With our Spartan Spirit Awards, we celebrate the people who embody the key Spartan values: grit, determination, and perseverance. This week’s Spirit Award winner, Tommy Lundgren, set his sights on the Spartan Ultra to stay strong through treatment for brain cancer.
“Training for the Spartan race gave me the motivation to keep going, every day.” — Tommy Lundgren
Our most recent Spartan Spirit Award Winner, Tommy Lundgren, a firefighter and Head of Maintenance at The Holiday Club in Åre, Sweden, used his training for the Spartan Ultra World Championships as a way to keep his mind, body and spirit functioning as he endured chemotherapy and other treatment for a cancerous brain tumor. In the summer of 2016, Tommy passed out in a water park he was visiting with his family. A few days later, he had an MRI and was diagnosed with a brain tumor in a region of the brain that initiates thoughts for motor function. His first surgery was successful, but the tumor returned. After a second surgery in 2018, Tommy decided that he would train for, and finish, the Spartan Ultra World Championship race, held at The Holiday Club in his beautiful hometown of Åre, Sweden (Nov 8-10). Tommy’s preparation for this 30-mile race (six laps of 28 obstacles), during the most exhausting time of his life, is a testament to his strength of will.
SPARTAN RACE: How did you decide to train for an Ultra in the midst of treatment for a brain tumor?
TOMMY LUNDGREN: After radiation last winter, I had a hard time motivating myself to train. I decided to set a goal that it would be impossible to reach without training, so that I would have to get out of bed and move. So my goal this last half of this year was to never stop training for Spartan because I was going to make it, no matter what. I had a rough time over the summer when I was undergoing chemotherapy. There would be 5 days of pills and a few days afterwards when I felt sick, but I had made a promise to myself, so I kept moving.
Tommy Lundgren's Spartan Grit
SR: Were you an athlete before Spartan?
TL: I played Rugby in my youth, and I have trained all my life. I did one other OCR (obstacle course race) in the past, but nothing of the magnitude of the Spartan Ultra.
SR: How did you train?
TL: I did a lot of uphill running in the mountains of Åre. I had a pretty good idea of where the course would be located, and I trained there. The only time I didn’t have any thoughts about the sickness was when I was running or training. I Googled some of the Spartan obstacles and built versions for myself so I could train. I built a Hercules Hoist, with 40 kilos on a hoist, in my backyard. The monkey bars were the toughest part for me so I built some and practiced. I am in the best shape of my life because of Spartan.
SR: Did the training help with the cognitive effects of the brain tumor?
TL: It has been explained to me that there are two parts of the brain where motion starts, so though I lost brain tissue in the surgeries, my mind was able to compensate. I adapted before I started preparing for the Ultra.
How Tommy Lundgren Dominated His First Spartan Race
SR: Can you tell us about your experience of the race?
TL: Olympus is the first obstacle I conquered, and I barely made it. Then the large uphill section came and I ran up to the top of the course. I was chilly, -8°C (17.6°F), but I’ve spent a lot of my life cross country skiing so I think I was better adapted to the cold than others. Keep in mind that this is a six-lap race. I made it through the first lap, came in for a snack, and set out for my second. Halfway through my second lap I was feeling like (crap). When I came in from that lap, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. This was the breaking point. I felt knocked down, but I told myself I wasn’t going to let go of my goal. I had a proper meal and then set out for the third lap. Halfway through the third lap I got my power back. The fourth and fifth laps just flowed by. I accomplished what I set out to do: I finished.
Tommy Lundgren on Finishing the Ultra & Mastering His Goal
SR: What was it like to finish the Ultra?
TL: My daughters, Lo and Enya, and my wife, Therese, watched me cross the finish line. They have been my support team through all of this. They are just the best. Plus, all of my friends, practically the whole town, were waiting there at the end of the sixth lap to cheer me on. I can’t tell you what it felt like to cross the finish line in front of a square full of people shouting my name. Throughout my struggle with cancer, I have thought if I stop training, I stop moving. Setting a goal and resolving to accomplish it in front of the people I love kept me going through the roughest days.