Eyes follow them as they come out into the stadium. Not just because they’re all decked out in matching t-shirts, nor because — like any group of well-trained, fit Spartans — they’re full of energy, eager to get the race going. The heads turn because at least a third of Coach Partridge’s group are amputees.
But while Partridge notes that, “Some people might stare,” he’s emphatic about one thing: “We don’t really notice because we’re racers, just like everyone else there. We’re able and strong and we’ve come to compete and do what we’ve trained for. It’s a Spartan race, after all: We’re there to do our best.”
The coach himself is also an amputee. Close to 15 years ago, the then-special education teacher from Albany, NY discovered that he had been hobbling on a fractured talus bone in his left ankle.
“It’s a rare injury and very difficult to heal,” he says.
The next six years were colored by increasing hospital surgeries and incapacitating pain.
“I had six surgeries, but even then the pain that remained was such that my leg was still not usable," Partridge says. "The only solution left was amputation.”
On Sept. 24, 2014, he went ahead with a below-knee amputation and almost immediately after the surgery, felt like he got his life back.
In fact, within two weeks Partridge found himself in the gym. He had regularly exercised before his ankle injury, and if the last six years had blown the whistle on his workouts, he was determined that the next six years would not.
“At the time, I had no idea that I would find myself and my life again in the gym, but that’s what happened,” he says.
When an opportunity to change his job came up, it was a no-brainer for Partridge: He changed his entire career path instead and, within a year, became a personal trainer.
“I really do believe that going to the gym and working out was how I overcame all that happened,” he says. “So, I chose to become a personal trainer to help other amputees get on with their lives too.”
Facing a Lack of Education for Amputees
And the coach is serious about the work that needs to happen for that to be achieved.
“I love to get the amputees in the gym within two weeks of their surgery,” he says. “There isn’t a lot of education for amputees out there. But anyone who has just lost their leg in an accident needs to know that they can still be very physical and live a very normal life.
"The sooner they come to me, the sooner we can start preparing their body for their prosthetic and getting them strong. If you sit in a wheelchair for six to eight weeks and then get a prosthetic, magic isn’t going to happen. The prosthetic is only a tool. It's a great tool, but that’s all. And you need to be ready to use it.”
In the six years since he became certified as a personal trainer, Partridge has opened up his training studio in Upstate New York, aptly called Leg Up On Fitness. He also became certified as an Adaptive Trainer and a Spartan SGX Coach, training amputees both in his studio and virtually across the country.
Alongside his professional success, Partridge has personally developed as an endurance athlete. He now regularly runs 10Ks, half-marathons, and has even completed the Ragnar Relay Series, a race boasting a total distance of 320 kilometers (approximately 200 miles).
He’s also a dedicated Spartan, with 18 Spartan events under his belt (including two in-person Trifectas and two virtual Trifectas, ticked off throughout 2020). Most recently, the amputee coach completed a Sprint at Killington.
“By far the hardest course I’ve ever done!” he laughs.
Starting the Spartan Journey
But he wasn't always a Spartan. Partridge's journey to becoming part of the community happened early on in his business.
“One evening, a gentleman came into the gym and said he used to be in great shape, running marathons and Tough Mudder events," he says. "And, although he was overweight and completely out of shape, he now dreamed of doing OCR again.
“I said that if he came and trained with me, not only would I help him prepare for the race, but I would do it with him. Of course, I had no idea what a Tough Mudder was, so while I was training him, I also had to figure out how to train myself!”
That summer, Coach Partridge and his client completed the race successfully and the former realized that he had found a sport he loved.
“But I did feel that with a Tough Mudder you kind of need a team to do it, which can be hard to organize,” he says, “And so I started doing Spartan races instead because while you can work with a team in a Spartan race, the obstacles are really set out to challenge the individual.”
Competing as an individual has been far from a lonely experience, however.
“I do a lot of these races on my own, but I’ve never felt alone on the course," Partridge says. "I have a zillion conversations with a zillion different interesting people, or I see people that I’ve met before in other races. You can start a Spartan race on your own, but you never finish a Spartan race on your own. That’s the truth.”
The coach’s love of Spartan began to sweep into his training sessions with his clients.
“I was always talking about the races, and my clients became interested and wanted to try them,” he says.
However, when it came to his amputee clients, not all of them felt secure enough to compete. Often, he had to work hard to convince them that they were ready to do this.
“Spartan races had empowered me, so I knew that once I got them through their first Spartan race that they would also feel very empowered — and that could change their lives," he says.
His perseverance paid off, and he has since trained dozens of amputees to compete in Spartan races all over the country. His clients’ success rate is such that he notes, “I have never had anybody get to the finish line and not be anything but out-of-their-mind-delighted and wanting to know when we’re doing the next one.”
Though training for amputees includes Spartan-specific exercises such as bucket-carrying, bear crawls, and wall climbing, these are weaved into workouts devised for the particular needs of an amputee athlete.
“With amputees, it’s important to work the muscles that stabilize the body,” Partridge says. “So I work a lot on the lateral stabilizer muscles at the hip, the glutes, and the core.”
But he does have other recommendations for any amputees planning on completing a Spartan race.
“First and foremost, build endurance,” he advises. “I built endurance for my first OCR by doing 100 burpees a day, so do burpees, ball slams, push-ups, bicycle crunches — anything that’s quickly going to get your heart rate up and build endurance is necessary.”
His second recommendation? Learn to live without fear.
“Whether that fear is being visible wearing shorts or being seen without your leg on, or whether it is a fear of not completing the obstacles, that fear will hold you back,” he says. “I tell my clients that there’s no Spartan Police! I tell them, you just have to do your best and if you can’t complete an obstacle, you burpee it out and move on.
"There’s no reason why you can’t do your best,” he says. “Just like everyone else on the course.”
In fact, Darryl mentions one of his virtual clients, a female amputee with both legs and an arm missing, who is currently training for an Ironman.
“So many amputees are not taught that they can still accomplish goals after amputation, and that’s the education I’m trying to bring to my clients," Partridge explains. "My life was returned to me after amputation, and I don’t even give my leg a thought when I’m doing things or going places now.
"I made myself strong and capable, and anyone who has got one leg, two legs, or how many, can do the same.”
Any Spartan interested in training with or contacting Coach Partridge can do so at leguponfitness.com.