At Spartan, we purposefully make races challenging. Our entire ethos centers around tackling obstacles on the race course—and in life—with grit, determination, and perseverance. As we move through the miles, we build strength, stamina, and endurance that helps us conquer life’s inevitable highs and lows. We believe that every Spartan has a story, and the following Spartan transformations capture some of the most mind-blowing out there.
From confronting terminal cancer or life-threatening addiction, to unexpectedly losing a partner, the following five athletes have faced the unfaceable—and risen above. Read on for their incredible, heart-wrenching stories, and how racing changed (even saved) their lives.
1. Lakisha Watson Moore
Spartan Transformation: Healing After Unexpected Loss
Lakisha Watson Moore competes in Spartan Races in honor of her husband, Joseph Moore Jr. The two met, fell in love, and were married for 16 years, during which they both served in the U.S. Navy and had two healthy boys.
According to Lakisha, Joseph loved doing challenging workouts. “I should have known this when we started dating,” she says. “He bragged about loving boot camp. Who loves boot camp? Joe of course.”
After talking about wanting to do an obstacle course race in California, Joe started training. He played soccer, rode bikes, lifted weights, did pull-ups, and ran every day. “I still have his pull-up bar in my house,” she says. “In the process, he lost over 60 pounds. He wanted to be in the best shape of his life.”
Sadly, Joseph was never able to compete in the race. On May 4, 2016, at just 34 years old, he died unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm.
For months, Lakisha didn’t want to talk to people, leave her house, or even exist without Joseph. But then something came back to her: “A few weeks before he passed away, while encouraging me to workout with him, he asked me, ‘don’t you want to challenge yourself? Don’t you want to see how far you can go?'” So she stepped up, started training, and conquered her first Spartan Sprint in Las Vegas this past March.
With time, Lakisha was able to find a silver lining in Joseph’s passing. “Even though I lost my husband and my sons lost their dad, his passing became a blessing for other people,” she says. “Because he was in such incredible shape, and an organ donor, he changed and saved many lives. I’ll never get over losing him, but I’m so grateful for the time I had with him. Joe may not be around, but his passion for life, fitness and challenging himself is still with me.”
Now, Lakisha is looking ahead to the Nashville Spartan Super and Sprint in October and hopes to race it with her two boys in honor of her husband.
View this post on Instagram
Today I completed my first #spartansprint. I never thought I could do anything like this but I did. I actually completed 19 out 23 obstacles. Before Joe passed away, he was training for a race like this. Because he was in such incredible shape, his donated organs changed and saved many lives. Today, I picked up where he left off. I hope to have touched as many lives as he did. Thank you so much for believing in me, training me, putting up with me, praying for me, and advising me. I am a mom, widow, veteran, hysterectomy survivor and now a #Spartan #fitmom #hysterectomy #hysterectomyrecovery #fibroids #exercise #fitspiration #fitness #widowhood #widow #surgicalmenopause #blackwomendoworkout #blackwomenfitness #blackwomenworkouttoo #veteranfitness #veteran #spartanrace #motivated #dedicated
2. Heaven Colon
Spartan Transformation: Rediscovering A Sense Of Self After Adoption
Heaven Colon was overweight, unhealthy, and out of shape for most of her life—but her transformative journey to becoming a Spartan woman was about so much more than losing weight. “Before I’d even heard about Spartan Race, I was battling my own hidden pain,” says Colon. “Growing up, life at home was not always loving and supportive.” After learning she was adopted at an early age, Colon ached to know more about who she was. “For most of my life, I had very low confidence, low self-esteem, and suffered through anxiety attacks, depression, and even a suicide attempt.”
Eventually, she decided she needed to make a drastic change. “I had no clue what I was getting myself into at the 2014 Tampa Spartan Stadium Sprint,” she says, just that she signed up under NBC’s The Biggest Loser. “I was so excited and was on this kick of [telling myself] ‘just because I’m overweight doesn’t mean I’m not active.'” And though it took Colon over five hours to finish that Spartan Race, she says she had fun, laughed, cried, and received so much encouragement and support from other racers that it became the pivotal moment that sparked her OCR passion.
Now Colon frequently competes in Spartans and says she enjoys the rush, satisfaction, teamwork, love, and support of the community. “Life will continue to throw obstacles your way and you just have to either face them full-on or step back and figure out how you’re going to overcome them,” she says.
