The Fort Campbell Spartan Race featured the Always Be Ready Challenge, sponsored by 5.11 Tactical. To earn bragging rights and a special Spartan X 5.11 dog tag, racers were tasked with running the entire race in a weighted plate carrier vest. Men carried an extra 20 pounds, and women tacked on an additional 14. I was in awe of everyone that tackled the race in a vest and dug deeper into what drove my fellow racers to this challenge. It was at the Kentucky/Tennessee state line where I met Buffy Rae. As we paused to strategize the inverted wall and conversation unfolded, it was clear that her story needed to be shared. I reached out to Buffy so that she could share her story of true grit.
HJG: Buffy, it was a pleasure meeting you Saturday. Can you tell readers a little about yourself?
BR: I became interested in OCR a little late in the game. As a kid I was always outside hanging out of a tree somewhere or exploring the nearest woods. I would spend every minute that I could absorbing as much vitamin D (D for Dirt) as I could, hiking, camping, nature is like my church. It's just where everything feels right. I also did some BMX racing, but back then (I'm 46 now!) there weren't enough girls willing to participate in the sport and they wouldn't let me race with the boys, so that was snuffed out pretty quickly. I have always been bored to death with anything that was traditionally “girly” and have always preferred to be outdoors. Like most of us, though, my passion for the things I really loved to do got left behind more and more in the wake of “life.”
HJG: You’ve cited that your favorite show, Spartacus, ignited the spark that led to research into the Spartan Race and eventually dedicated training. The show also led you to your husband, Bradley. Can you describe the intersection of those to our readers?
BR: Bradley and I chatted at length by phone as well, both of us passionate dedicated to the life of the lead actor, Andy Whitfield, who had lost his fight with cancer but had left the world with a beautiful documentary called “Be Here Now the Andy Whitfield Story.” In it he speaks truths about life, death, and the importance of every moment.
He tells us all to be careful not to live one moment in the past, and not one moment in the future. Tomorrow is promised to no one.
So there we were, two people in separate corners of the world (Bradley from London, England) taking a huge leap of faith or just crazy–one or the other. We made plans to run a race together one day.
HJG: Eventually Bradley came to the US to visit which led to playing in the mud together, and eventually marriage on Valentine’s Day in 2015. Three months later you ran your first Spartan Sprint with him. Describe that experience.
BR: To this day, bar none, it was the most difficult, most insane Spartan of any length I have ever done. Treacherous as it was, we were both addicted right then and there. Our kids caught the Spartan bug as well, and as a family we sport one hell of a Wall of Glory, with 6 Trifectas, plus other OCR events like Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac, and several others. I love it when somebody asks the kids what they did over the weekend and they launch into a narrative about how epic the last race was. It's a great feeling knowing they will remember this their whole lives.
HJG: You were running with your son for Saturday’s Super—who was absolutely killing it, by the way. Could you share a bit about his life and journey?
BR: Ashton (or Beanie as his family and friends call him) was born in August 2004 with a heart abnormality and missing nearly his entire cerebellum (the portion of the brain responsible for our ability to coordinate movements). I was told he may not live, and that if he did he may never walk or talk. He hung in there, and after 3 months I brought him home. He spent his first birthday in ICU recovering from open heart surgery. Just before his 3rd birthday, I noticed he didn't seem to play like other kids, and he seemed to move like a little old man with arthritis. I took him to the doctor a few times but nobody knew what was wrong. Three days later an entourage of white coats said the word “cancer” to me for the first time–it was like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Beanie had chemotherapy for four long years. During that time we almost lost him twice.
I had plenty of time to learn the hard way life truly does turn on a dime and if we don't pay close attention, it can slip by way too fast.
HJG: I understand that around his 7th birthday, Beanie befriended actor/screenwriter Barry Duffield, AKA Lugo on Spartacus. He told Beanie he could do anything he set his mind to, and for Beanie, that meant running a Spartan Trifecta and becoming a personal trainer like his hero to work with people like himself who have the odds stacked against them. Tell me about his training for the Trifecta.
BR: At 7, Beanie started learning about nutrition and trained tirelessly–as hard as any adult. He ate clean and raced every kid’s race he could until finally he was old enough to run with grown-ups. Although he is a small guy for his age and has another heart surgery in his future, his cardiologist gave him a green light to chase his years-long goal. 2019 was the year we would do it together, Bradley and I, Chase, and Beanie, as a family. One unified, crazy, badass family. That was the plan. Have you ever heard the saying “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans”? Oblivious to the heavenly guffawing, we registered with some close friends who wanted to be a part of this important mission, and set out to make it happen.
HJG: Your son is quite the warrior. How does it make you feel running with your son after everything you’ve both been through?
BR: I can't even put into words how it felt to see him fighting his way across the monkey bars, all 90 pounds of him and every ounce of it grit.
In a world where overindulged kids lose their minds when the WiFi isn't working, it makes me so proud to see my boys growing into the kind of men who face the hard things head on.
It's all just another obstacle, after all, and seeing them carry those never-say-quit Spartan virtues through the course and into life is a very gratifying thing. Knowing the odds he faced time and time again, the needles, the sickness, the pain no child should ever have to endure, it was a very emotional thing to see him tackle those obstacles and to watch him as he encouraged those around him and offered his hand to fellow Spartans. My “mom heart” was proud and full.
HJG: You mentioned that your husband was unable to join you when I met you at the Fort Campbell Super, even though the Rae family had planned to conquer the 2019 Trifecta together. Can you tell our readers more about that?
