It’s Time to Spartan Up!

by / Thursday, April 28, 2016 / Published in Fitness, Health and Fitness

I’m sending this message out to let all my readers know two exciting things about the four new Spartan Endurance Races coming up – Hurricane Heat, Hurricane Heat 12 hour, Ultra Beast, and the new Agoge. I have also been given a free race code to give away for any US Spartan Race. To enter, just email me your name, email and phone number. I will draw the names from a bowl and the winner will receive the free race code giveaway.


Don’t know what a Spartan Race is? Watch this video:

I wanted to also let you know about Joe DeSena’s new book Spartan Fit! that follows his New York Times best seller Spartan Up! This is a great book for anyone who wants to push beyond their previous limitations physically and mentally. It will help you break barriers and reach new levels of excellence, achievement and possibility by achieving things that most people never would have dreamed possible.

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Keeping Us Ready for Any Challenge

President Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. He was the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that led American forces on D-Day to help end WWII by defeating Hitler’s Nazi Germany. When President Eisenhower saw the results of the study that was done in the early 1950’s, tests were conducted on American school children to measure muscular strength and flexibility in the trunk and leg muscles. Close to 60 percent of American children failed at least one of the tests, compared to only 9 percent of children from European countries (Kraus & Hirschland 1954). This scientific comparison of how European children were in better shape than American children is what led to the creation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. President Eisenhower saw this as a direct threat to the safety of our nation through a weakened military! He responded in June 1956 by holding a White House Conference, which led to the formation of the President’s Council on Youth Fitness and the appointment of a Citizens’ Advisory Committee on the Fitness of American Youth.

I was fortunate to become the first person with a disability appointed to this Council by President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980’s and the only person reappointed by President Bill Clinton and reappointed by George W. Bush as a Constituent Expert to the Fitness Council during the George W. Bush Administration.

That’s why I think Jay Jackson didn’t wrestle blindfolded because he thought it might save his life one day; he trained for a sport and changed his life in a way that he never could have anticipated. After that experience, Jay changed his career, became a high school teacher, and developed a curriculum called the Spartan Edge to help kids overcome obstacles through grit and toughness.

Spartan Race

No wonder Joe DeSena has received tens of thousands of emails from disabled veterans, cancer survivors, and ordinary folks who went on to do extraordinary things beyond the finish line. Joe is committed to helping others build more strength and grit to achieve their goals in sports and in life. Joe loves to inspire people – as do I – to achieve the seemingly impossible. The Spartan races are a great way to carry on and strengthen what President Eisenhower’s President’s Council on Youth Fitness started in the 1950’s.

Joe DeSena is an ultra-endurance athlete and he has competed in challenging races all over the world. Joe has competed in over 50 ultra-marathons and more Ironman events than he can remember. Every competition, Joe is not thinking about what he calls the “thwap” of his feet striking the pavement. He thinks he will finish, not about the pain; no matter how far he must go he knows he will finish and that he must go through all obstacles, challenges and pain to reach the finish line. All Joe DeSena thinks is, it simply must happen.

Like Joe says, “Even if you practice yoga, meditate, or run for hours on end, life will intrude in ways that leave you unprepared. Obstacles confront you and require quick adaptations, making a mockery of something like ‘the runner’s high.” So you’re cruising along, feeling in control of the situation? Great, How about when the trail ends and the terrain grows rocky and you break your ankle? Then what do you do? Or what happens when you need to climb a rock face to keep advancing – only, come to think of it, you didn’t train for that, you could easily fall and break your neck? Do you adapt, or do you fall apart, because all you knew was the thud of the pavement, and now the pavement is gone. That’s why Joe DeSena grew up interested in how physically unprepared many people are for daily events, let alone extraordinary ones. Their training doesn’t reflect life’s complexities. An event as a distance race, as challenging as many people find it to be, is highly predictable – an adjective that seldom applies to life’s great challenges, the ones that truly define us as human beings. In his new book Spartan Fit!, DeSena says that if a 5K race seems like a good impetus for improving your health, you should consider an alternative, one that’s not totally preplanned and that will strengthen your mind as well as your body. Consider a Spartan Race.

Spartan Race

Joe DeSena created the Spartan Race in 2010 to test people’s overall conditioning, a term that encompasses endurance, strength, stamina, speed and athleticism. He also wanted to test people’s ability to adapt physically – and, perhaps even more importantly mentally – especially surprises.

President Eisenhower saw a direct threat to the safety of our nation from our youth not being fit to go to war, and we all know that WWII threw our young servicemen into situations they had never even come close to seeing before. This forced them to have to find a way to overcome the tremendous stress of battling the enemy in some of the most overwhelming circumstances that most people couldn’t even imagine!

