At 28 years old, Florida native Emily Walsh should have been having the time of her life. Instead she was exhausted and unhappy. As a teacher of motor, conceptual, and language skills at a large but understaffed pre-school, Walsh felt over-extended and often undervalued. The 45-minute commute was seriously hampering her social life, and stress-eating had caused her to pack on 20 extra pounds; Walsh was even diagnosed as borderline diabetic.
When life feels overwhelming, most people would suggest cutting back on activities versus adding something new to your schedule. But in those instances, what you really need to do is step back and seek out something that serves you—and nobody else.
Walsh realized there was one recent experience she couldn’t stop thinking about: In December 2016, Walsh had participated in a Spartan Super after being encouraged to join by a friend who had been running Elite for some time.
Though she had walked the majority of the course and had needed assistance with almost every obstacle, she still went home with a finisher’s medal.
For someone who felt so alone in her professional and personal life, the idea that perfect strangers would delay their own race just so they could stop and support her across an obstacle was an extraordinary experience for Walsh.
“I felt safe in conquering obstacles I had never conquered before because I was surrounded by such a supportive community,” she says.
That race was the nudge that Walsh needed. A few months after competing, she joined a local gym in Fort Myers and signed up for the 2017 Central Florida Spartan Beast to keep the momentum going. “I knew that the way I felt going into 2017 was not a way to live, and I had finally had enough,” Walsh says.
At her gym, Walsh began to train in earnest, discovering that she had a passion for running. The gym became her go-to place to get away from her work issues. And over the course of the year, she lost close to 25 pounds. Her blood sugar levels reverted to normal, and she was no longer considered pre-diabetic.
She kept the idea of a second Spartan race in her sights, and her determination and enthusiasm were infectious. Before long, she had spurred other gym members to join her at the Spartan Beast in Florida later that year.
By the time the race came around, Walsh felt strong and confident. And almost everything felt different than her first race—except for that sense of camaraderie she had loved so much. Walsh nailed the Fire Jump at that race, then told herself that she was going to earn her first Trifecta.
In 2018, she completed the Sprint and the Beast at Chicago, finishing off her Trifecta triumph with the Spartan Super at Atlanta. “I got over every single wall on my own!” she says. “But even though I did the Chicago races on my own, I never really felt alone. It’s that energy and support of the Spartan world that makes being a Spartan that much more fulfilling.”
Now, Walsh has completed six Spartan races, and says she’s fittest she’s ever been. Her trainer and best friend, Misbah Ali, has been instrumental in helping Walsh get a handle on her impulse eating as well as up her game on the Spartan course. Together, they completed two Spartan races last year and are set to compete again in 2019.
Walsh has already signed up to volunteer at the Central Florida Spartan Weekend next December, where she’ll complete both the Beast and the Sprint. And she, Misbah, and her new friends at the gym are planning a race this summer. With this third event under her belt, Walsh will earn her 2019 Trifecta.
That confidence, and courage has spilled over into other areas of her life too. Walsh changed jobs, and now works at Goodwill Industries, which is nearer to where she lives. “I am an instructor at an Adult Day Training Program, where I instruct life skills to adults with intellectual disabilities,” she says. The work is challenging but not overwhelming. “I absolutely love this job and the adults who participate in this program.”
“Spartan has given me the ‘I can do it’ mentality,” she adds. “I have a stronger sense of self-love and appreciation. And I’ve gained not only confidence, but the courage to assist others, too.”