How One Single Mom Who Never Exercised Became a Spartan for Life

How One Single Mom Who Never Exercised Became a Spartan for Life
Presented by Spartan Training®

Spartan exists because of you: our community, one that stretches around the world across more than 40 countries. We know you are hurting, and we are confident that you have thoughts on how, together, we can transform tomorrow. We value every voice. We believe that to act, we first must listen. In Signed, a Spartan, we profile members from our community who have overcome adversity and become advocates for not just OCR, but the kind of transformation it can spur. These Spartans are helping guide the company into a new era of inclusivity — they are inspiring us all to be agents of change.

Finding Her Way to the Race

When Lajuana Woods first stumbled upon the Spartan booth with her kids at a Fitness Expo in Los Angeles in early 2018, she never thought she’d be completing a Sprint in Lebec, CA less than a year later — or that her son would finish a Kids race. Intimidated, she got some information about the races and left without signing up for anything. 

But the experience clearly planted a seed. She joined a gym shortly after and started working out for the first time in her life. A few months later, she returned to another Expo in Anaheim. This time, the 34-year-old ultrasound technician and single mom of two was by herself and drummed up the courage to practice some of the obstacles with the Spartan coach there. Encouraged, she signed up for a Stadium Series race. 

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She forgot her tracker and couldn’t get through the climb. “I had to do burpees!” she confesses, laughing. But she finished and was instantaneously addicted. “I felt strong and empowered, like I accomplished something BIG,” she says. “I felt like I was facing fears, I was proud.” Anyone who finishes a Spartan race is familiar with these feelings. But when you get to know Lani, as everyone calls her, it’s even more of an impressive accomplishment.

Overcoming Major Obstacles Along the Way

Lani and her two sisters grew up with their aunt and uncle in California City. Her mother abandoned them because she was an addict and her father had another family he spent most of his time with. They were poor — “We came from the 'have-nots" — and weren’t given a lot of athletic opportunities. “I was afraid to do certain sports,” she says. “It was a fear of failure more than anything.” Describing herself as really skinny, she felt her body type was the equivalent of weakness. 

When she turned 18, she moved out on her own and had her daughter, Leya. To support her, Lani hopped around jobs until resolving to go to school to become an ultrasound technician. She spent the next few years in Los Angeles before having her son, Jovon, in 2009. That’s when she started to get more active. “I would run with the stroller around our neighborhood, and take the kids to the park to work out,” she says. As they got older, Lani began taking them on hikes and got a family YMCA membership. “I didn’t want my kids to be afraid of being athletic, like I was,” she recalls.

But it wasn’t until 2019 that she finally extricated herself from an abusive relationship, relocated her family to Compton, and started racing for real. After she completed that first sprint, she was addicted. "It came from nowhere. I felt strong and wanted to take on more challenges," she says. She and her daughter did a 3x3 tournament in LA, and after that it was another race in Lebec with the whole family. "We train together. It gives us something to work towards," she says. "When you have intention, it’s more fun and keeps you active."

Finding Her Spartan Family Along the Way

As she did these races, Lani started discovering the Spartan community: She found the West Coast and Black Spartan groups on Facebook. "I found a lot of people who are helpful and supportive," she says. "Someone told me you can volunteer, so I started doing that to help with the expense of the races."  At one of those races, she was inspired to create her latest endeavor: a podcast devoted to telling the stories of injured and adaptive athletes called Unrelenting Humans. "There was a kid at the race in Chino who did the entire thing in his wheelchair, he didn't want any help. That was so inspirational," she says. "You never know who is going to motivate and inspire you to get through that hard time."

Lani needed that support herself after she injured her ACL during her last race in October. She listened to the Spartan Up! podcast and found her own motivation. "A lot of these elite athletes were older," she says, "and it inspired me to do physical therapy and get back out there."

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And she did, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic: She completed Spartan's virtual challenge in February and, most recently, she participated in a Strava race that was run in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, the unarmed, 25-year-old black man who was shot to death while jogging in February. "When I saw how many people of all races were willing to do it, it was just beautiful," she says. "It was 2.3 miles, which was as many miles as he ran before he got killed. No tolerance for hate – just love, mud, and pure grit!"

It's that spirit in which Lani shared her desire to inspire Spartan to be more diverse and inclusive, advocating for more accessibility in inner city areas so that kids can have the opportunity to race. "We’re all proud to be Spartans, but to be able to identify our uniqueness would be great," she says. "We’re all in this together. I respect you, you respect me. Let’s just all race."

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