Spartan raceI’m glad that the “Spartan Race” is designed to provide a physical and mental stress test for participants. Since WWII, our young men and women have been subjected to numerous wars or military conflicts: Vietnam, Gulf war, Afghanistan (2001–2014), Iraq (2003–2011), the Iraqi Insurgency, the War in North-West Pakistan (2004–present), the War on ISIL (Operation Inherent Resolve, 2014–present), the Iraqi Civil War, Syrian Civil War, Second Libyan Civil War, Boko Haram insurgency, and the War on Terror. Talk about facing the unknown, unpredictable and unimaginable.

As a former member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports, that’s why I believe Joe DeSena is right on the money, stressing the weaknesses that make us vulnerable in difficult and sometimes dangerous world, where chaos of the battlefield increasingly characterizes civilian life and everyday society. Joe DeSena’s theory is a very sound one and takes our current fitness test in America a big step further by having the “Spartan Races” present such tests that would have broader implications for a person’s life than mere fitness. Joe believes that by attempting a Spartan Race, people can learn to handle the obstacles of everyday life, enabling them to function at a much higher level as parents, employees, public servants, or in any role life might throw their way.

Spartan Race

I didn’t know it until I read the 1st Chapter of Joe DeSena’s book, but Spartans refer to this readiness as “Obstacle immunity” meaning an ability to move past, around, through, or over what life places in their path, as these obstacles are meant to be metaphors for the obstacles we all encounter we move through life. Like I did just out of college when I was blown over a two story building over 300 feet (over the length of a football field) onto a concrete parking lot.

A Lifelong Love of Sports and Competition

Left: Picture from when I was a freshman in high school taken during the spring when I was running a 57 second quarter mile. Right: picture from college participating in rugby at the time.

Left: Picture from when I was a freshman in high school taken during the spring when I was running a 57 second quarter mile. Right: picture from college participating in rugby at the time.

I had competed in sports from as young as I could remember through junior high, high school, college (on scholarships), and in Texas I belonged to the YMCA, competed in various sports and I also belonged to the rugby club. But none of the things I competed in at the elite level could prepare me for the explosions that would blast me over a two story building over 300 feet onto a concrete parking lot.

I grew up a normal kid on my feet in the Midwest, and I fell in love with sports – all kinds of sports. I also lived a very hard working life as a farm kid throwing 100 lb. bales of hay to cattle, and scooping out grain bins with a shovel. I remember shoveling out one bin when I was in junior high and the dust from the older grain was so thick that even though I had a handkerchief to cover my face it was choking me…but I finished. I went to play a baseball game that evening and I dashed to field a hit ball and I just blacked out. I woke up some hours later at the Doctor’s office in a room lying down. I was informed that all the time I had spent shoveling that grain out of the bin that enough dust had gotten into my lungs that I had gotten grain dust pneumonia and I had to spend the next couple days in bed to recover. I thought that was bad at the time but nothing like what was awaiting me 10 years later in the worst explosion of its kind in history.

Everything Changed in an Instant

Newspaper headlines from the day after the grain dust explosions says; “Blood and bodies were scattered all over – That the parking lot around the grain elevator looked like a battlefield.

Newspaper headlines from the day after the grain dust explosions says; “Blood and bodies were scattered all over – That the parking lot around the grain elevator looked like a battlefield.

At the time, the Public elevator in Corpus Christi, TX was the largest, most modern one in the world. It was a slow day so I thought about taking off and going to surf. I decided to stay. It was just after 3pm on April 7th, my second day at the elevator, when my life would forever change. I heard what sounded like an earthquake off in the distance. The ground was shaking and things were falling off the wall in the Government building I was in with my Supervisor, Albert Tripp.

The newspaper headlines the next day read, “Blood and bodies were scattered all over the parking lots around the grain elevator looked like a battlefield.” Some people might wonder, what exactly is so dangerous about a silo full of grain? The answer is nothing, until you move it and dust comes off the grain in a confined area like a silo! Then once it comes in contact with heat high enough to ignite it, it’s like putting rocket fuel in a silo that is 14 stories high, 40 feet in diameter with 2 feet thick walls that are reinforced with steel rebar. Fire and smoke blasts out similar to rocket ship taking off. Not many people realize that a grain dust explosion is more explosive than dynamite or gasoline, and approaches atomic energy based on the tremendous forces created by a grain dust explosion.

