Most people would not cite a heart problem in their sixties as the reason they became an athlete. But that is how 66-year-old Marsha Daughetee recently discovered her inner Spartan and picked up the gauntlet for the 30-Day Burpee Challenge along the way. She is a now a pioneer into the ideas that burpees keep you young.
Though the Californian resident had never been particularly sporty as a young woman, by the time she reached her sixties, she decided to switch things up and signed on with a trainer.
“However, for months I was extremely tired, more prone to being anxious, light headed, and unmotivated to work out or go to a training session,” she says.
After a particularly stressful day, Marsha awoke late in the evening feeling nauseous. Struggling to get up, she passed out, tearing open her hand on the corner of her bed. She recovered consciousness, and her husband helped her into the bathroom to tend to her wound. But here again, she passed out, hitting her head on the bathtub as she fell to the floor.
“Two of my three granddaughters were also in the house,” Marsha recalls. “They got me dressed, cleaned and wrapped my hand, and then, as I needed stitches and likely had a concussion, we went straight to the ER.”
Marsha discovered that her blood pressure had dropped dangerously low while her heartbeat had been racing – typical symptoms of atrial fibrillation, which is known to increase an individual’s risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related problems.
A few weeks following her fall in the bathroom, she underwent a cardiac ablation, a procedure to help regulate the heartbeat.
“Many people with AFib go years with different therapies before ablation is done,” Marsha notes. “I was blessed that night. Had I not split open my hand, I would not have gone to the hospital and met a doctor who took care of business.”
This health wake-up call made Marsha even more determined to ditch the excuses and get in good physical shape. Within a few months, she was back in the gym with her trainer DJ Davis. Over the next year, DJ worked hard to help her reach new heights of fitness health. Then he casually suggested that she enter a Spartan Sprint as a challenge for her 65th birthday.
“I wanted to do open ocean paddle boarding,” says Marsha, who lives in Laguna Beach. “I knew nothing about Spartan Races. At the finish line of the first Sprint at Big Bear I was done, mission accomplished. I thought, ‘don’t know why you ever thought that was a good idea…check that off…let's go paddle boarding’.”
But the bug had bitten, and slowly she began to wonder if she could do another Sprint.
In that first Spartan Sprint, DJ had been by her side along with two other members of her gym. “They not only assisted me over walls and herculean obstacles, but they also let me use their backs for modified burpees.”
This commitment to and care for each other on the sports course was new to Marsha. “My personal challenge became a challenge for the other Invictus Fitness Gym members,” she says, and she loved that sense of team spirit.
By mid-2018, she and the rest of the ‘Invictus FitFam,’ had completed a second Sprint and a Super.
“I cherish my Invictus FitFam because of their amazing, intense support and help in busting through those fear thoughts,” Marsha claims. “Because of them, I can now scale walls and cargo nets, jog down mountainsides, haul buckets of rocks up a mountainside, toss 200-300lb tires, navigate under barbed wire and run down, through and back up mud pools, all without fear.”
But there is one obstacle that continues to loom large – the burpee.
“I feel a little like an imposter when I am doing modified burpees on the course, and other Spartans are doing their full-on burpees,” she admits. “Because my team has been so supportive, it’s really important for me to do my share of real burpees and represent.”
All her life when people asked her how she did something, this mother of two and Assistant Dean for Academic Programs at CSUF Irvine Campus, would answer “I didn’t know that I couldn’t.” Now she realizes she needs to apply that same logic to conquering the burpee.
“When I read amazing stories about people doing 100 burpees a day or an hour, I wonder, ‘how do they do that?’ Maybe they don’t know that they can’t. That’s where my mind needs to go.”
So, two years after being rushed to hospital with a then-unknown heart condition, and a year after completing her first Spartan Race, this 66-year-old grandmother is taking on the 30-Day Spartan Burpee Challenge. Not only that, but she has extended her challenge to 60-a-day in August and a whopping 90-a-day in September.
“The hardest thing I have found about the challenge is finding the time to break it up into smaller bits so that I can get in 30-50 a day,” Marsha claims. “I just decided I would set a time and do 5-10 burpees no matter where I am. Sometimes I even encourage my coworkers to join me. When others inquire what I’m doing or why? I respond: I need to release the beast!”
Marsha has also brought this Spartan spirit into the university classes she teaches. “I use the Spartan Challenge and obstacles as a guide to the students’ own challenges in obtaining their degree,” she says. “I hold a burpee challenge during the semester, and on the final day this last semester we had a burpee showdown – complete 30 burpees. I suggest they take a break after a 50-minute study session and do 5 burpees to clear and focus their mind.”
Making her burpee challenge public keeps her honest, she says. For this Spartan athlete’s goal is to be able to complete 30 burpees with ease by the time October swings round. That month will be the three-year anniversary of her health wake-up call. But chances are, Marsha will be too busy training to celebrate. Because that’s also the month she aims to compete in her first Spartan Beast and so claim her Trifecta.
Afterward, she may go paddle boarding - or start planning her next Spartan Challenge. “Spartan Greece is looking good,” she smiles. Perhaps there is quite a bit to the idea that burpees keep you young.
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