Three weeks ago, I had to be carried down the mountain in Pittsfield, VT wrapped in blankets and taken to the hospital with hypothermia, hypoglycemia, the early stages of frostbite, and my CK levels were over 3300 (should be 50ish). Three days prior to the race, my grandpa passed away at 98 year of age. Today, I am a finisher of the Traveling Death Race in Mexico! I’ve always known I’ll never quit at anything but I had to redeem myself and show that I am capable of much more than I showed three weeks ago. The people who compete in the Death Races are some of the most mentally and physical strong individuals you could ever encounter. Its so humbling to be able to compete in the same race with them and all I wanted to do was learn as much as I could and prove I belonged. And so begins one of the most unexplainable journeys of my life to which the following words will do no justice to. This ones for you grandpa!
On Thursday night/Friday morning, I met fellow racer Robert Belley at the airport to begin this journey. We arrived in Mexico around 5:30 am and found our way to the Double Tree hotel where we met up with two other racers, Mark Webb and Jill Chmielewski. We spent the day exploring Mexico City and had a blast getting to know these amazing individuals. Upon arriving back at the hotel, our group grew by Joe Crupie and Craig Copie Copeland. We went out to dinner with many of the other racers that night before going back to the hotel to prepare to meet at the Angel Saturday morning.
Race time! Saturday morning, Rob, Mark, Jill, Joe, Copie, and I got in a shuttle and made our way to the Angel where we would get on our bus to take us to our mystery location. No one knew what to expect or what lay ahead but I was beyond excited. I walked up and down the bus a few times to stay loose and chat with some of the other racers. One of the best parts of these crazy races are the individuals who put them together and compete them. I love getting to know everyone as each individual has a different reason for being there.
Our bus “broke down” so we were loaded into a cattle truck five to a stall and drove about an hour more to our mystery location. I sat with Rob, Mark, Mike, and Alexander and we had a blast! When we arrived, we were unloaded and had water dumped on us. After hearing the “rules” of the race, I was in the first group of six to have my hands tied and get thrown into the bull fighting ring with a bull who seemed to have a Napoleon complex. Our challenge was to run across the ring, locate our bib number on the wall and then find our bib scattered on the ground. Oh yeah, and try avoiding the bull! My bib happened to be the second bib I picked up and I escaped the bull ring first, unscathed. Unfortunately, most other racers were not as lucky and some took some hard hits from the bull. Two racers were injured.
Once everyone had their bibs, we were instructed to fill our sand bags with 20-40 pounds of rocks and or sand before continuing through a rocky stream. We eventually arrived at a rope climb. I climbed half way up and waited to pass up the packs and rock-filled bags for the racers behind me so they could climb up easier. From there, we got the opportunity to help clean the land of dead trees and whatnot using a MACHETTE. It was awesome! I felt like a badass ninja. I may have had a little too much fun with this and really the entire race. However, the next part was slightly less fun.
We had to dig to fill 4 ½ sandbags with sand and carry the 4 bags up a hill. Each bag weighed about 130-190 pounds. I have to admit I struggled here but other racers helped me. We kept our half filled sandbag (or about 50 pounds) as there was more fun to be had.
We went on a hike for a mile or two before being told the race had officially began. We had to climb Devil Mountain with our sandbag and it certainly was a devil. The terrain was tough as the trail was steep, rocky, and filled with cacti and thorn bushes. It was definitely a challenge through the night but I kept telling myself right foot, left foot and distracted myself with joke selfies (if its not thing, I just made it up and it got me through the Death Race so who are you to argue?) and the beauty around me. When I got to the top, I got to finally unload my sandbag. Definitely wasn’t complaining about that! Unfortunately, I saw another racer lying down at the top, wrapped in an emergency blanket, and not looking too good. This was an all too familiar site from three weeks ago and my heart went out to her. It wasn’t even a thought for me; I was staying up there with her and a couple of other racers to do anything I could to help get her down safely. A medical staff member arrived quickly and said she had gone into hypoglycemic shock. He gave her a shot of glucose and told us we had 30 minutes to get her down before it wore off. It took us way more than 30 minutes but she was a trooper and battled to get down! I helped her to balance a bit but she pushed herself to get down. She was unbelievable considering the circumstance and I wish I could have seen her finish the race because she deserved it. It took us several hours to get down the mountain and took me out of contention for a good placing and completing the full course (I missed the second mountain) but the well-being of another racer is so much more important than a number next to my name and I’m so happy I was there to help her. Plus, she was so high from her glucose spike and sleep deprivation that she found me funny and if that’s not a win, I don’t know what is!
