By Jim Sullivan
---- — Recent Newburyport High School graduate Jordy Steelman has spent his summer running races on a whim. The incoming Gettysburg College freshman completed the Yankee Homecoming 10-mile race two weeks ago at the urging of a friend and did a similar thing at the Amesbury Sports Park Saturday, joining an estimated 18,000 fellow athletes who put themselves through 3 miles of mud, fire and barbed wire for the Reebok Spartan Race.
“It was a blast, it was an absolute blast,” Steelman said of the Spartan. “To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into. But once you’re out there, it’s just crazy.”
Currently preparing for his first collegiate soccer season at Gettysburg, Steelman found out there was nothing to prepare him for his first Spartan.
“When I read about this, I thought, ‘Oh, 5Ks, I’ve done those before,’” said Steelman, who finished the ordeal in just under an hour. “But what I didn’t realize was that you pretty much have to watch every step you take, because it’s so slippery. You’re just sliding everywhere. Even if there were no obstacles, it would be a tough 5K.”
The obstacles are what set the Spartan apart from most other mud races.
“We’ve got our standard appointment,” said race director Mike Morris. “We’ve got the barbed wire crawl with the head submerging. We’ve got a double rope climb up there. There is the inverted wall, the monkey bars, the tire drag off and the sandbag carry of 45 pounds for the men and 25 pounds for the women. We’ve got the walls, and we’ve also got the Choose Your Own Adventure thing where you’ve got to choose where you want to go. One way is shorter but more technical. The other way is longer but faster.”
As many of his fellow Spartans did, Steelman chose the shorter, tougher route because he’s not much for taking it easy.
“I like the competition, even though we were all working together,” said Steelman. “The rock climbing, just going over all the walls, I just absolutely love that kind of stuff. I like challenging myself. I think this was easier than the 10-mile because of the obstacles. You could have fun with it. You’re more engaged and just the thought of being a Spartan helped a lot.”
Not to be outdone, two Masco students were also tackling their first Spartan Race on Saturday.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Alex Robinson, 16, who chose the long route. “The barbed wire was pretty hard. I cut myself up a bit.”
“It was intense,” said Ryan Nee, 15, who, being a football player, also went long. “The 8-foot-wall (was scary).”
Morris said one of the biggest attractions for racers is being able to be a kid again and play in the mud. But Steelman said he appreciated being able to get that mud off him at the end of the race more than rolling around in it.
“I loved the showers, when they hose you down,” said Steelman. “Because you’ve gotten drenched in mud and that was one of the toughest parts, just being covered in mud all the time, especially when you’re all together, going under the barbed wire, through the mud. You do the first 10 yards, then you go up a little hill and you think you’re done. Then you see that you still have 40 yards of that stuff. It’s scary, too, because I caught my shirt on the wire and was lucky enough to catch it. But everybody is trying to help you through it. A lot of people are helping you over the walls. Everyone is trying to help each other out.”
Shane Perrault, 27, of Woburn was on his second Spartan and agreed that the teamwork between absolute strangers was a highlight.
“There is a lot of teamwork out there that people don’t see,” said Perrault. “There’s some 8-foot-high walls that a lot of people had a hard time getting over and without the other people there, helping each other up, there is no way through it. The teamwork is actually a big part of the race.”
Brandon Stumpf, 37, of Manchester, N.H., was out for his third Spartan along with his family, including his 8-year-old daughter, Madison, who was doing the kid’s race.
“I think he’s crazy,” Madison said of her dad. “I wouldn’t say that I am crazy, but I would say that he is crazy.”
“Staying in shape as a family is what it all about,” said the elder Stumpf, laughing.