After a photo of John and Rachel Wolf kissing following a plunge under the Tennessee Sprint Dunk Wall went viral in 2018 (dubbing them the “Dunk Wall Kissers”), John proposed to his then-girlfriend after the same obstacle in the 2019 West Virginia Beast. The couple had then planned to tie the knot in a rather unconventional way: Running the 2020 Charlotte Sprint in full wedding attire as Spartan’s first-ever wedding party heat, culminating at the Dunk Wall.
Like most plans and events scheduled for 2020, their dream race wedding ended up being canceled due to COVID-19. But that didn’t stop this unbreakable Spartan couple from getting hitched in the most fitting fashion, or from continuing to be unbreakable in all that they do. The Wolfs were married in a makeshift Spartan course wedding, and eventually followed through with their promise of crushing a race in their original attire, when they marked their one-year anniversary at the 2021 Ohio Beast.
Here’s a look at how John and Rachel Wolf have been so successful at both Spartan and their relationship — treating life’s obstacles the same way they treat the ones on the course … together.
"Just Friends" for 15 Years
Nearly 20 years ago, John and Rachel became friends doing somersaults down a hill in the pouring rain at a party together. But that was all the relationship was for awhile — friends. While the two kept in touch and saw each other out and about from time to time, John had gotten married and Rachel was focused on her career in law enforcement.
In May 2016, Rachel was injured in the line of duty when a car collided head-on with her police cruiser. John, then divorced and newly into OCR, reached out to Rachel to see if she’d be up for the challenge in both 2016 and 2017, but she was still recovering from multiple surgeries as a result of her accident. They decided to attend a hockey game instead — just to catch up — and that was the end of the “just friends” narrative for the two.
“It was just a connection like no other,” Rachel said. “After the game we were talking on the phone until two in the morning and we just knew there was something there. So we decided to do our first official date the next night, and that’s all she wrote. It was just natural love.”
Taking a Spartan Turn
As their relationship got stronger, so did Rachel’s health. When John finally got his girlfriend racing with him, they fell in love with OCR together. That’s when he knew he had to propose.
“It had to be different, we’re odd people,” John joked. “We both love the sport, but she had no clue anything was going to happen. Rachel kind of got mad at me before we did it because I wasn’t helping her out of the mud, but it was because I had the ring on my finger. I dropped down to one knee and just the look on her face, it still brings tears to my eyes.”
A Ceremony Unlike Any Other
In 2020, the couple planned to run the Charlotte Sprint in a private heat surrounded by family and friends (who were also to wear wedding gear) during which — at the Dunk Wall — there would have been a full ceremony before they finished the rest of the race. Rachel’s father, who was then in declining health, was due to walk her down the aisle. They were fully prepared to face all of the elements on their dream day.
“When I was trying my dress on, I had to keep in mind that I was going to be running an obstacle course in it,” Rachel said. “Every dress I tried on, I was doing pull-ups on the back of the dressing room door. The David’s Bridal salespeople did NOT know how to take me.”
With the future of Rachel’s father’s health uncertain (and Rachel being her father’s final daughter to marry), the pair was devastated by the cancellation of their race. And at the end of April, a derecho caused severe damage to their property. But being Spartans, the Tennesseans — who happen to have constructed their own version of Spartan obstacles in their backyard — found a silver lining and persevered.
A reimagined version of their dream wedding took place on June 6, 2020 at their home, featuring family, friends, and a 40-acre obstacle course race designed in the shape of a heart with “Wolf” cut out of it. They even used downed trees from the storm as centerpieces, cutting pieces of wood into candleholders and a cake stand. The couple climbed a cargo net once Rachel’s father gave her away, got married on a 12-foot platform, and ziplined down afterward.
“It was still in my heart that I wanted to get that dress muddy,” Rachel said. “We knew my dad was only hanging on — for the most part — for our wedding. Right after the wedding, his health took a major decline and he passed away in September 2020. June 6 was like his last happy day that we had with him, and we’re very, very happy and appreciative of that.”
Celebrating One Year of Marriage (and an Obstacle-Laden Life)
Since marrying John, Rachel has retired from the police force and become a Spartan SGX Coach, holding classes on the training facility in their backyard. The two plan to expand John’s landscaping business into pressure washing as well, and are even in the process of building a house. Amidst all of the excitement, the 2021 Ohio Spartan Trifecta Weekend came at the perfect time to celebrate their anniversary in the way that they had always intended.
“I was out there smiling as big as I can, just with the camaraderie and the positive vibes that you have from all the other runners,” Rachel said. “We’ve had guys and girls say, ‘This is relationship goals. This is what I want to do when I find that perfect somebody.’”
Both Wolfs agreed that a Spartan race anniversary lived up to every expectation that they had. They even plan to have their honeymoon at the 2022 Hawaii Trifecta Weekend. Throughout every challenge life has thrown at them, there have always been two constants — each other, and Spartan races. And neither of the racers sees that changing any time soon.
“Spartan is like life,” John said. “When you’re on the course you have so many obstacles to overcome, and you kind of bring that into your everyday life. When you wake up in the morning, the first obstacle is just getting out of bed. Making relationships work, making the obstacles on the course work, I think it’s just two peas in a pod right there.
“The Spartan family you get, you grow so close to them. Rachel and I grow so much closer when we’re out there together or when we’re spending the day together. It’s so surreal to get to do this with her and overcome every obstacle that we face together.”
“Life throws you obstacles, but we adapt to it, we overcome, and we move forward,” Rachel said. “Just because you have a hurdle in your way, doesn’t mean that it stops you. To have him by my side motivating me through every recovery and to have that partner in life that’s willing to do that with you, it’s your best friend and it’s your soulmate.”