complete the Sprint to get that 5X…I had come to far to be defeated by weather. Luckily, I made it to the finish line and my 5X was earned. As I was standing in line to get the special medal the heavens broke loose and rain and wind was so intense that the course, all computers, the merchandise stands were all shutdown and the participants were told to go to their cars…the grounds were being evacuated. I left the course without the 5X medal and I found out a little later that the staff had run out of 5X medals earlier. This was the last Beast weekend of the year and many participants earned their special medal that weekend. I simply emailed Spartan and they’ll ship one out to me…I will not be denied.
Interestingly, this last weekend was both good and bad. The bad was the timing on Saturday while the good was the timing on Sunday…my personal best in a Sprint…1:18. I’m also thinking about a new product that I could help design but I’ll leave the details and concept out of public for now.
As I end the year, I’d like to pay special thanks to several people that have been with me throughout the year. Darlene Twilly and Tom Maming have been very supportive on the runs…so much so that they stayed with me during the rehab runs during the first part of year…I can’t thank them enough. My medical team: surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, and general family doctor have all been by my side rooting me on…thanks guys for keeping me healthy. Darrin Wade of Fairway Independent Mortgage in conjunction with American Warrior Initiative for believing in me and allowing me to wear the RED shirt on Friday. Rob, Brian, Elle, and the entire staff at Boost Oxygen for backing me. You guys are simply fantastic. I couldn’t have done half of what I did if it was for my entire support group. Closer to home, is my 5AM support group at Mesa Fitness. The words of encouragement have no measure of worth as they are priceless.
Last, but always first, I owe everything to my wife, Davida. She is my rock and I lean on her more than anyone knows. With her constant words of wisdom, I am able to accomplish feats unimaginable for a guy of my age. Thank you, Hon, for being there at both the good times and the not-so-good times. Together we will defeat any enemy that we may confront:
My goals for 2019 are two-fold: 1, add one more trifecta for a total of six; and 2, work on changing my new light-weight body into one that is stronger and more agile.
See you on the trail in 2019.” Paul
We are VERY proud to support Paul’s goals – and are constantly inspired by his determination and his spirit. We are all very fortunate to know him; and to see him and his wife Davida at least once per year at our annual holiday get-together in Breckenridge, Colorado. Ever since he first contacted us to say “thank you” for making a product that supports his activity, we knew there was going to be more to it than that.