We all have those race buddies that we cross paths with continually. Mr. John Wolf happens to be mine. Our first meeting was at the Original Mud Run in Nashville, Tennessee in 2017. John and I chatted along the trail, and he offered me a boost at an intimidating wall. Fast forward few encounters, I spotted a petite female just off-course chasing him with a camera and cheering him on fiercely. I could see something special budding here, so I kept up with their journey, both in person and via Instagram (as so many of us do).
Earlier this year, that same petite female, Rachel, made a comeback from three intense surgeries and joined John on the course. Between competitions, the two built a business in Wolfpak Fitness, an outdoor training facility that caters to OCR and Ninja Warrior addicts which just opened in June. John, a consistent 100% obstacle completion racer, and Rachel, a certified personal trainer, embodied that bumper sticker saying, “A couple that races together stays together.” Sure enough, John sealed that with a ring and a kiss, proposing at the dunk wall at the Spartan Race West Virginia Beast. It was one of the most perfect proposals I’ve ever seen. I caught up with them to talk about this special moment and how OCR has brought the two closer.
Q: How did you guys meet?
Rachel: We actually met approximately 16 years [ago] through a mutual friend at a party. We spent the night doing somersaults down a hill in the rain. Everyone there thought we were crazy. We became friends after that night, but never looked at each other as a love interest.
Over the next 13 years, we would run into each other at the lake, parties, or around town and could always spark up a conversation. It was in 2016, John got interested in OCR runs and he knew I had been into running and OCRs for a while, so he reached out to me on Facebook. John had asked me to join his team for the upcoming Mud Run. Well, unfortunately, I was recovering from injuries that I sustained from a car crash. I am a police officer and was struck head-on while on duty in May 2016 and sustained multiple injuries. Over the next year, we would talk via social media. In October of 2017, John reached back out to me about doing another run. I was so bummed because I had just had shoulder surgery to repair my rotator cuff and labrum from the car crash. I told John I couldn’t, but hey we needed to meet up for drinks just to catch up with one another. He agreed. So, on November 28, 2017, we went to a Predators Hockey game just as old friends to catch up. Well during the game and into late hours of the night we just talked and talked and there was a connection there that neither one of us was expecting. After he dropped me off at my house and he returned to his we talked for hours over the phone. We both began to talk about the night and just how we both felt something was there even though we weren’t looking for it. Hell, we have never looked at each other that way before. So, we decided to go out on an official first date the next night to Dave and Busters. From then on out we have spent just about every day together. Everything fell into place. All of our likes and dislikes were the same. We fell head over heels for one another naturally. It was a pure love that came easy.
Q: What does training for and competing in OCR mean to you as a couple?
R: Training and getting to compete in OCRs with your best friend, there is nothing like it. We support, motivate, and train one another. We get to see each other’s weakness and strengths, which builds us stronger together. Seeing John push his body to the limits pushing for the 100% completion has helped me get the motivation to make a comeback. Within a year and a half, I had to have 3 surgeries to my right arm (Rotator and Labrum repair, ulnar nerve release at the elbow and ulnar nerve release at the hand). I now have permanent nerve damage to my right arm, and I only have about 50% feeling in my right hand and forearm. The permanent damage is now taking my career as a law enforcement officer away from me. John has been there every step pushing me and motivating me to get back on top. When we are training, and he hears me say “I can’t” he pushes me to keep on trying, helping me modify how I do obstacles and says, “don’t let me hear those words”. I started out running along with him to cheer him on taking pictures and I couldn’t wait to be able to run beside him in the races. To see his determination for that 100% completion rate, gave me my determination. I would watch his technique from the sidelines and give him pointers as he would do the same for me. To be able to do this sport together and share the same love for it is incredible. It increases our emotional bond, helps us reach our fitness goals, and we fall in love with each other more and more from seeing one another achieve.
Q: How did it feel competing in that first race together? Did it elevate the relationship for either of you in any way?
