I'm researching a list of Orillia's greatest athletes, an exhaustive list, all sports, all eras. Its been great fun.
What a variety. There are the professionals and the amateurs, the serious and the recreational, the traditional sports and the downright weird sports. And every one of them, at the elite level, is passionate about what they do.
One athlete in Orillia really opened my eyes. Was his really a "sport"? Was it "good" or "bad" to be doing what he was doing. That is, "healthy" or "obsessed"?
I know some ultra-endurance athletes in Orillia, like Steve Burrows, who routinely did 24-hour races and 100-mile running races. Crazy events for the ultra-fit. But that's nothing, I see now.
John Waite, a friend of mine - we were on the YMCA board of directors together - goes way beyond anything Steve ever did. John is a Spartan Death racer.
A what? Who's ever heard of that.
The Spartan Death race, as John described it after his first (!) one, is a race that is designed to "break" you. Non-stop for 48 hours, task after task to completely tax you physically and mentally. Carry this 90-pound log up that mountain, lift these 100 60-pound rocks up onto that pedestal, solve this pen and paper problem in this time limit 36 hours into the race, "run" up these rapids for two miles chest-deep, swim across this frozen, slushy pond, and on and on for 48 hours. Their goal is to have only one entrant finish.
John said that in his first race in 2011 over 200 people entered, but 100 never even started when they heard what was expected of them at the starting line. Then only 35 people finished, and these were all incredibly fit, mentally tough athletes. John finished near the top. Wow. John makes my list of Orillia's greatest athletes.
But he made me think. Is it a "sport"? Does he do it for the same reasons the hockey players and swimmers do it?
The Olympians do it for the achievement, the gold medal. The pros do it for the money. Some of the martial artists do it to feel safe or to build their self-esteem. A lot of athletes do it because its just plain fun to do what you do well, to develop your aptitudes.
I think its different for John. It is a spiritual thing. Survival at its basest is all-encompassing - mind, body, spirit all wrapped into one soggy mess. At a certain point the body is just on remote-control, you are getting brain-dead tired and the only thing keeping you going is your inner spirit. If you talk to John you can see that in everything he does. He gets it. Track and swimming coaches tell their Olympians all the time to just relax and focus, get in the zone. That's letting your spirit bubble up, your unconscious abilities that you, hopefully, trained all year to develop. It's toughness, and courage, and confidence, and inner peace.
How do I place John on my list of athletes (I'm trying to roughly rank them by accomplishment)? Above or below an NHL hockey player? A World Cup season champion freestyle skier? Walter Knox, the brazen hustling world champion track athlete? I dunno.
So I made a special category for John, the "Special, 'You've got to be Crazy"' category. Or maybe he's the only sane one on the list. I dunno.
John is now the director of the whole Spartan Death Race program. He's in Mexico this very weekend running the next event. Check out the entry information page (here). Only two rules: Do not die. Do not get left behind.
Yeah, he makes my list, but, like, holy cow...