By Heidi Dahlke
Seven years ago I set a goal to complete a Spartan race with my husband, 14 year old and 11 year old sons. We had been preparing for the race through different ways for months. The race was happening on my birthday and it was my gift to myself that year. We traveled over to the Boise, ID area with our six children to make a weekend of it. We had opted to sign up for a Spartan Sprint because it was the shortest race and obstacle course at 3-5 miles.
As we rose early the morning of the race to leave, I was careful to make sure that our other four children had what they needed back at the hotel until we returned. I was especially careful to make sure I nursed my baby to a full belly to make things as easy as possible for my 16 yr old daughter who was watching the three other children. As we entered the arena that beautiful clear morning, there was a lot of excitement in the air but internally I was feeling the nerves, much like how I felt before every athletic event that I had participated in prior to this one.
As we stood, waiting to start, with all the other participants in our group, the race facilitators began to explain the specifics of the race. 3-5 miles had turned into 6. My nerves grew as I thought about my baby back at the hotel and I began to doubt myself and my ability to complete the race. Let alone finish at all. We were informed that there would be about 30 obstacles placed within the race to work our way through. If we were unable to finish an obstacle, we would have to complete an exercise challenge before we could continue on. I knew coming into the race that there were some obstacles that were going to be difficult for me. An injured shoulder had made that quite obvious. One more deep breath as the group was the lead in the Spartan cry, and we were off.
I knew that I was going to have to dig deep to make it through, especially in a good time. There were steep climbs, buckets of rocks to load and carry to a checkpoint then empty and leave for the next one in line. Sandbag carries, walls to scale, army crawls under barbed wire in mud pits full of goat head thistles and many burpees. I remember moving through each obstacle, running to the next, feeling an inner resolve to go as fast as possible to finish the race and get back to my children. I knew that it would be a challenge but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. There were moments when I would be running to the next obstacle and I would feel my husband or son run up beside me or I would see a drink station up ahead and I would experience a boost to keep going.
We came around the bend on the last hill that descended to the arena below, to the last five obstacles before the finish line. Some of them, I knew were personally my toughest obstacles in the race. I stopped at the top of the steep descent and watched as my husband and sons proceeded on. I was spent. The temperature had been steadily rising over the last three hours. I was covered in mud and sweat, blood running down my knees from the thistles and feeling less than adequate to continue and complete.
As I stood looking down at what was still ahead of me, I was enveloped in a loving embrace that buoyed me in a way I have never felt before. My dear mother had passed on two months before my race, but I felt her with me as I started my trek down. At that point, my energy was renewed and I felt amazingly blessed to have her with me. I had given my all, and the help that I needed had shown up at the moment I needed it most. I was able to finish my race with the knowledge that I can do hard things, but also that I am definitely not alone. Although this story took place in the space of a few hours, I have seen these same hills and valleys in my life. As I have struggled forward, sometimes only what seemed like shuffles, I would receive a buoy or a hug at the exact moment when I needed them most. Many times from people on a mission from my mom. The lows never last as long as it seems and I’ve come to realize, they aren’t as low as they used to be. Our Heavenly Father is ever aware of us and our needs and wants. His love is real and mighty.
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