Back in 2020, while trapped in a car during a marathon road trip from Florida to Vermont — Spartan had just held its first post-COVID event, in Jacksonville — Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena had an epiphany. Alongside his wife, Courtney, and their four children, he was riding the familiar high of a successful event, and a weekend filled with fitness and racing. Ah, like old times again.
He couldn’t just return to the family farm in Pittsfield, VT, and go back to quarantine life. And, more importantly, his kids couldn’t. He had to build on the momentum, more for his kids’ sakes than his. What would he do for an encore? De Sena decided that he would host a camp for his kids, and in keeping with his mission of ripping 100 million people off the couch, he would open it up to any kid interested. He furiously dialed family members and friends, explaining his idea and gauging their interest. Though there was some trepidation, there was also plenty of intrigue.
Not even a month later, 22 kids showed up at De Sena’s doorstep, and Joe De Sena's Camp Spartan was born.
The Details on Joe De Sena's Camp Spartan
The camp is led primarily by De Sena, and each seven-day session hosts 20-30 kids, all of whom sleep on the bottom floor of the Amee Farm Lodge, a quaint, charming bed and breakfast and banquet hall located on the farm. (That is also where the kids practice wrestling.) In addition to wrestling, one of the key components of the camp, kids are tasked with hiking up mountains, carrying rocks, learning to tolerate ice-cold water — they will become one with the White River — building structures, and, naturally, plenty of burpees. They also learn leadership skills and how to work as a team, and are inundated with motivating ideologies and philosophies, such as “On time is late” and “If you’re going to do a job, do it right.”
The daily wake-up call is anywhere from 4:45 a.m. to 6 a.m., and no sugar consumption is allowed. “You eat it like it’s the last f***ing meal you’ll ever have,” De Sena says.
Everything they do is purposeful, De Sena maintains, building them up both mentally and physically. Is it hard? YES. That’s the point. That’s why they’re here.
“Our philosophy is you should be a little tired,” De Sena says. “You should be a little hungry. You should be a little cold.”
One Camper Tells All
Below is an actual text exchange between a camper and his father, while the camper was at the farm. (The names, of course, have been deleted.) As Joe expected, the young campers struggled and complained to their parents. When Joe found out that the kids were texting — duh! — he had all of their phones taken away. Despite this young man's desperate plea to be rescued, he ended up gutting it out and completed the two-week session. Before leaving, he thanked Joe for a memorable experience and asked when the next one would be.
When It’s Over, Your Kids Will Have…
After 14 days of struggle and perseverance, your kids will have completed the following:
- 50 miles of hiking
- 30,000 feet of climbing
- 1,400 perfect push-ups
- 1,400 perfect leg raises
- 1,000 perfect burpees
- 40 hours of wrestling
When we say perfect, we truly mean perfect. So, for every four push-ups, leg raises, and burpees that the kids perform, only one will probably count.
There have been many notable, eye-opening, true coming-of-age moments at the camp thus far, but one in particular stands out. The kids were out in a rainstorm, doing burpees, and were predictably miserable. One camper, an 11-year-old girl on her second tour of duty — De Sena refers to the 14-day camps as “tours of duty” — kept her fellow campers organized, calm, and in sync as the rain continued to fall harder and more forcefully. She began to cry, but not in the sense that you might think. It was a triumphant, determined cry, similar to what you might see from an Olympic hopeful who is doing everything in his or her power to win. She persevered, as they always ultimately do, and performed 700 burpees in the pouring rain. It was a transformative, unforgettable moment.
Almost all of the kids who started have completed the two-week camp. Only a small percentage have left prematurely, but De Sena doesn’t blame the kids for that. He points the finger at the parents, many of whom are scared to let their children struggle and blossom amidst uncertainty and discomfort. He's been on the receiving end of countless phone calls with concerned, and sometime enraged, parents. What does he tell them?
“I say to them, ‘You’re doing your kid a disservice if you don’t let him or her do hard shit, and finish the hard shit they start,’” De Sena says. “’Could you imagine if 70 percent of these kids finish, and your kid is the one that didn’t? What's that narrative going to be like? F*** that. They’re not bleeding, they’re not being shot at, they’re not sleeping outside with wild animals. They will finish. It’s just a matter of you not getting involved as a parent, and ultimately they all come around.’”
De Sena proudly says that, almost universally, every camper — and their parents — who completed the two weeks thanked him at the end, and asked him eagerly, “When is the next one?” As we like to say at Spartan, “You’ll know at the finish line.” Every one of those kids knows.
Interested in signing your kid up for Camp Spartan? Click here!