Last spring, we launched the Spartan Spirit Awards to recognize members of our community who embody Spartan’s key values of grit, determination, and perseverance. For the first time, we’re awarding the Spirit Award to a family, the Landis', consisting of Caleb Landis and his children, Tommy, age 4, and Victoria, age 2.
On September 9, 2018, Caleb Landis lost his wife, Erin Joy Landis, to a rare type of Renal cell carcinoma. She was only 29. In a period of profound grief, Caleb got connected to the Spartan community. The race became a way for him to demonstrate to himself that he can push through the pain and find the positive, to celebrate his faith in God, and to keep his kids engaged in something uplifting.
Caleb trained by putting in many “stroller miles”--pulling his children, Victoria and Tommy, in a cart behind him. He was by Tommy’s side as the 4-year-old competed in his first Spartan kids race earlier this year. The Landis family recently returned from their third Spartan, the North Lake Tahoe World Championship. We had the chance to talk with Caleb about losing his wife, finding his footing, and how Spartan became a path forward for the Landis Family.
Landis Family Q&A: Caleb on How Spartan Helped Him
Spartan Race: How did you come to Spartan racing? Caleb Landis: I didn’t have a history with Spartan before this year. While Erin was engaged in the fight of her life, friends put together a t-shirt fundraiser in our community called “Erin Strong” to help cover some of her hospital bills. After my wife passed, I heard about Spartan from my friends Chris Abbott and Daniel Fosse, and the three of us formed a team called “Erin Strong” to honor my wife’s memory. We competed last July in Palmerton and that was my first Spartan Race.
SR: What state of mind were you and the children in after your wife’s passing? CL: We were heartbroken. I can’t put into words what it’s been like to lose my wife. She was my whole world. We had been together since I was 16 and she was 14. We had been married for 9 years. Her presence in my life was almost indescribable. Being her husband was an honor that could only have come from God. Losing her was something I’d never imagined. The kids miss their Mommy so much, but we are believing Christians, so we have faith that we will persevere and someday we will see her again [in Heaven].
SR: What is it about Spartan that has been helpful in this time of grief and healing? CL: The culture of camaraderie and competition at Spartan is so rare. I have been a competitive person my whole life. I was a competitive soccer player, a snowboarder and a road racer. My wife was also a fierce competitor. She was known in the pageant world and won the title of Mrs. Pennsylvania America and Mrs. Pennsylvania International. She was also an ambassador for Roxy Team Free Skiing. Spartan is a different kind of competition. When you are on the trail at Spartan, the competition is high-level, yet there is a family of support that steps in around you. People urge you to go forward. It’s not cutthroat. We all make sure we’re doing our best. It’s powerful to be in a tightly knit group of people focused on an identical thing.
SR: As a single parent taking care of two children, how do you find time to train? CL: I have an incredible support system in my parents and Erin’s parents. My family recognized I had to get out to run--to clear my head and change my mentality--so they helped me. Now I like to involve the kids in my Spartan training. We’ve got a lot of stroller miles under our belt. I push my babies in a cart or a stroller. Our record is 13 miles with the cart, but my son Tommy wants me push to 27 miles. How he came up with the number, I will never know! Before he could officially compete, we were setting up obstacle courses in the backyard, so he and my daughter could train like Daddy.
SR: We heard Tommy was amazing in his first race. When did he start racing and what has it meant to him? CL: Tommy’s first race was at the West Virginia course. I’d signed up for the race, and I figured if we were driving 8 hours, he should get to compete in the Junior’s race too. He is crazy competitive, like his Mommy and Daddy. Tommy is 4. The age group he raced with starts at 4 and goes up to 11 or 12. When he got to the gate, he looked around and told me “Dad, I don’t want to do this!” But he overcame his fear and did great. He weighs 33 pounds and some of the sandbags on the course weight 30 pounds, so I did the course beside him and helped him with the sandbags. He was the first 4-year old to finish that race. The moment my daughter turns 4 she will be at her first Spartan race. Watch out for her. She is fierce, like her mother.
SR: What has Spartan taught you about perseverance? CL: When I think about Spartan, I think about the drive my wife, Erin, had. Spartan is a unique platform that lets you give it your all and show yourself what you can do. It reminds me I need to press on. We have to finish. I need to be strong for my wife and for our babies. I’m doing what I can in the hopes our story will inspire others. Honestly, it’s my trust in God and his continued goodness that allows me to keep going.
SR: What’s your advice for someone dealing with the loss of a spouse? CL: Even if your grief and pain seem insurmountable, God has a plan for you. There is hope. There is a future. When you have trust in God you can see all of the blessings along with the pain. I was super blessed to have Erin as my wife... We talk about Mommy’s tenacity when we race. We talk about her every day, and in that way, and in the lives she changed, she stays with us always.