Gym owner survives 45-hour race

Published 2:11 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sean Dickson, left, owner of Combat Fitness off Shelby County 261, and his Army friend, Jon Weiler, right, shortly after completing the 45-hour Death Race in Vermont. (Contributed/Sandy Colvin)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Sean Dickson’s first day as a member of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division was Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, he has dedicated nearly every day to focusing his body and mind on the training necessary to survive in combat.

So when he learned of the opportunity to compete in the 2011 Spartan Death Race, held annually in Pittsfield, Vt., he did not see it as a grueling form of torture – he saw another opportunity to keep his warrior’s spirit alive.

“The race was really for me a chance to see, at 33, if I could recreate the soldier I was when I was 23,” Dickson said. “Personally, I needed that race.”

During the race, whose organizers claim it is “built to break the weak of body and mind,” participants are tasked with completing 45 hours of intense and unexpected challenges with no sleep and little food.

The athletes trek 20 miles while carrying 75 pound logs, swim across a lake several times in the middle of the night while wearing a 45-pound backpack and endure a battery of other tasks.

“We had to carry a 100-pound stump up a mountain, learn a Bible verse and then carry the stump back down the mountain,” Dickson said. “If we couldn’t recite the verse when we got back down, we had to carry the stump back up the mountain until we got it right.”

About 125 people started the race, and Dickson was one of the 35 who did not quit before reaching the finish line. He said he estimated he burned about 30,000 calories during the endurance race.

Dickson, who served in Iraq and was a Special Forces medic for a few years, trained for the race at his gym, Combat Fitness off Shelby County 261 near the Pelham-Hoover line, and at fitness competitions, such as the Xterra race at Oak Mountain State Park.

“I did daily workouts here (at Combat Fitness). We flipped tires, constantly ran up the hill with packs, a lot of things like that,” he said.

Dickson said the race was tough, but he looks back on the test with fondness.

“I love it. It was one of the best times of my life,” he said. “I can lay in bed at night now and know that I am one of the 35 people in the world who can say they made it through that race.

“My days as a soldier are over, but it was that training that got me to the death race,” he added.