With our Spartan Spirit Awards, we celebrate people who embody the key Spartan values of grit, determination, and perseverance. “Spartan Sundays” team co-founders Ismael Torres and Sean Thomas are motivating an entire community to get fit and constantly improve.
“The race mimics life. If there’s an obstacle you have to get over, put up your hand and ask God and your community to help you. Then, you will persevere.” — Ismael (“Ish”) Torres
On any given Sunday, in either the basement or auditorium of the Kingsboro Temple of Seventh-day Adventists in Brooklyn, you’ll find a group of 40 or 50 Spartans working out. Their ages range from 4 to 73 years old — some are budding athletes, some are elite trainees, and others are bouncing back from injuries. One thing they have in common, though: They're all there to get better, together, as a part of a self-proclaimed movement called Spartan Sundays.
The two-hour workouts are designed by the team’s co-founder, Sean Thomas, who is a physical therapist and former track and field athlete at Brown University. The training sessions vary weekly. One week, they may do cardio and dance, then Tabata intervals another week, or a more Spartan-style workout that involves battle ropes, buckets, and tires and weights. There’s one constant, though — the smiles on the faces of Spartan Sundays members.
Thomas and Ismael “Ish” Torres started training together in 2011 to motivate themselves to try an obstacle course race. Shortly after, they decided to share their newfound passion with their community and grew their Spartan Sundays team to 220 participants. Torres handles the social media and Thomas, as we stated above, is the exercise leader. He even wrote a book, Be More Today, based on the spiritual lessons and fitness knowledge he has developed from this experience. It’s a pleasure to award the Spartan Spirit Award to the Spartan Sundays founders and their team.
We caught up with the duo to learn more about them and the impact that Spartan Sundays has on their community.
A Whim That Turned Into a Life's Mission
SPARTAN RACE: So how did the Spartan Sundays group get started?
ISH TORRES: It started out as a conversation between Sean and me. I said, “We have to do something crazy so I’ll be able to do a marathon after I’m 40.” I’m an IT guy, but I’m also a former basketball player and Sean is a former track and field athlete, so having a sport with real goals, like Spartan, appealed to us. We did the Tuxedo, NY Sprint in 2011 with a group of eight people and it just blossomed from there.
SEAN THOMAS: At first, we didn’t know much about Spartan so we were scared of it. We trained by doing basic, grassroots stuff. The first Sprint was really fun and it gave us momentum. We wanted to involve more people in our community, so eight people became 25, and on and on. We were trying everything to get our group in shape, even Tony Horton videos. We did the Tuxedo Sprint four years in a row and kept attracting new people. At first, it was just people in our church, but then we opened it up to others.
IT: Every year we had a motivational theme, like “You Vs. You,” or “More Than Conquerors.” Some of us worked up to Supers, Beasts, even Trifectas. It was scary for members, but we tackled challenges as a team. Word got out about the workouts in the church basement.
Inspiring Spartans at Every Level of Fitness
SR: What’s the age range of your squad?
IT: The oldest Spartan in our group is 73. A member we call “Spartan Pam” is in her 50s and doing double Trifectas this year. Even the kids join in. Sean’s daughter, Sonali, who is 5, just did her first Spartan race last year. My son, Canaan, who is 4, will do his first race this spring.
SR: What’s the training like?
ST: I’ve combined my experience in track and field, physical therapy, professional dance, and Spartan races into the workouts. It changes weekly but always involves some element of injury prevention and exercises that mimic Spartan challenges. We have an elite Spartan athlete, Charles Vassallo, mentor our team on how to conquer obstacles like the A-frame and the spear throw. He volunteers because he’s motivated by the same things we are.
IT: Sean has done a great job of taking the intimidation factor away. What makes it work for everyone is the modifications. There is a type of exercise every member can do.
An Extended Family That Stays Fit Together
SR: Can you recall your favorite Spartan moment?
ST: My mom, who is 63, and I did the Blue Mountain (Palmerton) Sprint together last year. There is a picture of us jumping over the fire together, holding hands. I helped her overcome a knee problem to do this. She has guided me through life, so it meant so much for me to lead her through this race.
IT: My role in a Spartan Race is often to stay with some of the slower runners and motivate them. At Blue Mountain last year, there was a lake we had to cross. Some of the runners were scared of the water so I carried them over on my back. To see all those people who were new to Spartan cross the finish line, having overcome so much, was my best moment.
SR: What does it mean to you to help your community get fit?
IT: People in the U.S. are getting slower, bigger, sicker, and more injured on a yearly basis. We are also a “majority-minority” fitness group. I’m Puerto Rican, and Sean is African American and Caribbean. The food around us can have a lot of salt and fat; high blood pressure is rampant. If we can do our bit to help our community be healthier, that’s meaningful.
ST: Our group is part of our church’s health ministry, so once a month we have doctors and others come to talk. We have weekly challenges, which can be to get 7-9 hours of sleep or to do 30 burpees a day. We strive to give people the knowledge to make healthier choices.
SR: When is your next Spartan Race?
IT: A small group of us will do the Beast in Vernon, NJ in April. We have made it mandatory for the entire group to do the Tuxedo, NY Sprint this year, so we will be coming full circle. We have created a family from this thing. All are welcome.
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