BR: Bradley is 32 years old, an active, fit guy. He's fun, adventurous, the kindest person I have ever known, and my very best friend. Near the end of February, on the last icy morning, Bradley slid off the road and into a light pole. He was not seriously injured, though weeks later Bradley's back kept aching. Eventually, the MRI was ordered; a week or so later we were out in the yard working in the spring sun when that call came. “Please come to the office now.” At the doctor's office I listened while she told us about the huge, aggressive tumor growing in Bradley's pelvic bone and muscle. I listened while she told us about biopsies, oncologists, and lots of “I'm sorrys.” I remember feeling numb, devastated. No one deserved it less than Bradley. We told the kids and Bradley started the first of 9 months of chemotherapy plus a major surgery that had a very real possibility of taking his entire leg. Most people would crumble at the thought. Bradley just wanted to know how soon he could get back on the start line.
He told the boys and I to plan on doing our races, and to “bring the glory home to me.”
When I met you at the inverted wall, that's what we were doing. Bradley was able to keep his leg, but lost a very large part of his pelvic bone, and the muscles in his lower back and glute, so once his chemo is over in December he will have a whole lot of physical therapy to be able to gain enough strength to run again. He swears he will though, and I believe he can. If anyone can, it’s him.
HJG: Running the Super in the vest honored both your son racing with you and your husband, fortunately well enough to spectate in the festival with your two youngest. What was going through your mind during those ~9.5 miles?
BR: Wearing the vest that day was completely unexpected. We had stopped at the 5.11 Tactical tent before our heat and, curious, tried on the weighted vest. I thought whoever did the race wearing one of those was just crazy. Then I saw Bradley quietly studying something in his hand with an expression on his face that I couldn't quite read. He was looking at the Spartan dog tag and engraved in its metal surface were the words, “Always be ready.” I handed him my camelback and fastened the straps of the vest. I was ready.
One mile into the Super I was no longer sure. Two miles in I was ready to throw the vest to the side of trail. Three miles and I wanted to stomp on it and set it on fire! Each time I was ready to rip that vest off somebody from the Oscar Mike team, who we were leapfrogging with, would say “Good job, Spartan,” or, “Much respect for wearing the gear,” and I would think of the soldiers they run with, who can't just reattach the arm or leg they lost.
I would think of my son's little 3 year old self crawling to the bathroom because he was too sick to walk, and I would think of Reid, the little boy I sponsor in the IRUN4 organization who cheers me on and waits for my medals to hang on his wall. Most of all I thought of Bradley, my champion, fighting for his life even as he waited for me at the finish line. That got me through.
HJG: In the short time that we chatted, I could tell that you wouldn’t give up no matter what. Can you tell our readers some of the struggles you had?
BR: For the first time in 4 years it became about just finishing. I could not believe how a few extra pounds and a stiff vest could nearly break me but it felt like 100 pounds! I couldn't bend my torso, I couldn't effectively jump, and when I did, the knee impact was hard. By the end of mile 3 my back and shoulders were screaming. Several times during that 9.5 miles I had to stop and will my breakfast to stay in its current position. I was so frustrated at failing obstacles I have completed plenty before and the beater, and monkey bars both resulted in hard falls to the gravel below, and my favorite obstacle, the rope climb, was just impossible. I needed help on all the walls, because I couldn't bend my body anywhere above the waist so no technique I was used to was working. I had built this insanity up to a mission of national level importance in my mind, like with theme music and everything! There was no way I was going to fail. I'm too stubborn!
HJG: Okay, let’s talk about that last push when you could start to hear the music and enter the final stretch of obstacles in the festival. What was going through your mind?
BR: Well, at that point I was watching my son. He knew he had made it. It was the [final piece of the] Trifecta race for us, so he was practically electric then. I was hurting all over, but I was as high as a kite watching that kid absorb the reality of his accomplishment. He was ten feet tall and bulletproof, and I wanted to commit every detail of it to memory so that I will never forget his huge grin and how full my heart felt as we jumped that fire. “Proud” doesn't even come close.
HJG: Amazing job! Please describe to our readers the emotions when you were handed the dog tag upon finishing.
BR: Bradley was waiting at the finish line. He had the biggest smile on his face, and I had a little internal laugh at the fact that even after years together, with no hair, eyebrows, or lashes, that he can still smile at me like that and it makes my stomach sort of flip–like the feeling you get in a car when you go over a small hill just a bit too fast. When I was handed that dog tag for wearing the vest, I ran to Bradley and put it in his hand and told him that he was my hero. His face said it all, and that made it worth every step of those humbling 9.5 miles.
Epilogue by Buffy Rae
Thanks to Mud Run Guide for the chance to connect with so many awesome people. Bradley's fight continues even now, but he has made it his mission to be standing with all of you at the start line next year, and a Spartan always places the mission first. Look for him and Beanie and the rest of us in 2020 and say hello!
To team Oscar Mike and everyone else at Ft. Campbell whose words of encouragement were invaluable to me that day, thank you. You exemplify virtues worthy of the name Spartan. “Look to the Spartan to your left and to your right. You will not let them fail.”
To our founder Joe DeSena, wherever you and your rock or sandbag, (or whatever your chosen demon is today) are, thank you for building this insanity. You GET it.
To everyone on the fence thinking they'd love to try OCR, sign up, show up, and don't wait for a better time.
Tomorrow isn't a guarantee for any of us. Be Here Now. Always Be Ready. “Who Am I? I Am a Spartan! Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!”
To follow journey of Buffy Rae and her incredible family, follow her on Facebook.
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