While others may let life’s obstacles paralyze them, Colon says, “Bring it, baby. I have been held back for so long with life happenings (and my own doings), and now that I have a new outlook on life with my health, I want to keep going.”
To other Spartans, she says: “Keep motivating and encouraging others in the sport to not give up or quit. Keep fighting for you and your journey and rock your life. Race at your own pace!”
View this post on Instagram
This past weekend was epic!! Spartan never fails!! Volunteered, got to see AH-MAZING and INSPIRING racers, was able to run an incredible course, nailed Spear Throw for the first time since I began Spartan in 2014, and was on an overall high the whole day!! Thank you Spartan for all you do!! AROO! IRUN4William 🤟🌻😘 #fittheaven #curvyconfidence #obesetobeast #photooftheday #medalmonday #motivationmonday #mondaymotivation #spartanrace #spartanpalmbeaches #influencer #ocr #fitnessmotivation #fitspo #fitspiration #running #strongwomen #empoweringwomen #whateverittakes
3. Samantha Corneilson
Spartan Transformation: Two Years Sober And OCR Strong
Samantha Corneilson says she always battled with her weight growing up. At 18, she turned to drugs thinking it would help her manage those issues. Then, when grief struck when Corneilson was 20 years old, she spiraled out of control. “In 2004, I lost my grandmother to suicide, my best friend was murdered, and a woman ran in front of my car when I was driving on the highway to commit suicide,” she says. It took her two years to recover enough to return to school and work full-time, but her struggles with drugs and alcohol continued.
Then, again, life came crashing down. Corneilson received the news that her father had been killed by a drunk driver. She lost control and numbed the pain with substances, which continued for a long time before she finally got clean. In the process, she gained 100 pounds and tried everything she could do to lose the weight. Eventually, she turned to surgery. “It saved my life,” Corneilson says. “My doctor warned me, however, that after surgery, my body was going to metabolize alcohol differently. It was the doctor’s orders not to drink for the first year. I did my best not to drink, but eventually, I gave in and again… I found myself losing myself.” So continued the cycle of addiction, until Corneilson finally got fed up. “I was tired of hurting my body, which only wanted me to survive. I got help and decided I was going to dedicate myself to getting sober and healthy.”
Then, she found Spartan. A friend encouraged her to try Spartan Racing, but she was terrified. At her heaviest (300 pounds), Corneilson couldn’t finish a 5K walking, let alone tackle an OCR. “I had to commit to this to prove to myself that I could finish, and that I wasn’t the person I was before,” she says. She started reading Spartan Up by Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena, found other Spartan women in her community to train with, and signed up for the Monterey Super in June 2018. “I just felt like, “Samantha, you can get through this. You are a Spartan,” she says.
“When I finished [my first race], I understood the saying, You’ll know at the finish line.” Since then, Corneilson has run the Seattle Sprint in honor of her best friend, the Monterey Super to mark two years of sobriety, and aims to tackle her first Beast in October to celebrate her 36th birthday.
“The feeling of accomplishment when I finish a race is like no other,” she says. “Every race is different, and tests me physically, mentally, and spiritually. The people I meet along the race are amazing and encouraging. My life is so rich and full now. I feel incredibly blessed to have found Spartan. I can truly say it has helped change my life, one obstacle at a time.”
View this post on Instagram
I was thoroughly enjoying this race up until the dunk wall. After that… all hell broke loose. My muscles cramped up the minute I hit the water. The mud itself was like drudging through quick sand. At one point I LITERALLY was stuck in the mud. The sand bags were water logged and felt ten times heavier. Obstacles I am normally REALLY good at were damn near impossible because I was covered head to toe mud. I cried. I prayed. I had my mantra of “I can do all thing through God” over and over. Fear of slipping off the 20ft cargo net to my death crossed my mind… and this… this was JUST a sprint! I was mentally and physically challenged. I cried once I hit the finish line! Only to be greeted with warm smiling faces giving me hugs. What a race. What a story. I’m so proud of myself! Next is the Super in Monterey! 🏃🏻♀️ #spartanseattle
4. Jon Linzey
Spartan Transformation: Survived On-Duty Stabbing, Brain Surgery, And Now OCR
Jon Linzey says Spartan is inspiring him to take his life back. A fit kid, Linzey played college football at Fresno State, CA, and joined the Fresno Police Department upon graduation in 2004. He had an athletic build, was on the police department running team, and had run a few half marathons.
