Thousands of 'Spartans' brave grueling obstacles, aide numerous charities

By Katie McKellar

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 30 2013 12:11 a.m. MDT

Competitors take part Saturday, June 29, 2013, in the Spartan Race at Soldier Hollow.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

MIDWAY — Thousands of “Spartans” brave enough to crawl under 300 feet of barbed wire and conquer 28 other grueling obstacles Saturday not only won bragging rights, but also consequently participated in multiple humanitarian causes.

The Reebok Spartan Race series came to Utah for the third time to host another globally recognized obstacle race at Soldier Hollow in Midway: the Utah Spartan Beast. Collectively promoting human health, additional agencies joined the event with their own altruistic missions, including efforts to battle cancer and to provide developing nations with affordable clothing.

“We like to knock people down so they can pick themselves back up,” said Joe De Sena, co-founder of Reebok Spartan Race. “We want to impose obstacles that are scary and make people uncomfortable, because it makes everything else in life easier.”

After rinsing themselves of mud and sweat at the finish line, some drained-yet-exhilarated competitors noticed a pile of used shoes sitting next to a charity stand named Dunk Your Kicks. Some would glance at their own muddy shoes, and decide to slip them off to join the pile before walking away barefoot.

Buddy Sanchez, the Max Care Foundation representative who oversaw the Dunk Your Kicks station, said he expected to collect a couple thousand muddy sneakers by the end of the event.

Instead of being “buried alive” in landfills with perhaps “a couple hundred miles left on them,” the sneakers will be refurbished by an international recycling company and sold to developing nations at an affordable cost, said David Plotkin, chairman and co-founder of the Max Cure Foundation.

“You get a warm, fuzzy feeling from doing something nice, so to these people that finish this race, congratulations to them. Then on top of that, they get to do something to help somebody else,” Sanchez said. “It’s wonderful.”

Scott Eischstead, a runner from Lehi, nonchalantly left his white and red pair of shoes in the charity’s pile, despite the fact they appeared to still be in glowing condition after being rinsed of the mud.

“I figured, 'Why not?'" Eischstead said. “Somebody else can use them more that me, and I can just buy some new ones, so it’s no big deal. They’re nice shoes. Somebody will enjoy them.”

For each pound of sneakers collected, the Max Cure Foundation will receive $1 from the recycling company for its mission to fund pediatric cancer research and to aid local low-income families with a child battling cancer, Plotkin said. An average pair of sneakers typically weighs 1.5 pounds.

“What I love to say is, ‘Your pair of sneakers could be the pair that actually saves and changes lives,’” he said.

Plotkin co-founded the Max Care Foundation when his own son, Max, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at 4 years old. Now 10 years old, Max is a cancer survivor.

“My focus is pediatric cancer and making a difference in this fight, but the fact that so many other amazing things come from Dunk Your Kicks just makes it that much more of an amazing fundraising campaign,” he said.

Reebok Spartan Race also teamed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training by creating an online training program to prepare competitors for the race, according to De Sana. As they trained, the participants also raised funds to support cancer research.

“We involve different programs around the world based on what people are motivated by and excited about, and so if it’s something that excites folks here, we get excited about it too,” he said “We just want to help.”

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