As told by: Annalisa Bromber
As the hours ticked by, my heart raced as I frantically searched the haggard HH12HR crew for any trace of Kyoul. I reminded myself he’s a Hot Shot firefighter, and has been dropped in the middle of far more life-threatening situations many times in his career. He’s on the Spartan Race team and a strong elite racer for god’s sake – where was he and what the hell happened?
4/5/12, Las Vegas, NV. HH12-001. The day started out as any other OCR day, up, dressed, ate and out to the venue. Today, the biggest difference in the routine was the time our alarm began to buzz: 4:15 AM. The reason? Kyoul needed to be at the Spartan Race Las Vegas venue by 5:30 AM to begin the inaugural Twelve Hour Hurricane Heat, designated as HH12HR-001, commencing at 6AM until mercifully ending at 6PM. He, along with 32 other brave souls, set out what was to be an epic day that would test their limits of physical and mental stamina.
A Second Attempt at an Inaugural Event
The Las Vegas HH12HR was actually the second time a 12-hour version of Hurricane Heat was to be held; the inaugural even was scheduled to be held in 2013 at the Texas Beast, and was cancelled last minute due to extremely limited numbers. Essentially, Kyoul and a mere handful of other Spartans were brave enough to sign up. However, he was able to complete the “normal” 3+ hour Hurricane Heat the night before the Texas Beast. From the stories of team building he told upon his return, he clearly relished the excitement, challenge, and opportunity to work together with teammates.
This year, When he found out about the HH12HR being offered in Vegas he jumped at the opportunity, full well knowing that he would be forced to forego the Elite Heat and miss out on the chance to see where he ranked among the best of the best. He simply would not be denied the opportunity to complete the first ever 12 hour HH, again.
With “fire season” imminent, this was Kyoul’s last OCR before he resumed his duties on his Hot Shot firefighting team, and he really wanted to make his mark and possibly leave an impression on some of the other Spartan Elites until his return. He also wanted to leave an impression on himself as well. For the majority of his OCR career, Kyoul has run with the Weeple Army, happily assisting anyone who needed help along the way. A solid Elite Heat showing would help to reinforce that he made the right decision to listen to the multitude of people (and Weeples) who encouraged him to start running in the Elite heat to get out of the congestion and run his race for once.
The day began with the traditional Hurricane Heat and HH12HR athletes starting together as the desert sun backlit the peaks to the east. Teams divided, names decided, captains chosen, warm-up burpees performed (103 to be exact), a dizzying number of pushups – and they were off to the dunk wall for even more abuse. Cold, wet, abuse. More and more calisthenics followed, and while all the HH competitors were submersed in the frigid water, the components of teamwork and camaraderie started to take shape. With the crisp air stinging their water-soaked bodies, the athletes were directed to an area toward the start corral of the Super Spartan Race where the male and female elites would do battle in less than 2 hours. While neatly aligned in rows, they had to “duck walk” up a rather steep hill; I watched as Kyoul and all others made the accent and faded away from view.
4 Hours, 9+ Miles, and a Tire.
I had my own Spartan Race Super course to tame at 9am, so after fueling up and donning my race gear, Di Ane Santos and I loaded into the starting corral, the whole time wondering what challenges Kyoul was conquering nearby as the sun began its unrelenting assault on everything it touched here in the desert. I wasn’t in any way worried if my guy could deal with whatever the masochistic race director, Tony Matesi, could dig up. Rather, I was looking forward to the stories he’d enthusiastically tell on the ride home to Arizona of how he handled everything the HH12HR had in store for him and the others.
About an hour or so into our race, Di Ane started pointing out a few other Spartans completing the course along with us – while carrying tires! Realizing we were past the “normal” (3+ hour) Hurricane Heat athletes, we knew the HH12HR was coming our way. As we prepared to climb a wall, I turned and told Di Ane “I’m sure we will see Kyoul pretty soon out here on the course” and on we went.
This particular day in the Las Vegas desert was unseasonably hot, dry, and dusty – not uncommon for the area, mind you, but it made for rather miserable conditions, and you quickly found yourself looking for the water stations shortly after you tossed your cup at the last one. Several dust devils swirled around the course as the wind sporadically whipped up, and it was quite an alarming sight at one point when an extended gust blew through and developed into a sandstorm squall that blotted out the sun and filled every orifice with a thick coat of dust. Aside from what mother nature threw at us, the Spartan team also conspired against athletes with a rugged, demanding course that used every bit of nasty terrain and elevation possible. While it was not the most brutal of Spartan courses, this Super was a heck of a gut punch for even a seasoned OCR athlete.
As Di Ane and I got closer and closer to the finish, I started getting worried that we hadn’t spotted Kyoul. We’d seen about a dozen other athletes carrying tires, with no sign of Kyoul at all. This is not typical of him and we were both well aware of his physical and mental abilities. Did he hurt himself? There’s no way he quit and dropped out. My elevated heart rate and anticipation to learn my boyfriend’s fate led us to hurry up a bit and get to the finish line as quickly as the nasty course would let us. Di Ane and I finished the race and ran into what appeared to be the last group of HH12HR athletes that had finished, tire and all, attempting to catch their breath after finishing the entire 9+ miles of the Spartan Super while carrying those tires over, under and through every obstacle. Failed obstacles? 30 burpees. Caught rolling your tire? 50 burpees. As I overheard one HH12HR athlete I remembered from 5:30am that morning, albeit in much cleaner clothes and with a far less weary demeanor, I learned Tony had set the cut-off at 4 hours. Each HH12HR athlete that did not cross the finish line by this point are hereby disqualified and their Hurricane Heat journey is over. Only those who made it through the finish line in less than 4 hours are allowed to continue on.