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This picture taken from across the ship channel close to a mile away shows a blow torch like blast from one of the last of the 12 explosions blasting out at a 45 degree angle from the 14 story high silo. That fiery blast looked like it shot at least several hundreds of feet into the sky. It completely destroyed the government building my supervisor and I were in at the time.

Experts concluded that this explosion was triggered by the flash from a can of Phostoxin being opened. This spark started a deadly chain reaction of 12 explosions that ripped through the grain elevator at 1,500 feet per second. So in an instant, the earthquake sound I heard grew with huge intensity as the grain dust ignited as it was violently shaken within the silos. Before I knew it, the cracking and popping of those giant silos being blown to pieces was so loud it was like it was going to split my head wide open!

As I looked out the window of that Government building, I saw chunks of that elevator wall being blown apart like paper and some were as big as a vehicle, weighing a ton or more, being thrown hundreds of feet through the air! Out of my peripheral vision I saw my Supervisor, Albert Tripp who was seated at his desk. I saw his face, and all the blood had drained out of it! He had turned pale white and he had this look of absolute terror on his face. His eyes were glazed over and without saying a word, his expression told me, “We’re not going to make it!”

Before I could take another breath, the biggest and most powerful blast exploded where we were at. The wall blew right out in my face and completely destroyed the building we were in. My Supervisor, Albert, lost his life that day in what officials said was the worst explosion of its kind in history.

After being blown over 300 feet in the air, Experts said I landed hard on my head and shoulders on a concrete parking lot. The force of the blast flung my legs over my torso with so much power that my spine was broken at the chest. When the Paramedics found me in the parking lot, I was lying in a pool of blood with my body bent over at the chest like people bend at the waist. Blood and cerebral spinal fluid were oozing from my nose, ears and mouth. I had a critical head injury, collapsed lungs, and massive internal and external injuries. After the Paramedics took my vital signs, they “black flagged” me, which meant they didn’t think I would make the trip to ICU of Memorial Medical Center in Corpus Christi, TX.

After spending almost a year in the hospitals, I thought life as I knew it was over. There would be no more sports in my life of any kind. After all, I was completely paralyzed from the chest down, with no muscle control of any kind below my chest.

The City of Corpus Christi, TX, had a population of over 350,000 people. There were so many injured that they ran out of ambulances and stretchers. Having been black flagged, I would have been left behind, but thanks to GOD, one paramedic didn’t want to leave me there. He got a Fire & Rescue guy to help him search through the debris and they found a door in the wreckage. They used it as a makeshift stretcher and then loaded me into the back of a station wagon. That’s how I got to ICU at Memorial Medical Center, instead of becoming another fatality that day.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I was out of the woods. The medical team at the hospital attended to me just as rapidly as they could, but they all agreed on one thing…they gave me a less than 50% chance of survival.

This huge catastrophe captured national news attention. My parents, living in Kansas, found out about it on the 6pm evening news that day. Later the attending physicians would call them, suggesting that they not make a rush trip to Corpus Christi, because my diagnosis was less than a 50% chance of survival.

About 3-4 months after leaving the hospital, I found out about wheelchair racing when my brother invited me to visit him in Atlanta to participate in the Peachtree road race. I hadn’t trained yet, because I didn’t know anything about wheelchair sports. All I had was the wheelchair I was released from the hospital in, a big, bulky, clumsy and heavy wheelchair is what I used for my “racer.” When I got to the starting line, I saw all these other guys in wheelchairs that looked like drag racers. I didn’t know that the people who make racing bicycles had gotten into making racing wheelchairs. I didn’t finish the event. Near the finish line, a foot runner passed me, disqualifying me from the rest of the race. But I decided that this poor result would NOT mark a failure in my life.

Instead, I set a goal to become the greatest wheelchair athlete in the world. I learned about the Paralympic Games, held in conjunction with the Olympic Games, and envisioned bringing home a medal. That goal was so powerful that I did just that at the next Olympics, winning Bronze at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Kevin Saunders, Inspirational Speaker card

I’ve been blessed to be able to compete all over America and the world and to win hundreds of medals. I visited children’s hospitals all across America and gave my gold medals to the kids with disabilities. I told them to set their goals high, work hard and Never Give Up in life. Disabled or not, with God at their side they could accomplish things they never thought possible!

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I was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to serve on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports where I worked with then-Chairman Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I was the only person reappointed to serve as Senior member on the Council by President Bill Clinton for two terms of his Presidency. Later, President George W. Bush appointed me as a constituent expert to the Council. So I had the privilege of serving under 3 US presidents on the President’s Fitness Council, where only 20 people are chosen nationwide, and there is a waiting list of over 2,000 people to be appointed by the President to this Council.