Then, in September 2012, his life changed forever. While on duty, he was ambushed by a suspect and stabbed in the head and arm several times. During his hospital recovery, doctors discovered Linzey had a condition called Chiari malformation, a common but serious situation in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. This required major brain surgery, which put Linzey out for another six months.
At the same time, as Linzey and his wife started a family, his “dad bod,” as he puts it, came alive. “After recovery, I was cleared for full duty; but after all these events, I lost the desire to work out and my body physically didn’t allow me to get to a peak performance level,” he says. “My weight was out of control and I reached over 300 pounds.”
A fan of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, Linzey discovered Spartan Race through the show. “It was always a dream and seemed so fun to [be able to] do the races,” he says. His wife ran the San Jose Sprint in 2017, and a few of his extended family members ran the 2018 Sacramento Super, so Linzey decided to give it a shot. “Slowly, I started training and found a group, Central Valley Spartan Athletes, who are all amazing Spartan runners,” he says. Then he took it further and went to Playground Training Academy, where they have “a recipe for big guys to train for Spartan,” he says.
Linzey ran his first Spartan this past March at the San Jose Sprint, continued on to the Monterey Super in June, and aims to attack the Trifecta in October at the Spartan SoCal Beast.
“I am proud to say that I am ALL in,” says Linzey. “[Earlier this year], I couldn’t imagine climbing the rope, hanging on monkey bars or doing the rings. I am now able to complete all three, which has given me another level of excitement.”
5. Donna Phan Terry
Spartan Transformation: Terminal Cancer Inspired Her Bucket List
Just over two years ago, at the age of 39, Donny Phan Terry—loving wife and mother of two—was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. “It literally felt like the earth had been ripped right from underneath me,” says Phan Terry. “To say that it’s been a crazy couple of years is an absolute understatement. I was forced to face the fragility of life and how, in one moment, you could have everything taken from you and those you love. All the things you thought you had planned and accomplished to make your future better suddenly seemed so futile and trivial.”
Phan Terry was well on her way to having it all, she says. She had hustled to achieve her life goals: She found her Prince Charming, worked hard to earn her degrees, had a rewarding career, gave birth to a daughter and son, bought a beautiful home in the nice neighborhood, and was saving for college educations, retirement, and fun vacations.
It all started with a cough that wouldn’t go away; Phan Terry was healthy, active, and working as a critical care nurse. The doctors told her she had over 200 tumors in her lungs, 15 in her brain, and a rare genetic mutation that caused it all. They gave her a prognosis to live for two to seven years. “When you’re told that you will not live long enough to enjoy these things and that the people you love most will not have you around to experience [life] with, the time and energy you put into having these things just seem so meaningless,” she says. “All you wish for was more time. More opportunities to show the ones who matter most in your life how much you love them.”
Instead of curling up into a ball and giving up, Phan Terry chose a different path. “I was literally given an expiration date. It was simply not enough time to see and do all the things I wanted to do with my kids,” she says. “I said ‘HELL NO!’ With every shred of my being, I chose to fight. ” Phan Terry says she chose not necessarily to live longer, but instead to create more opportunities to show her loved ones that life itself was worth fighting for. “I [decided] I would appreciate all the things I already had instead of constantly wasting my time grieving the things that I wanted or couldn’t have. Just savoring and being grateful for every day, every moment given to me.”
Phan Terry started participating in events to raise awareness for lung cancer. She’s also making the most of her time; that’s how she found Spartan. “Besides an intense chemo regimen, I spend my days playing with my kids and traveling all around the world. I have been checking several bucket-list items off along the way…adventures that include sky-diving, going to Bora Bora, Australia, Mexico, Nashville,” she says.
“These days I’m feeling pretty good. Although I’m certainly a lot slower than I used to be, I am determined to work on getting stronger. So I’ve decided to relist a bucket-list item and work towards completing an obstacle course race.” That’s right, Phan Terry plans to bring her fury out on the Spartan Race course. “Like everything else, I will give it my all and demonstrate the power of the mind,” Phan Terry affirms. “I am looking forward to making it to the end of the race and checking this off my bucket list!”