Veterans to run 'death race' for charity
Army buddies accept challenge to raise money for Wounded Warriors Project
Imagine your best friend approaches you about participating in a race he ran last year. A race he describes as 43 hours of no sleep, miserable weather and "pretty much nonstop movement." A race that features obstacles like barbed wire and freezing cold rivers and mountains to ensure a completion rate of around 15 percent. A race in which the selling point is that the relief of just finishing is enough to move you to tears of happiness. A race called the Spartan Death Race.
The natural response may seem obvious. It certainly was when Matthew Robinson approached Matt Dyer about joining him in Pittsfield, Vt., for this summer's race.
"I have to admit," Dyer said, "I was absolutely on board."
It sounds crazy, but Dyer and Robinson have a long history of adventure. The two, now co-workers at Lawrence Foods in Elk Grove Village, have spent time together sky diving, biking in the Mojave Desert and diving off the coast of Australia. Their friendship dates back seven years to their time in the Army, where they met in the corps of engineers and where their ability to thrive in dangerous situations was fostered.
"He was sapper-qualified in the Army, which is an explosives expert, and I was ranger-qualified," Dyer said. "We've got kind of a background."
They stayed in touch after spending 14 months together in Iraq. Not long after Dyer was hired at Lawrence Foods, he persuaded Robinson to leave his new home in Colorado and join him.
Their military experience still colors much of what they do, whether it's Dyer explaining the improved efficiency at Lawrence Foods or the two attempting to explain what motivated their commitment to such an arduous race.
It goes beyond Dyer describing the two of them as "mission-focused" and unwilling to accept failure as an option. To participate in the Spartan Death Race, Dyer and Robinson each had to raise $1,000 for a charity of their choice. Robinson called their decision to pick the Wounded Warrior Project a no-brainer.
He explained how each individual in the six-person group they're traveling with has a connection to the military, from a man who served under Robinson in Iraq to a woman who serves as an Army lieutenant at Fort Jackson, S.C., to a psychologist who trains special forces soldiers. The Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured soldiers transition back to civilian life, has a direct effect on the sort of people Dyer and Robinson are very familiar with.
"Matthew and I both have friends who have passed away or who have lost limbs or significant mental well-being throughout the course of the ongoing wars," Dyer said. "I think it's important to support causes like that, that give aid to the veterans."
Beyond the challenge of the race and raising money for the cause, Robinson is taking an almost anthropological perspective to the race this year. One of just 35 racers to complete the course in 2011, he described the experience of watching a mass of headlamps in the night grow and grow as participants retreated down a mountain they were tasked with climbing, essentially giving up on the race.
He thinks that when people saw someone else quit, it justified their giving up, too. He wants to prove the inverse is true, that a group of six strong-minded people won't let any one member quit. Dyer doesn't plan on proving him wrong.
"Matt and I are here to say, without a doubt, 100 percent: We're going to finish this race no matter what," Robinson said.
"No matter what," Dyer echoed. "Even if we're dragging each other across the finish line with broken legs."