I scanned the crowd of dirty-faced Spartans of all shapes and sizes whooping it up around me after finishing their races. Hell, I should be celebrating, as I just finished a 9+ mile course with 15 or so obstacles, nasty terrain, and mother nature’s hot, arid, dusty worst. I was in no mood to celebrate, I only had one question; where the f&*k was Kyoul?
My heart sank and I was perplexed. Of all people, why did Kyoul not make it through in time? He’s a Globe Hotshot Firefighter and this race is nothing compared to his daily physical beating and for goodness sake there is fire he’s contending with. 5, 10 more minutes passed, he was still nowhere in sight. After pacing for what seemed like an eternity, I decided to check into the medical tent just to make sure. I was happy to find him not inside, but my fear continued to grow as the minutes turned to hours. I wore a trail on the hard ground between the finish line and the Weeple tent, pacing back and forth to no avail, it was if the desert had swallowed up the strong, fierce, tenacious man I love.
While talking with my friends at the Weeple Army tent, I said, “I bet he’s still assisting others on the course while I’m worrying my brains out. Classic Kyoul.”
Panic was starting to really take hold, and the next familiar face I saw was the HH12HR race director, Tony. “There are still some more out on the course” he said as he sped by, he still had at least a dozen athletes he was punishing – leading – out on the course, and would be at it for at least another 4 hours. Shortly thereafter, I spotted Rob Barger and sprinted over. “What happens to those who didn’t make the cut off, yet decide to continue on?” I asked. He looked at me with a wry smile and asked, “You’re looking for Kyoul, right?” I nodded. “He’s up by the highway and there is no way he’s going to quit.”
Relieved, I finally get my well-deserved beer (or two). Back at the Weeple Army tent, I hear the HH12HR is supposed to meet at the dunk wall in 20 minutes. Finally, I see Kyoul. Not only is he alive and well, he looks pretty damn good to me. After a brief smile and wave, he and the rest of the HH12HR crew disappears back into the Nevada Hills.
As the final hour approached, I couldn’t wait to give Kyoul a huge hug and hear all about what the hell happened out there during this experience. As the sun started its dive toward the western hills, the HH12HR crew comes into view. I count off the official 19 that made it through the course before the 4 hour cutoff, thereby qualifying for a future Death Race, and then count 5 more for a total of 24 finishers of the original 33. Just as I was there for the first 103 sets of burpees, I am on-hand for the final moments; countless “underwater burpees”, repeatedly chanting the Warrior Ethos, cleaning up the festival area and breaking down the signs, planking while waiting for Steffen Cook and lfinally carrying a 400lb tire as a team throughout the festival grounds. After 12 hours of continual beating, these 24 looked even stronger than they had before the sun came up this morning.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
Kyoul is a member of SISU, the “extreme training” arm of the Weeple Army. I’ve met one of his teammates Schmitty Smitty before, and he was part of today’s epic journey. Schmitty was one of the 5 that continued on with Kyoul despite not making the 4-hour cut off. There’s still no mention of what happened for these two warriors to miss the cutoff as Steffen Cook comes walking over. He singles out Kyoul for a hearty handshake and hug, commending him for his ability to assist a comrade in need, the final creed of the Warrior’s Ethos “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Kyoul and Schmitty made the decision to abide by this creed, they stood by each other and got the job done, no matter how long it took. These two men may not have earned the HH12HR patch, but they made a choice and stuck by it despite the odds and earned the respect of the Hurricane Heat team.
This experience for Kyoul was never about qualifying for the Death Race, it was about the experience with his fellow comrades. Kyoul has the uncanny ability to take in the moment and does what is needed to continue on, I admire him a great deal for these, and many other, fine qualities. He has never been the type who needs accolades, he’s just never all about himself.
On a day where he could have toed the line with some of the best athletes in the sport and showed his mettle as an athlete, he chose to participate in the HH12HR. When it counted, he showed his true mettle. As a man.
A Word From Race Director: Tony Matesi
Kyoul is representative of the embodiment of what it means to be a Spartan. In the traditional Hurricane Heat we focus on building a level of camaraderie that is unparalleled. The Spartans who enter the Hurricane Heat are tested time and time again on their ability to come together as a team and act as a single unit.
The Hurricane Heat Twelve Hour shakes things up by building these tremendous bonds during the first few hours of the event only to strip that all away from them when they become individuals and have to run their own race. It’s in this time that we see some very interesting things happen. Most people will wind up partnering up with someone even though they know and acknowledge that time is of the essence. Kyoul had a choice when he set foot on the course with his tire, run his own race and make the time cut or help a fellow comrade make it through the event.
Kyoul sacrificed his chance to officially finish because the last line of the Warrior Ethos resonated so deeply with his personality to help others. “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” It’s very admirable what Kyoul did and while it was the right thing to do, the HH12HR is representative of the Death Race, and further so, of life. Life isn’t fair. You can do the right thing in life and it doesn’t always lead to the favorable outcome. Kyoul may not have been an official finisher that day in Vegas, but his finish was one of honor. That’s something that he will live with forever, something to be very proud of. It was an honor to have Kyoul as part of HH12HR-001.