West Virginia native pushes Spartan Race to the limit

John Sanders, a 14-year-old Beckley resident, will be competing in next weekend’s Spartan Race at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean.

Sanders, who attends Independence High School, wrestles, plays soccer and runs track in addition to his participation in the Spartan Race. He attributes his participation in Spartan races to his wrestling coaches who also have been participating in the events and influencing him to do the same.

“They all did a Spartan race in Asheville (N.C.), but I was too young to do what they were doing,” Sanders said. 

“I just did a kid one, and that really got me into it. They really inspired me to do it, and the Trifecta means a lot to me. It shows me how much I can take and how much I enjoy it.”

The Trifecta Sanders referred to is a combination of three different courses: the Sprint, the Super and the Beast. The Sprint is the easiest of the three courses, with the Super and Beast following respectively in difficulty.

For Sanders, though, this isn’t his first Trifecta. Sanders already has one Trifecta under his belt, which is an award obtained by those who conquer all three obstacle courses in a calendar year.

This weekend, Sanders will be aiming for his second Trifecta as West Virginia hosts the Spartan Race for the first time. Sanders says that he enjoys the challenge the race brings, both physically and mentally, but he’s favorable to the Super above the three courses that he’s attempted. The super is the middle course and ranges from 8 to 10 miles with anywhere from 24 to 29 different obstacles.

For Sanders, the most gratifying part of the race isn’t the medals, but the tests he receives and the new limits he reaches as a result of his hard work.

“It helps me test myself and be an athlete, be a better athlete. That’s what really keeps me going,” Sanders said.

Sanders uses the Spartan races to help him focus, as he says it helps get his mind off things throughout his daily life.

“It helps me control my ADHD. It helps me feel different, and it keeps me motivated,” Sanders said.

Despite his young age, Sanders plans to stay involved in the Spartan events for as long as he can, and he has encouragement from his family as well. Eric Hatfield, Sanders’ stepfather, says the family supports him in any way that they can, whether that be through preparation or support. 

Some of the various ways the family supports Sanders is by making sure he has the training equipment he needs and transporting him to the Spartan events, wherever they may be.

“We have a couple of the obstacles here at our house that he does,” Hatfield said. “Once in a while he’ll keep doing (the obstacles) and it gives him a little bit of a challenge here at the house. Sometimes we’ll give him more weight than he needs or have him go further when he wants to train for something in particular. We have the bucket challenge, the sandbag, but no walls or anything like that.”

Although Hatfield helps Sanders and pushes him to succeed, he leaves all of the decisions up to John. At first, the Spartan races seemed like something Sanders would show interest in for a moment, before moving on to something else, but that did not end up being the case. With everything that Sanders has accomplished, Hatfield makes sure to let him know how proud he is of him.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Hatfield said of Sanders and his accomplishments. “We thought it was something he was just gonna kind of go into haphazardly, and not take too much of a serious nature to it. After he had done one then he did another and another, and now we’re doing all three in one weekend.

“It’s kind of encouraging — that he puts his mind to something to complete the task and work for it, and that will lead to better things down the road for him.”

Although Hatfield does not participate himself, he does accompany Sanders to each location. As of now, Sanders has competed in North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, with Pennsylvania, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia and West Virginia on the schedule for him in the near future. Out of all those stops, the one that Sanders has his eyes set on is Texas, where he will compete in the Spartan Ultra Beast — a 35-mile course with over 50 obstacles.

“That’s one that I threw out to him as a challenge,” Hatfield said, referring to the Ultra Beast. “We’ll see if it’s something that’s going to come through and happen if everything aligns the way we hope and we do make it down there. I do think we will.

“I think he might surprise a lot of people. It’s a tough course. You have to complete so many miles, I think it’s a seven-hour time period or something like that. You have to meet checkpoints and if you don’t then they’ll pull you off the course. All that hard work, you can miss it by a minute and you don’t finish it. I think he’ll pull that one off is he wants to.”

Although Hatfield challenges Sanders in any way that he can, he always leaves the decision up to Sanders himself.

“It makes you really proud of what he’s doing and what he’s accomplishing,” Hatfield said.

“As we’re able to do it, we’ll continue doing it for him. If at some point he says I don’t want to do it anymore, then it’s his decision and we’ll respect it.”

Email: tjackson@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @TjackRH

React to this story: