Spartan Spirit Awards: How Spartan Prepared Jennifer Herring for Her Family's Toughest Moments
This month, we launched the Spartan Spirit Awards, celebrating the people who truly embody the key Spartan values: grit, determination, and perseverance. To celebrate Mother’s Day, this month’s Spirit Awards winners are all superhero Spartan moms who navigate life’s obstacles—and help their families do so, too—every day. Find out what they have to say about their personal journeys.
As a business owner and the mom to three kids, Jennifer Herring, 47, from Randolph, NJ, is no stranger to juggling priorities and thriving in the face of a hectic schedule. But, as is the case with so many women, Herring eventually pushed her own self-care to the back burner.
“I had always enjoyed working out and being healthy, but, at a certain point, kids and work had taken over my life,” says Herring. She became worn out, overweight, and started struggling with ulcerative colitis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the colon and needs to be managed with constant medication.
Her wake-up call came in the form of a boot camp class led by a Spartan Elite racer. She felt like dying, Herring recalls, and that’s when she decided enough was enough—she had to make a change. She started training regularly, and eventually starting racing Spartans herself.
And then her world crashed to a halt.
Her father, who had been healthy at 74, contracted ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a degenerative neurological disease. And while medication and therapy can slow the effects of ALS, it’s incurable. Herring and her family were devastated. But it was Herring’s Spartan training that kept her strong in the toughest moments, both emotionally and physically—she was the only sibling strong enough to lift her father into and out of bed during his final months as the disease took over.
We sat down with Herring to talk about her journey through grief, how working her physical body helped her take on life’s heartaches and curveballs, and her best advice for other busy moms trying to do the same thing.
SPARTAN RACE: When did you decide to make a change in your life toward health? JENNIFER HERRING: When my youngest was a year old, I went to a boot camp class at a local gym and felt like I was going to die. I hired the instructor that day, elite racer Jason Moss, as my personal trainer and began working out with him at home or doing his programmed workouts when I was on the road. Jason informed me that my goal was to run the Citizens Bank ballpark sprint in 2013. I said, ‘No way can I do that!’ But, I did it and it was the most physically demanding thing I had ever done. (Seriously, giving birth to three children was easier.) Once again, during the race, I felt like I would die. I could not do any of the obstacles and that was frustrating to me, so I became hooked and determined to conquer all of them. Since then, I’ve done about 50 Spartan Races, including my first Ultra Beast in NJ, April of 2017, which was something I could never have imagined I could be capable of doing.
SR: How did your training impact your family? What challenges did you face? JH: Initially, I limited training to times when I wasn’t working and didn’t need to be caring for my kids. My husband doesn’t train with me, but as the stay-at-home parent has always been very supportive of my goals. I started traveling in 2016 all over the country to do races, which was not very popular in my house. The kids missed me, and laundry and dust piled up. I missed being at some of their events but over time they realized how much happier it made me and how much stronger I was getting.
SR: Your mother was not in favor of your OCR goals for a while. Why? JH: My mom and dad are very traditional and thought I should always be home with the kids. They just thought I was crazy for doing these races, crazy for going back to it after I got hurt, crazy because I hate dirt and mud, crazy for not putting the kids first all the time. They thought I was spending too much time away from them and didn’t understand why I needed to race so much. But at my father’s funeral, my mother said to me, “Now I understand it all. You became a nurse so you would know what to do when daddy was sick, and a Spartan to have the strength for when we needed it the most in those horrible last few days.”
SR: What was getting your dad’s diagnosis like for you? JH: I had gotten a call right before I took on the NJ Ultra Beast in 2017 that he was sick and that ALS was the likely diagnosis. He was an active, healthy man who at 74 years old had just sold the business he had owned my whole life to retire and do all the things he loved full-time. He was getting weak, stumbling when he was walking and was losing strength in his hands and arms. I got my determination and grit from my dad, and I persevered for over 13 hours on that mountain thinking of nothing but him and how strong Spartan taught me to be. There was no way I wasn’t finishing that race.
I flew home with that UB buckle and finisher shirt the next week to be with him and my mom when he got the final diagnosis that it was ALS. I could only stay a few days as I needed to get home to work. Being a nurse and not able to be there to care of him all the time was heartbreaking for me.
SR: How did what you learned from Spartan help you in caring for him? JH: When I was at the 2017 Vermont Beast, I got that dreaded call I needed to come home. I finished that race and flew home the next day, and what I saw when I got there was not the daddy I remembered. He was frail, weak and suffering. He needed 24/7 care and my mother had been doing it all herself with help from my brother who also had two small kids. He became totally dependent on us, but I was the only one there who could pick him up to get him in and out of bed, or to the shower and the bathroom. Gradually that week, as he got worse and worse, I was able to use both the mental and physical strength being a Spartan gave me to do what was truly the hardest thing I had ever done: watching my father die. I lifted him from his chair back into his bed for the last time on Saturday, September 23, and he passed away the next day.
SR: How does being a mother and a Spartan racer play into who you are as a person today? JH: Being a Spartan racer shapes nearly everything about who I am as a person today. Eating healthy and making training a priority keeps me sane and in my best health so I can take care of my family while also being the working parent in our house. Being the mother and breadwinner is an incredibly stressful existence. Spartan racing is my outlet. I have become so much stronger both physically and mentally, allowing me to be very successful in my job so my husband can continue to stay at home with the kids.
SR: What are your favorite things about Spartan racing? What about the toughest? JH: My favorite thing about Spartan racing is the community — the friends I have made and all the people I have met along the way. I have so many special people in my life now that I would’ve never had known because of Spartan. Spartan racing is hard but it is so fun, learning new obstacles and conquering them continuously remind me that I can do more than I think I can. Finding the time to train is still tough. Running is very physically hard for me. I struggle to run at a pace that would really put me in a place to podium in my age group and that frustrates me.
SR: What advice would you give to busy moms who are also trying to juggle their own health? What really works for you to be able to stay on top of everything? JH: I have learned to choose my battles every day. That means the house is not always as clean, every load of laundry is not done and sometimes we just don’t make it all the places we are supposed to be. Life goes on, and all of that becomes something that just did not matter!
Meal prepping has made a big difference for me in being able to keep my eating healthy. We keep a shared family calendar where everyone is responsible for putting his or her activities on it so we can prioritize where we need to be. My gym and racing time is on there.
I don’t feel that I am different than the thousands of other moms out there! We need to take care of each other, build each other up, race together, celebrate together and be together in the hard times.
Think you know someone who deserves the Spartan Spirit Award? Any gender, any age, nominate them! And remember, each month, we’ll be spotlighting new honorees across Spartan.com and our social channels.