On our way down, we heard on the radio that her roommate who sprained her ankle after being hit by the bull early on had to be pulled from the race as well. She was another awesome competitor who I wish I could have seen finish but I know these badass ladies will finish their next ones! Once down, I walked back to the bull ring. There were already a few racers standing silently and I joined the circle. Standing still and silent for 1 ½ hours being exhausted and having no sleep at 4 am-ish is no joke. I was hallucinating and falling asleep standing up. Eventually, we were told to do jumping burpees (my favorite!). We did laps and laps and eventually were allowed to go get water.
At around 7am, we were told we had a 13ish mile hike with different activities to do and we had to be done by noon. They said we couldn’t use the doors to exit the bull ring or throw our bags over the 7-8 foot-high wall so I’m sure some racers struggled to get out. I ran and jumped right over and was off to the races. I met up with Rob again and a few other racers. There were wild bulls next to and on the path we were on at various points and if we threatened their territory at all, they would not have hesitated to let us know (aka killing us) so we trekked by with caution. The first pit stop we had was scaling down a cliff with dangerous footing followed by a questionable-at-best latter leading us to small body of water with a rope going across it. We had to get to the other side and back to move on. The water was cold…. like 50s cold… and I loved every second of it! Andy told me I had one of the faster swims which was awesome to hear! We climbed back up the questionable latter/cliff and ran more.
We got to an area with piles of rocks and were instructed to collect 100 substantially-sized rocks to add to the piles before heading up a somewhat long hill to retrieve our FINISHERS SKULLS!!! Rob and I went right through it and ran up. I sprinted to the top holding the rock I was to trade in for my skull like a football. I couldn’t believe it. My emotions started overflowing as Anthony Matesi handed me my skull. I kept thinking of everything I had experienced in my life to lead me to that moment. So many ups and downs and ups and these two races signified all of them. No matter what I’ve been through or what obstacles have stood in my way, I’ve always found a way to fight back. I never quit; I refuse to fail. I got really messed up three weeks ago and I came back this weekend to an even more dangerous and unknown race without fear or reservations.
While running/speed walking several miles back to the ranch with Rob, my mind continued to run wild. I still can’t believe what I’ve accomplished and yet I want more. There have been so many defining moments along my journey of life. Just thinking about each experience, memory, and person that has helped to make me the person I am today is something I can’t describe. I was in glee my entire way back despite mangled feet, cuts/bruises all over my body, and complete physical and mental exhaustion. None of that mattered because as I went around the bend just before the final path towards cheering volunteers, the few racers who had already finished, and racers who could not finish, I knew I had made it and I had accomplished something great. Our last task was to carve our race numbers into our skulls and we were done. Rob and I finished in 6th-10th place Sunday. However, my overall placing does not reflect that because I didn’t get to do the 2nd mountain Saturdaynight. But none of that matters. All that matters is that I finished and this journey ended with the friend it began with, Rob. Kristin Harman was the first one over to hug me. Seeing her up and moving and looking a million times better than the night before made it all worth it. More racers started coming in little by little. Food was brought in for us and it was the best tasting food ever…. ever!
The awesome thing about a race like this is that it means something different to everyone. Looking around at all of the other racers, all in ecstasy, knowing the significance of our accomplishments and the hard work and sacrifice it took to reach the ultimate goal was priceless. We got on the bus and we were all out cold. We got off of the bus, said our “hasta luegos” (“see you laters” for the gringos among us) and I went back to the hotel with my original 6. As I write this on my the plane ride home, still loopy and a little suspicious I may be dreaming, I can’t help but smile for all that I accomplished and all that I saw my new friends accomplish. A race of this magnitude challenges you to stare down your demons and find a way to defeat them. I’d say we all accomplished that, one way or another.
Andy and Joe, thank you so much for making this all possible and giving me the opportunity to redeem myself. This was one of the greatest experiences of my life and you definitely have not seen the last of me! And remember everyone, anything is possi-BULLLLLLL!!!