In 1927, a landslide in Vermont’s Green Mountains shaved off a slope of Mount Ascutney, exposing a brand new bluff that overlooks the Connecticut River. Upon discovering it, a youth named Huntington Hoisington took his axe to the rock, meaning to carve his name into it. Hoisington’s axe slipped and sliced his hand, dripping blood onto the stone—the bluff became known as the Blood Rock.
Almost a century later, en route to the Blood Rock Trail, Ali Tucker had a decision to make. She had just broken her ankle. It was 4 p.m., and a misplaced step in the Appalachian drizzle sent her tumbling to the forest floor with a fractured lower tibia. Then, the 33-year-old former army medic did something unfathomable: She wrapped her swollen, throbbing ankle in a bandage and rejoined the group.
Tucker hiked on the fracture for six full hours before succumbing to the injury. As it turns out, she had her own axe to grind. After leaving the Army in 2009, Tucker ballooned to 260 pounds; then, she started racing Spartan and dropped more than 80 pounds to finish the grueling China Agoge and become one of the five women in Spartan history to earn the coveted Delta.
To understand the accomplishment, you must first understand where Tucker started.
In 2006, Tucker enlisted in the army. She was 24 years old, and she wanted to help people. Her brother has muscular dystrophy, and when Tucker was 2 years old, her mom had a surgery for upper arm dystrophy that left her bedridden for Tucker’s entire childhood. Her father was in the Navy’s experimental diving unit, so Tucker viewed the military as a natural step toward service.
She had to lose weight to enlist, but after she started basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, Tucker found that she enjoyed physical challenges. She relished the early morning workouts and PT after breakfast.
After basic, Tucker became a combat medic. But with no group training to keep her motivated, she began to struggle. “I wasn’t the best soldier,” Tucker says. “I didn’t really like working out on my own.” She was never deployed, so she skipped the assigned PT sessions. By the time she left the military in 2009, she’d begun putting on weight. Two years later, when she graduated nursing school in Lexington, South Carolina, she topped 260 pounds.
Life started giving her subtle hints. She struggled to find clothes that fit, and she’d grow winded walking up the stairs at the movie theater. Then there were the not-so-subtle hints, like one hurtful episode at her accountant’s office. It was tax time in 2012, and a random lady approached her, rested her hand on Tucker’s stomach and asked, “How far along are you?”
“I’m not pregnant,“ Tucker replied.
The stranger replied, matter-of-factly: “You’re pregnant.“
“It was that awful,” Tucker says now. “Someone thinks I’m pregnant.”
The embarrassment motivated her to get a gym membership and begin bootcamp classes with plyometrics, TRX programs, and weightlifting. It was like basic all over again—complete with camaraderie and group suffering. In August 2013, the girls at her gym convinced Tucker to run her first 5K. She finished dead last, but felt great. So three months later, she ran a half-marathon.
It was around that time that another friend invited Tucker to volunteer at Spartan’s Carolina Beast. Tucker agreed, and it was an eye-opening experience.
“When I saw guys with no legs crawling across the fire, I’m going, ‘What’s my excuse?’” Tucker says. Another lady, overweight and clearly suffering from health issues, was racing with a O2 tank. “It was inspiring,” says Tucker. By overcoming life obstacles, the people she was trained to help were helping her instead. Through their actions, they were offering motivation. And she could repay the favor by answering their call.
When the Beast came back around the following year, she enrolled.
Tucker became a full-blown Spartan warrior. She’s one of the only women to finish the grueling China Agoge, she earned her Delta, and she did the Nashville 12 Hour Hurricane Heat just two months after breaking her ankle in Vermont.
What started as a simple effort to lose weight turned into a celebration of her body’s hidden power. “I’m addicted to being crazy,” she says. She’s no longer the woman who finishes last. She’s a fighter, and she’s training to become faster at the Agoge events while simultaneously learning to survive in the wilderness as a supplement to her strength and cardio fitness.
She’s down to 179 pounds, and learning to love her new muscle definition. “I have great biceps,” she says. “When I was younger, I didn’t want arms like that. But I like seeing the cuts in my arms, showing me all the work that I’ve done.”
If you ask her how she shed the weight and became a Spartan success, she’ll tell you it’s just like the feeling she had while volunteering at the Carolina Beast in 2013, watching the men with no legs crawl across the fire. Only now, she knows what it feels like herself.
“When you’re carrying two 50-pound sandbags up the Great Wall of China and you think you can’t do this, you really can,” Tucker says. “You can go so much further.”
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