The Will to Win: The Story of Dan the Spartan Man

By Noelle Adams

Have you ever had a goal or a dream that you thought would be amazing to achieve, but just never was quite able to make it happen? Most of us will simply let those dreams go as unobtainable, but for Dan Wheatly, he was done doing that.

Dan was introduced to the Spartan Races several years ago when his brother showed him a video of the race called the “Tough Mudder.”  This race is a team race that covers a distance of 10-12 miles with obstacles littering the pathway and requires a team to help get everyone through.

“I told him (my brother) that I was going to do that!  … and I realized that my entire life, I kept saying I was going to do stuff and I never did it. So that night I went home and got on his laptop and signed up.”

Now, these races are not easy. The obstacles are military level and require strength, endurance, and a decent amount of flexibility just to finish, never mind win.  Dan recalls when he first started getting ready for this race:

“I kind of passively trained. I ran the race and it was cool because I pushed myself both mentally and physically farther than I’ve ever pushed myself. But I ended up…we were on this one where the monkey bars go up (on an incline) and my upper body strength was really weak. I was a really scrawny kid and, never really trained in the gym, and I ended up falling after only getting two or three bars out, into the water below. I was really cold too! It was Utah, it was below 40 degrees, it was super cold, cold water.”

Dan did finish the race, but he was very disappointed in his performance and told his mother he did not want to do another one. He felt it was one of the dumbest things he had ever done and told his mother so. He says his mom just smiled and told him

“It (racing) is just like having a baby.  You have one, you say you’ll never do it again, but then you get right back in there.”

Eleven days after that first race Dan left to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years. For the entire time he was gone, the idea of going back and defeating the obstacle that he fell from kept circulating in his mind. He knew he hadn’t trained hard enough and he was sure that he could do better.

As soon as he returned from his mission, he got to work training every day at the gym to improve his strength and endurance. He then ran in another “Tough Mudder” race in Lake Tahoe, California.

“That had to have been one of the greatest moments of my life because I cleared that obstacle almost like it was nothing!  …and inside it felt like a huge victory.”

For Dan, that victory sparked a passion for these races. He reveled in the challenge to push himself to do better and better with each race. He wanted to continue to push his physical boundaries so he switched to the regular Spartan races, which is far more competitive, so he could go against a “higher caliber group of individuals.”

With the support of his family, Dan’s passion and determination to better himself has led him all over the US and more recently to Thailand where he ran in the Bangkok “Super” to complete and earn the Trifecta award, despite having suffered an ATFL tear in his ankle earlier this year.

The Trifecta is only earned when a competitor runs and finishes each of the different races in the Spartan series in one calendar year. The “Sprint” the “Super” and the “Beast”. Each race gets progressively more challenging with the “Beast” being the most difficult.

“I was determined to stand on the podium at Thailand,” Dan said, “So I knew I needed to just buckle down and do it”

Dan upped his training to three times a day, doing a combination of strength and endurance training to get to the level he needed to race and win against some of the toughest athletes in the world.

Of course at that level, injuries are bound to happen.  For Dan, he suffered an ATFL tear in his ankle when he joined The Utah County Trail Runners on a hike up Squaw Peak (in the Provo canyon) to celebrate New Year’s Day.  He was unaware that a hike up that mountain in the winter required a special shoe with “micro-spikes” on the bottom to prevent slipping on the ice and on the way back down, slipped and caught his foot on a patch of dirt that twisted his foot in the opposite direction his body fell.

Now an injury like that takes months to heal properly and Dan was devastated because it meant that he could possibly be unable to complete the races he needed to complete the Trifecta.

“All I could think about was, crap there go all my races” Dan recalls.

Determined to push forward, Dan was able to get off his crutches just two months after his injury and resumed his training.  His efforts paid off when he was able to run in the Bangkok Thailand race this year to complete his Trifecta.

When asked what advice he would give to anyone contemplating participating in the Spartan races Dan says,

“Do it.…There’s just something about Spartan racing that pushes you mentally and emotionally that makes you keep coming back”

Becoming more than what you are is never an easy thing.  It requires dedication, vision, fortitude, and strength to overcome the mental and physical blocks that hold us back.  Dan is one of those extraordinary-ordinary people that is constantly looking for ways to overcome his limitations and by doing so, he has shown the way for countless others to do so as well.


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