Inspired by brutal 7th century training tactics of their namesake, Spartan, the organizer of some of the world’s toughest obstacle course races, has introduced the Agoge event. The race, which takes place on company founder Joe DeSena’s Vermont farm, is a brutal physical and mental test designed around team building and development that can take up to 60 hours. Grueling hikes, schelping kayaks filled with water, carrying other teammates, and 100-foot rappels are all part of the deal, which can last up to 60 hours. In order to compete in the Agoge, participants must have previous military and/or obstacle course experience; the race draws an exceptionally proven crowd. This summer, photographer Monica Donovan set up at the starting line to learn a little more about some of the participants who have overcome massive life obstacles to compete.
Photo: Billy Costello lost his right leg to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in September, 2011. He was able to return to his unit in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he worked before retiring for medical reasons. After his service, Costello and Zachary Paben (next slide) put together a team—called More Heart Than Scars—made up of military and civilian competitors with the goal of aiding adaptive athletes through obstacle course races like the Spartan Agoge.
Zachary Paben, who lost seven of his finger tips in a childhood accident, is the co-founder of More Heart Than Scars. With his business partner, Costello, they’ve brought purpose to people’s lives through training and competition in obstacle course races.
Earl Granville is a nine-year veteran under the Pennsylvania Army National Guard as an infantryman. In the summer of 2008, while on a patrol in Zormat, Afghanistan, his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb, which resulted in the amputation of his left leg through the knee. His comrades, Specialist Derek Holland of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, and Major Scott Hagerty of Stillwater, Oklahoma, were killed in action.
After his injury, Earl found himself competing as an adaptive athlete in many sports, such as monoski, CrossFit, sled hockey, GORUCK challenge, and Spartan races. He is a team member for the veteran-operated nonprofit Operation Enduring Warrior and the lead ambassador of the veteran-founded clothing line Oscar Mike. After his injury, Granville has competed in the Boston, Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Marine Corps marathons, all on a hand bicycle under the Achilles Freedom Team.
Neely Fortune was assaulted by a close friend in 2010, and shortly after found the body of her assailant after he took his own life. Fortune took that troubling life event, which resulted in PTSD, and turned into motivation to recover. She tackled the Vermont 100 ultramarathon, the TARC 100, the Mexico Death Race, and many others. Taking every opportunity to push herself, Fortune even entered to compete for Miss Vermont USA and won the crown in 2016. Most recently, Fortune has taken a leadership position as an event leader at the Spartan Agoge.
In 2014, Mark Peterson was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer that required surgery and chemotherapy. But that didn’t stop him. In 2015, Peterson ran 22 Spartan races, all while undergoing treatment. Peterson has also achieved a Spartan Trifecta, which is earned by completing a five mile sprint course, a 10 mile super course, and a 15 mile beast course all in a calendar year.
Matthew Pietro lost his leg in motorcycle accident after returning from combat. Struggling with his health and PTSD, Pietro joined More Heart Than Scars and has competed in a variety of Spartan races, and even completed the Spartan Trifecta.
Norbie Lara joined the US Army in 1995 was deployed to Iraq. In June 2004, while on combat patrol, an RPG struck Lara’s vehicle. The RPG penetrated the firewall and severed his arm. Shrapnel from the explosion also ripped through Lara's body, lacerating his liver and causing severe lung damage as well. Lara proudly competes in Spartan races on team Operation Enduring Warrior.
Danielle Rieck is professional ballet dancer turned obstacle course master. Rieck began competing in races in 2012 after a boyfriend told her there was no way she could finish one. Since then, she has accomplished about as much as you can in obstacle course racing: in 2014, she completed seven trifectas, ten in 2015, and she has a goal of 11 this year. Rieck is also the first person ever to achieve the Perfect Delta, which means she has completed every type of event Spartan offers. Rieck is active member of Team Red, White, and Blue (RWB) in addition to raising money for the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Fund through her racing.