What is toughness? Ask someone who knows about New York, and it’s the grit, resolve, and flat-out persistence that is integral to the non-stop nature of life in the Big Apple. There’s no time to pause. There’s no hesitation. New Yorkers embody toughness. Wave after wave of Spartans came to Citi Field on Saturday, and if there was a glance taken at the big screen or the live feed at any point, viewers were treated to the fact that athletes of all shape and size, all walks of life, didn’t miss a chance to challenge themselves in the pursuit of tackling each of the obstacles with the same determination that defined the city for generations. Isaiah Vidal and Orla Walsh would lead the charge.
Isaiah Vidal On the Attack
The 2019 Spartan Stadion at Citi Field wasn’t a walk in the park. Factor in the vertical miles ascended along with the five kilometers listed, and athletes were subjected to a grueling event that included box jumps, wall scaling, jump rope, sandbag carrying, cargo net A-frame climbing, sideways maneuvering on the Z-Wall, and a searing mile sprint around the exterior of the grounds. 15 obstacles challenged the Spartans overall.
It would be fitting, then, to see Spartan veteran Isaiah Vidal on the top of the leaderboard for the Elite Men. Vidal, who hails now out of Colorado, and whose illustrious background as the youngest two-time finisher of the Spartan Death Race precedes him (he also gained national attention in 2013 when he rode his bike from Austin, TX to Killington, VT to compete in the Spartan World Championship), did not stop him from attacking this course with youthful enthusiasm. He finished ahead of the nearest competitor by a whopping 21 seconds, running the course in 26:06.
Runner-up Matthew Kempson, also from Colorado, finished in a time of 26:27. The ski-instructor-turned-mechanical-engineer (now training more than ever), succinctly said, “Happy? Yes. Satisfied? No,” about his performance.
Longtime Spartan Pro Team member Brakken Kraker was third. Kraker used his middle-distance track background to finish the course in 26:40.
Orla Walsh Transcends Underdog Status
For the Elite Women, longtime Spartan Pro Orla Walsh might have been seen as an underdog prior to the race. Those who misjudged her did so at their peril. The ski patrol medic from Vermont had this to say about her experience: “I guess I’m not retired…Oops! Solid race against solid chicks! Made me run fast, dang it! Now it’s time to start the real training! …Honestly, no joke, two weeks ago I had no intentions of racing. I thought I was done, old, washed up, and not in the right headspace. I got some inspiration out in Colorado from my Mud Run Boys!” Walsh finished the course in 30:44.
30 seconds later, Spartan Pro Cassandra Ohman joined Walsh across the line. Hailing from Kingston, Mass., Ohman finished in 31:14 and shared, “Really happy with yesterday’s second place finish at the first stop in the Spartan Race Stadion Series. Legs and lungs both felt great, and I’ll make sure to keep improving from here. Looking forward to adding more hardware to the wall at the next stop.”
Third-place finisher Tiffany Palmer, a cheerleading coach by trade, crossed the line as the final podium medalist in 32:40. Palmer wrote: “I have always gone in to stadium races feeling out of my element. No trails, no mud, no pacing. Recently I have changed my mindset. I have trained hard for this stadium after Greek Peak and knew I belonged in that first wave in a stacked field. I came into today feeling confident I could push the flats and climb quick and steady. It happened. I’m incredibly proud not just for earning third against some incredible women, but for switching my mindset and knowing that hard work pays off and it truly showed today.”
The day was misty, moist, breezy, and cold for most of the morning, but when the sun finally came out, it helped Spartans of all abilities see that they weren’t alone in their plight. If it was the beat of the music or the words of encouragement from fellow racers, there wasn’t a lot of downtime for the thousands who laced it up and descended on Citi. New Yorkers wouldn’t have it any other way.