Along the way I have been cast by legendary director Oliver Stone as a principal actor in the Academy-award winning film “Born on the 4th of July,” alongside Tom Cruise. I also took the Live Your Dreams message to thousands of schools across America and told the kids how God gave me a second chance, to bring them the message that: “Without an education, they would be operating with a real handicap!”

In 1991, shortly after taking the Head Coaching job at Kansas State University, Bill Snyder asked me to come back to Manhattan, KS and work with the K-State Wildcats as a motivational coach, and I accepted. We went to 11 straight bowl games during this time, and Coach Snyder and the Kansas State football team were widely recognized as orchestrating “The Greatest Turnaround in College Football History.”

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So, whatever obstacles you may face in life, whether it’s a serious injury or diagnosis, being fired, a broken marriage and divorce or going to war, you have the ability to rise up and face them. Life sends obstacles our way in endless procession, but overcoming them is a natural part of our growth if only we can allow ourselves to meet them head on.

The Spartan Race was conceived as a test, but no one should race – at least not like this – without adequate training. Joe believes that training for the race is just as important, if not more than the race itself, because this is where major growth and progress can occur. Training for the Spartan Race poses the same challenges as doing anything at the highest level possible. It requires extensive preparation and adaptation.

How should someone train for an obstacle race the likes of which no one has seen before? In the absence of any established plan, folks have taken several approaches to plan ahead and prepare. To climb over an 8 foot wall, should you build one and practice several times a week? That’s practice for the event, but is it the best training for the event? Maybe it would be better to spend part of the time doing body-weight exercises, pull-ups, grip exercises, and so on – just in case the walls are higher, inverted, or slippery next time. The questions are endless!

Spartan Up!, Joe DeSena’s previous book, became a New York Times bestseller in the summer of 2014. Spartan Up! inspired people to push past their limits by taking on an audacious challenge. They did it, and as a result, they developed new beliefs in themselves and their capabilities. They have hope! They have confidence! Spartan Fit! is a blueprint for people to follow for implementing their workouts and diets. It’s a meaningful tool for anyone who’s decided to get off the couch and get living. Want to make a change in how you sleep, move, and eat? Spartan Fit! will be your guide.

I believe this is something our country needs and I want to encourage everyone to accept the Spartan challenge in your area. I’ve been given a free race voucher for one lucky reader. To enter, email me with your name, best email address and phone number.

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I love the Spartan races because they require total commitment from participants.

  • They don’t tolerate weakness!
  • To be successful you’ve got to produce, no matter how tough the challenge!
  • You’ve got to step up, meet challenges and succeed!
  • There’s NO shortcut to success but good old-fashioned hard work!
  • You’ve got to give your MAX effort every day and at everything you do!
  • You’ve got to do what it takes to win. Be a WINNER! When you complete a Spartan race you’ll know what it feels like to be a WINNER!
  • You’ve got to be a BIG time contestant willing to take on some of the toughest challenges!
  • Make BIG time plays that BIG time competitors make in BIG time situations like a Spartan race!
  • Be successful and WIN TOGETHER!
“I have a disability, as I am completely paralyzed from the chest down, but I’m not going to let my disability control my life! I’m going to continue to accomplish great things and you can, too, when you set your goals high, work harder than ever before, and NEVER GIVE UP! because; ‘There’s Always A Way!’ Think how much more you can achieve when you take on the Spartan challenge and compete in one of these races. Nothing can beat a tough challenge that will test your true grit and toughness, while strengthening you against any obstacles you encounter in life.”
– Kevin Saunders

This is something we can all apply to our lives in fitness, sports and work, and all we do, by “Finding A Champion Within” and becoming Spartan Fit! So get your copy of Spartan Fit! by Joe DeSena today! And start to prepare to compete in a Spartan race near you today! Take action now and step up and bring out the Champion that lies within today!

Keep Going for the GOLD! Never Give Up!
Kevin Saunders, motivational speaker
Kevin Saunders


Kevin Saunders is a World Champion Paralympian, motivational speaker, athlete (with multiple gold medals) and author. Kevin Saunders was the first person with a disability appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Sports (only 20 people are selected for this nationwide) by the President of the United States. Kevin Saunders was first chosen to be appointed to the prestigious Council by President George H.W. Bush and was the only person reappointed by to this Council by President Bill Clinton and he was reappointed again by President George W. Bush as a constituent expert to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. Learn more about Kevin’s story and accomplishments.


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