For Westport teenagers, life is a series of obstacles: SATs. Driving curfews. Spotty cell service.
Last weekend, Jackson Yang and Devon Lowman faced obstacles of a different sort: Mud. Barbed wire. A fire pit.
The Staples seniors overcame them all.
They joined 2,000 other men and women (and a few teenagers) at a “Super Spartan Race” at Vernon Valley/Great Gorge, New Jersey.
The website says the obstacle course tests competitors’ “resilience, strength, stamina, quick decision making skills, and ability to laugh in the face of adversity.” It demands “every ounce of … strength, ingenuity, and animal instinct.”
In a world filled with video games and theme parks, the Super Spartan Race is a harsh dose of reality. A wet, muddy and very rocky dose.
Jackson and Devon trained hard all summer. They ran, did pushups and used gymnastic rings. They began in good shape, and got a lot better.
But nothing could prepare them for race day. In fact, nothing could prepare them for the night before, when they learned that organizers had lengthened the course from 8.5 miles to 11, and doubled the number of obstacles to 30.
After a motivational speech (by a guy dressed up as a Spartan), 300 competitors took off, every 30 minutes. Flares at the starting line produced the 1st obstacle: choking smoke.
The course rose immediately uphill – as in 3 double black diamond hills. (In the winter, Vernon Valley is a ski resort.)
But that was just the start.
Pits of water “really woke us up,” Jackson says.
Awakened, they then flipped monster truck tires. Cliff-jumped into a giant pool. Went down a slip-and-slide. Conquered several ropes courses. Swam across a lake (and underneath boats).
For every failure, they did 30 burpees — dropping down, kicking out their feet, jumping up.
Though it’s a competition, participants helped each other out. Devon and Jackson shared their water with a woman who felt dizzy climbing rocks on her hands and feet. Jackson went back down later, to help her up a hill.
“We were all in the same hell together,” he explains.
(It should be no surprise that — in addition to being a 2-year rugby captain, running indoor track and serving as an EMR — Jackson is co-president of Staples’ Kool 2B Kind Club. Devon is on the golf team, works on Staples Players’ tech crew, plays drums in the great Wayside band, and is a member of the school’s Service League of Boys club.)
Finally — after all the running was done — came the last obstacles.
All that stood between Jackson and Devon and the finish line was a spear throw. Plus a wooden wall, to be scaled sideways. A rope climb.
And barbed wire.
“We sort of scraped uphill on our stomachs, and barrel rolled underneath it” Jackson says, referring to the barbed wire. “It was really long. And there were rocks.”
When they looked up, they saw scraps of clothing attached to the barbed wire.
(Other people’s clothes, fortunately.)
All the while, hoses sprayed water on them. There was more mud than ever.
The final obstacle was a fire pit. Jackson and Devon leaped over it, then raced to the finish.
Jackson calls all the obstacles “really fun.” Devon smiles broadly just thinking about them.
“We both like to work out,” Jackson says. “This was the kind of challenge we were looking for.”
“It was a tangible goal,” Devon adds.
Only 1/3 of the starters finished. Jackson and Devon did, clocking the 11-mile, 30-obstacle course in a highly respectable 4 hours. Along the way, they passed people who started before them.
For their Spartan efforts, they earned medals. And t-shirts.
“It seems surreal now,” Jackson says, proud but very sore 3 days later.
“I can’t believe we did it. It was so much fun!”
“It wouldn’t have been fun if we did it alone,” Devon notes. “A lot of it was brutal. But we’re kind of playfully competitive.”
“We started together,” Jackson says. “And we wanted to finish together.”
So what’s next?
“I’d love to do one again,” says Jackson (whose shoes ripped during the event).
“I’d like to do the next level up — the Beast,” Devon says. “It’s longer. And it’s got more obstacles.”
Jackson and Devon look at each other, and laugh.
Together, they start making plans for a run.