Saturday, August 6, 2016. That was the date that Candice Day had marked on the calendar to take her own life. But she never did. Instead, Candice spent that Saturday volunteering at the 2016 Spartan Portland Sprint to earn a free race of her own. Six years later, she launched her own OCR-related business. This is how daring to challenge death brought Candice Day back to life.
From the Place That Raises Tough People
Candice was born and raised in Montana — "a place that raises tough people," as she says. But her family moved around a lot when she was younger, and Candice quickly became addicted to traveling. So, when the opportunity to move 3,000 miles away to attend school in Hawaii presented itself, she jumped at the chance, buying a one-way ticket and packing her bags.
After escaping the northern cold to earn her first degree, Candice returned home to Montana with her spouse to start a family and begin pursuing a master's degree. But soon after — due to military spouse life — she found herself relocating to Washington state's West Coast. Seemingly overnight, Candice was thousands of miles from her family and friends, studying heavily once again and trying tirelessly to find a job and volunteer enough to fill her resume. But this time around, making matters even harder, she was raising two children nearly entirely on her own.
"The struggle was real," she said.
In 2001, the native Montanian tragically experienced a full-term stillbirth. After such a devastating loss, she had vowed to live her life to the very fullest — from traveling to new places to jumping out of airplanes. (And she had, for years.) But when she relocated to Washington and eliminated any semblance of free time or self-care, Candice's mental and physical health suffered greatly, leading to an overwhelming feeling of isolation and a loss of identity.
"My self-worth was just so low," she said. "I looked in the mirror and I didn't like the person I saw. Any mother will tell you that when something's got to give, it's usually going to be you. I was the last one to be taken care of, and that included mental health.
"So, I went about preparing my life to end, including getting a will written and marking the calendar."
The Wake-Up Call She Didn't Know She Needed
When she was at her lowest mental and physical state, someone incredibly close to Candice told her, "I don't think that you are tough enough."
"That lit a fire in my belly," Candice — a semipro boxing champion who already had an extended background in track and field — said. "It was like a wake-up call that I had lost myself."
Candice immediately went to her local gym, purchased a membership and, with the help of her "tough as nails" female trainer, Anita, signed up and completed her first Spartan race solo — the 2016 Seattle Super — following a five-year sedentary existence and only two months of training.
"The conditions couldn't have been worse," she said.
Despite tearing her calf muscle just 2 miles into the nearly 9-mile race, Candice crossed the finish line.
"I started the race thinking that I was going to prove to him that I am tough enough," she said. "I was dragging my leg like a zombie off of the course, and I think it took me close to five hours. But when I finished the race, it was no longer about that person. And in that moment when I crossed the finish line, I just thought, 'No one can take this from me.'"
Finding Her Tribe
After years of geographic and social isolation, Candice wasn't training and racing to prove a point. She was doing it for the community and camaraderie, for the strangers who help each other on the course and change each other's lives.
"I found my tribe," Candice said. "I met complete strangers out on the course and I'd talk with them — we'd share stories — and you end up next to them for a long time helping each other through stuff. Through the struggle, you bond with each other and either end up with lifelong friends, or just momentary friends that you never forget.
"When you see that, you realize that people really do care. And when you realize that people really do care, then you realize that your life matters to someone, too."
Candice's son and daughter began to tag along, participating in Spartan Kids races. Sharing a love for the sport with her kids, she said, has helped to bring them closer together as a family, and has provided an outlet for all of their energy — especially in the pandemic's earliest days — as they like to play "pretend Spartan races" around their home.
After Seattle, she completed two more races that year. In 2017 — a year Candice hadn't intended to even live to see — that number doubled. The next year, it tripled. And by the end of 2021, Candice had finished over 30 Spartan races, including an Open Beast heat at the 2021 Spartan World Championship in Abu Dhabi. (She even raced in an Age Group heat at the 2019 Spartan World Championship in North Lake Tahoe, and would have finished had she not experienced hypothermia after declining Spartan staff's invitation to drop out of the race. Instead, she pushed through the high-altitude 45-degree swim and ran down the mountain.)
Finding the Key to Curing Loneliness
Since she began racing and regained a fervent will to live, Candice — a realtor and project management professional (PMP) with an MBA, a certificate of entrepreneurship, and years of experience offering free consulting to assist small businesses — has focused on building a life that allows her to fulfill her passion for racing. But at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed that gym closures and event cancellations were adversely affecting a lot of people that rely on athletics as a means of therapy, herself included.
"Loneliness is not cured by a text message," she said. "That feeling of not being alone, or of being part of a community, comes from face-to-face, personal interaction. I wanted to be able to bring that back to the OCR community, but also provide a place for them to take it to the next level, both physically and mentally."
Candice did just that. She launched her own business, Warpaint Warrior Retreat, a three-day, three-night fitness workshop timed to coincide with obstacle course racing events. The goal is to provide athletes with the tools they need to foster the mindset of a warrior.
Each day at the retreat is represented by one of the workshop's title words. Day 1, "Warpaint," helps athletes prepare their mindset for tackling the challenge ahead. When Candice first began racing Age Group, some of her Beasts OCR teammates inspired her to decorate her face with warpaint to boost her confidence. What began as an attempt to diminish her insecurities about feeling inferior to other racers quickly became a source of personal power and strength. She noticed this same ritual existed in ancient warrior cultures, and felt compelled to bring it to the workshop.
On Day 2, "Warrior," participants attend their race together as a team, akin to going to battle. And on Day 3, "Retreat," racers reflect on their accomplishment with recovery techniques, guided meditations, and more. Plus, because many races occur on history-rich lands — including her home state of Montana and current state, Hawaii — Candice welcomes cultural experts, spiritual advisors, and storytellers to share their knowledge with her athletes and help them feel more connected to the land they're racing on.
Choose Your Own Hard ... by Doing More Burpees
Training wasn't easy for Candice. Neither was racing all over the globe, raising her kids and supporting her family, getting her master's degree, or starting a business. But it didn't matter, because "easy" was never in the cards for her — a realization she had long before marking a large X on August 6, 2016.
"Life was already hard," she said. "I was prepared to die. And it's not that my life has gotten easier — it definitely has not — but I had a choice in that moment: Embrace the depression that was already consuming me, or embrace the challenge of overcoming it."
When Candice first started racing, someone told her (in reference to the 30-burpee penalty that accompanies failed Spartan obstacles) that if she did more burpees during training, she'd end up doing less burpees out on the course. That advice, she said, can be incredibly effective in life, both literally and figuratively.
"If you have a wall in your life, just keep trying to get over that wall," she said. "Eventually, you will be strong enough to get over it."
But aside from more burpees, Candice's most foolproof tactic for feeling grateful to be alive is to take responsibility for your life by consistently challenging yourself to face death.
"You have to take action in your life," she said. "I often tell people who are depressed, 'Go swim with sharks. Go jump out of an airplane. Go hike a volcano.' Because in that, it will actually help you come alive.
"I had to take responsibility and realize that I wasn't making myself a priority. And the more that I challenged death, the more I lived and fell in love with life."