R: Our first race together was the Sprint at the Spartan Race in TN in 2018. I had signed up thinking I would be on my way to recovery. Well, just weeks before the race we found out I had to undergo one more surgery to the hand. I questioned if I should even do the race. Just days before John said to me, just do it. We will run together, I will help you, and just do what you can do. So, I did. I remember like it was yesterday when we came up to the first obstacle that would test the strength in my arm–the rings. I was not able to swing normally without pain in my shoulder and the grip strength was not there. I watched John as he showed me how to try it going side to side two hands on a ring before moving to the next one. I gave it a shot and failed, but I wanted to do it not only for me but for him. Before our group started to run off, I looked at him and said, “I want to give it one more shot”. He said ok. I was setting up to go, John was at the end near the bell videoing taping me, I just remember looking at him and saying that’s the love of my life and I am going to conquer to get to him. I started to swing focusing on my movement and looking at him. John was cheering me on all the way. When I hit that bell we both cheered with excitement. It was incredible. I have been running races since 2004 and started in OCR in 2009, I have never had the support on a racecourse like I did in that race from my best friend. It made me more determined than ever to get back so I could run side by side with him.
Q: How many races have you done together?
John: Rachel has been by my side for over 30 races, running along the course to support and snap pictures. We have done multiple local 5K, 10K, and half marathons together. In 2018, we were able to do one OCR race (Spartan in TN) together before she had to have another surgery. She has continued to push forward and 2019 has been her comeback year. We have done 8 OCR races so far with many more to come. During each race we push each other to do better and strive to be the best we can be.
Q: Can you highlight a moment from a previous race that brought out the best in each of you?
J: We would have to say when we did the Spartan Ultra in Ohio in June 2019, it brought out the best in both of us. We love to help not only one another but others. We both jumped right in to help others at different obstacles. We enjoy seeing each other’s passion and good heart come out to help others–it is one thing that makes us both fall in love with the other more and more. During the race, we ran with a friend to make sure each one of us completed the race and to make the cut off times. Rachel really shined by staying motivated and pepping throughout the course keeping us on pace to make the cutoff. I remember asking her like at mile 26, “How are you still just so cheerful and [have] pep in your step?”
She just smiled and said, “I love this and we got this!” I was amazed by this, seeing this was her first big race back. She had only done 2 -5k races since her last surgery. She never lost beat and kept pushing everyone around us to keep going. She was not only concerned about herself getting to the finish line, but she wanted to make sure everyone else got there too. Which just made me fall for her even more.
R: John has one of the biggest hearts of any guy that I know. During the Ultra this really showed. Every obstacle we came to, he would not leave until he helped everyone around conquer it. Even though we were 20 miles in and, well, I forget how many obstacles at this point, with his body hurting he would still help out whoever needed it to get over walls, up over the box or whatever it would be. He would have women and men up on his shoulders not caring one bit about the pain he was in. After helping everyone he could, he still gave 100% on each obstacle himself to achieve 100% completion rate. When we got to Hercules Hoist, we were all beat down and ready to hit that finish line. We were 30 miles in and the Hercules Hoist was one of the last few obstacles. I saw how tired and worn out John was, but I also saw how determined he was to complete the obstacle. My hands were ripped and injuries coming out, so I was unable to perform the obstacle. The sandbags were double the weight due to rain. Everyone was having trouble with them. John began to pull and when he had the bag about half up started to struggle. The fight came out in him pulling little by little. I was cheering him on, telling him not to give up he had it. A friend came up about to help him and I yelled “NO DON’T!” John's goal for the season is a 100% completion with no help. So, I saw the determination he was giving and was not going to allow someone to ruin that now. Little by little he moved that sandbag up, yelling with each pull. You could tell that his hands were ready to let go at any time. When that bag hit the top we both yelled out in excitement. I don’t know who was happier, him or me. For us, we are a team, so when we see the other strive, push to conquer what is in front of them we both feel the awards of accomplishment. I was so proud of him. For being determined the whole race to complete 100% and for helping others along the way.
Q: John—how did you decide that the dunk wall proposal was the way to pop the question?
