“I was a selfish, arrogant, egotistical bastard when I was high and stoned.”
Those are the words of Spartan Racer and repeat Death Race finisher Ray Morvan. Ray has spent most of his life battling drug and alcohol addiction, and living in the state he describes above. After his appendix burst in 2002, he was on and off the operating table for the next 14 years until doctors decided they couldn’t cut him open anymore. He has been divorced three times, has spent an “embarrassing” sum of money on substances, and has alienated more friends than he can remember.
But, at 53 years old, Ray feels like he’s finally growing up.
Ray’s Gateway to Addiction: His Parents’ Divorce
Ray’s parents split when he was a teenager. “I was trying to bury my emotions,” he says. “I started off innocently with marijuana and went up the scale of drugs. It might have been a little peer pressure, but I was always on the leading edge of it.”
So, up the scale he went, drinking and doing drugs heavily for the next 30-odd years. His marriages crumbled, one by one. Meanwhile, a mishandled appendix surgery damned Ray to more than a decade of abdominal procedures, and he used the “gaping holes in his stomach” as a license to pity himself—and to love and work far beneath his full capacity.
Before the end of the third marriage, Ray was able to see through the addictive haze just long enough to get his bearings. “I started looking around,” he says, “and I decided there had to be better for myself. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t giving back to my community. I wasn’t helping my fellow human beings. I was just trapped. I decided I had to stop.”
That small scrap of clarity was enough for him to grab onto. Little by little, he pulled himself up, out of the dark pit of addiction. He went to AA meetings, completed rehab, and started racing to get into better shape. Upon discovering Death Race, he immediately thought, “I can do that. Shit—I can do anything.”
Ray told his surgeons; they gave him the okay. “If you break anything, we’ll fix you.”
Ray raced the Death Race in 2009, 2010, and 2011. He won it in 2012 with Johnny Waite. In 2013, he signed up for the Team Death Race, and there he was—diving for bags of coins at the bottom of a river, resurfacing with an invincible smile, a few clean, deep breaths closer to a healed life.
Until he checked his cellphone, that is, and found a text message from his then-wife telling him she wanted a divorce.
Despite all the progress, Ray fell hard and he fell fast.
“Anyone with addiction will tell you that one is too many, but 100 is not enough,” he says. “As soon as I picked up that first drink, I was drinking and drugging as heavy as I was five years ago.
“So I reached out to Joe.”
Joe De Sena Helps Ray to Spartan Up
It was a cold, snowy December night in 2013 in Pittsfield, Vermont. Ray Morvan says it was December 15. Joe De Sena believes it was closer to New Year’s. In any case, it was the kind of night you can only find in places like Pittsfield, which is far removed from the mad, sleepless cacophony of civilization.
Joe was at his farm with his family. It was 8:00 p.m. He was getting ready for bed. Out of the blue, he got a phone call from his friend, Ray Morvan, whom he knew from the Death Race.
“He’s mumbling his words,” Joe says. “He says he’s at the liquor store, eight miles away. So, I grab a friend of mine who I had just sent to Schick Shadel.”
Joe was in the habit of shipping alcoholics across the country to get cured. “I think I’m up to four now,” he says.
After driving through a thick Vermont snowstorm, Joe arrives at the liquor store with his friend to find Ray Morvan sprawled nearly unconscious across the driver’s seat of his car. An empty bottle of red wine lay in a dark puddle on the passenger’s seat.
“I put Ray in my car, took his keys, got him a flight,” says Joe. “I think I had him out the next morning.”
Ray remembers it a bit differently: “I called Joe and said, ‘I’m ready.’ He said, ‘When can you get your ass here?’ I drove to Killington.” He says Joe fed him sushi, dragged him around the mountain with a bunch of people he didn’t know, gave him a sleeping bag, and threw him in the Pony Barn.
“It was 10 below zero,” Rays remembers. “He said goodnight.”
Ray Shovels Pittsfield
The next morning, Ray says Joe woke him up at 3:30 a.m. to go running. Around 6 a.m., Joe hands him a shovel. “Start shoveling Pittsfield,” he says.
For an unknown number of days, Ray shovels nonstop “wherever Joe told me to go shovel.” Then, Joe hired someone—”one of his guys, Mo”—to drive Ray the Boston airport.
“Joe didn’t tell me where I was going,” says Ray. “He took my wallet, gave me my driver’s license and $20, and said, ‘go here.’ Next thing you know I’m in Seattle.”
He headed to the rehab center Joe had told him about: Schick Shadel.
Schick Shadel uses counter-conditioning to treat addiction. “It’s like being in POW camp,” says Ray. “They give you vasodilators. They give you Ipecac, which makes you throw up. They make you swig anywhere from 10 to 24 shots, right in a row. Throwing up the whole time. They don’t want you to get drunk; they want you to get sick.
“I did that for 10 days. Today, if you were to walk me through a grocery store and take me by a wine rack, I start gagging. That’s how strong that program was.”
Perhaps because of the program’s hellish brutality, Ray claims it worked. “My life has been outstanding ever since.”
Ray Today: Sober and Grateful
On December 31, 2016, Ray celebrated his three-year anniversary of being sober. He thanks Joe De Sena first and foremost for getting him out of the mud, but for his new health and wellness, he thanks the Spartan lifestyle. Ray now claims to be in the “best shape of his life.” The rest of his life, he says, he intends to spend in gratitude.
“What I would like to be remembered for more than anything is being an honest, humble, and grateful man to everyone who has been there for me when I didn’t think there was anybody,” says Ray. “I want to help others to achieve their goals and keep moving forward. The journey here is short. Make good memories. Be active. Love people. Stay grateful. Be humble. Life is a beautiful thing.”
Ray invites anyone struggling with addiction to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for help.
The Spartan Code: Words to Live By
If you’re wondering what Ray means when he says the Spartan lifestyle, take a look at the Spartan Code, a simple set of principles that guides every Spartan life. We don’t have all the answers, but if you’re looking to change your life, this code is a strong start.
- Spartans push their minds and bodies to their limits.
- Spartans master their emotions.
- Spartans learn continuously.
- Spartans give generously.
- Spartans lead.
- Spartans stand up for their beliefs, no matter the cost.
- Spartans know their flaws as well as their strengths.
- Spartans prove themselves through actions, not words.
- Spartans live every day as if it were their last.