J: I had put some serious thought into when and where to pop the question! Yeah, I could’ve done it at a romantic dinner, or a night out on the town, but that just isn’t us. As you can probably tell we’re about mud and fun! During our first Spartan Race, we kissed at the dunk wall. People say we kiss at too many other obstacles, too… But that seemed to start a fad. After we posted our kiss we saw several other people start doing the same. So I thought if a kiss is good, a proposal would be GREAT and then it was a no brainer! I had a great speech I had been working on for weeks after our kiss. Then when I dropped to a knee she started to quiver and the look in her eyes along with the tears the only thing I was able to get out was, “You’ve been waiting for this for a while, will you marry me?” Yeah, weak I know, but she said YES! Spartan and the dunk wall couldn’t have been a better place.
Q: Rachel—did you have any hints that was coming?
R: I figured he would ask me by the end of the year, I just didn’t know how. I never thought it was going to be during that race. If anything, I figured he was waiting until hockey season to do it at a game. Going through the rolling mud right before the dunk wall, he was trying to stay away from me and not helping me out of the mud pits. I was like “WTH what’s wrong with you?!” Later he told me he had to ring on his left pinky and was trying not to let me see it. I loved the fact he chose to propose during a race and at our spot the dunk wall. After we did our normal kiss after going under the wall, he grabbed my hand and got down on one knee. I realized immediately and became overjoyed. It was perfect!
Q: Weren’t you scared to lose that ring both before and after?
J: There have been so many comments about dropping the ring. Honestly, before the race, it crossed my mind, but after that, I didn’t think about it. Rachel kept trying to get to my left side where I had the ring on my pinky for rolling mud and barbed wire crawl. I was thinking more about not letting her see the ring than dropping it.
Q: So we’re thinking the Hawaii Trifecta for the honeymoon then, right? Spartan execs—are you listening? Send the happy couple on the most perfect honeymoon they could as for! Seriously, are you thinking of incorporating OCR into the marriage or honeymoon at all?
J: OMG funny you ask this question! The answer is YES!!! We’re trying to figure out a date early in the year. Now, unfortunately, it has to be close to home so her dad can walk her down the aisle–he can’t fly. But that’s the only thing we want traditional about our wedding. Thoughts are after saying our vows and swapping rings BEFORE we get muddy jumping into the dunk wall and sealing our vows with OUR muddy kisses! Then continue the rest of the race (hopefully dunk wall would be in the middle of the race) in our wedding clothes. Our family could take a shortcut to the venue area while waiting for us to finish. Then we’d work out further details for the reception. If we have the wedding early in the year with it being the beginning of race season, the kids’ ball season, and them in school that kind of puts a damper on the honeymoon. We will have to put the honeymoon on hold, so we’ve been thinking trifecta weekend in Hawaii. Hawaii is our bucket list race. We have been wanting to go since we got together, but just have not been able to swing it. Hopefully, we can make it happen. Either way, we need wedding photos of us in our attire doing obstacles and in the MUD!
R: I am ready to get muddy in my wedding dress!
Q: So what’s next for you two?
J: With Rachel having permanent nerve damage to her right hand from her crash, the doctors have told her she can no longer use a gun. With that being said, she will no longer be able to be a police officer and will have to retire at the end of September. When we got together, she had already started looking into becoming a personal trainer, and I had already started my obstacle course in the backyard. So we began to talk one day what the future would hold and decided to open up a fitness company, Wolfpak Fitness. Rachel has become a certified personal trainer and is a specialist in exercise therapy. We have built an outdoor obstacle course training facility, which right now has about 30 obstacles and growing. We have plans to build an indoor facility as well. We offer personal training, group training, private events, and open course training right now. We open the course to help others grow and to get healthy. We enjoy helping others and seeing them achieve.
When we opened the course, the main thing we wanted to do is to give back to the community. We plan on doing several events in the future to profit different charitable organizations. Our first one will actually be November 2, 2019. Howlin’ for Warmth to benefit Wilson County, Tennessee’s Operation Warm. The proceeds will go towards purchases new coats for kids in need in Wilson County. During the event, you can either compete as an individual during the morning competition or as a team of five during the team competition that afternoon. The individual competition will be $25. The team event will be a five-person relay competition and will cost $100 per team. For more information, you can visit our website.