Mo Monaghan: The Woman Who Inspired Spartan Race Founder

Presented by Spartan Training®

Rewind 20 years and Spartan founder, Joe De Sena, was moving money on Wall Street as a stockbroker. Feeling disconnected from his body and hungry for a new challenge, he started adventure racing. This is where he met Mo Monaghan.

Mo Monaghan, the Irish Spitfire

“Mo Monaghan is a mentor of mine,” said Joe De Sena. “20 years ago I raced with her around the world. Anything crazy, anything dangerous, we were doing together. She’s full of piss and vinegar.”

De Sena says that Monaghan, who grew up in the rugged fields of Ireland, inspired the creation of Spartan Race. A lot of her ideologies seeped into De Sena and eventually into Spartan's ethos. That “keep moving until your dead” mentality, that’s Mo.

Monaghan had been adventure racing for 15 years when she met a young and eager De Sena, who was new to the sport.

“Joe had it in his mind that he wanted to do this,” said Monaghan. “So he sought out some people who referred him to me to help him get there. And I became like his babysitter.” 

A babysitter that would yell at him, “if you’re not pissing blood, keep moving!”

Mo Monaghan
Mo Monaghan and Joe Desena, far right, competing together at the Raid International Ukatak in Quebec. A five-day, 40 km adventure race that involved snowshoeing, skiing, biking and ice canoeing.

Where is Mo today?

Mo Monaghan, 53, now lives in Durango, Colorado with her husband Randy. They have welcomed 37 foster children into their home in the past decade and are active in their community.

“I’m passionate about children now because they are our future,” said Monaghan, laughing at her ode to Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit. But she’s serious. 

“I think it’s hard for children to grow up right now with technology and they’re not getting outside enough. So sports should be a must in children’s lives, I believe. I think it will help them get through some of their hard times. It helped me.” 

Mo Monaghan
Mo Monaghan with her husband Randy and children.

Mo Monaghan’s Life Lessons:

1. Quit Your Moanin’ and Get Goin’

Monaghan says she gets a lot of her resiliency from her mother and growing up in Ireland. When young Mo complained or wanted to quit something her mother would say, “You have two legs, two arms, half a brain, get on with it!” This tough love made her grateful, resourceful and optimistic.

“I always go to the extreme whenever I’m [thinking about quitting something hard],” said Monaghan. “I think, I’ll never get to be here to do this again, so shut up, quit your moanin’ and get goin'."

It’s all about frame of reference, echos De Sena. If you’re used to going through tough experiences, then it’s not going to phase you when the WiFi goes out on the airplane. You’ll just be glad you’re not on mile 100 of a race through the jungle.

2. Live Life, Don’t Wait For Another

“Don’t be waiting for another life after this,” said Monaghan. “If you think there is another life, fine. But what if there’s not? Make this one really count. I feel like I’ve lived most of my life every day like it’s my last. I’m so passionate about breathing, looking, seeing, just soaking it all up every day.”

Related: How this Montana Spartan Survived Life’s Test

“Your world can change, it’s your choice. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Life isn’t easy for most people. But you can choose to enjoy life. You can choose to go down the dark side or you can choose to look at the bright side. And I like to look at the bright side. There may be times that I don’t, but 99 percent of the time I’m looking at the bright side.”

3. Helping Others Helps You

“During an adventure race, when I was feeling miserable, that’s when I would go help my teammate. I would hold her hand, sing him a song. They’re hurting, I’m hurting, but we can make it ease together,” said Monaghan.

“I love the team aspect because you have to think of each other as a limb of yourself. You couldn’t be an individual person and survive. If I was stronger at doing this, I’d help you. If you’re stronger at doing that, you help me. Because we all had to get to the finish line together.”

Related: The Benefits of Teams: How Working Together Helps Tacke Your Goals

For more from Mo Monaghan, listen to the Spartan Up! podcast in its entirety.

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TIME STAMPS 0:00 Joe De Sena introduces Mo Monaghan interview 0:55 intro “Built for Adventure” 1:20 The woman who inspired Spartan Race’s foundation 2:30 Growing up rugged in Ireland 4:00 Mountain biking to work and starting adventure racing 5:00 Don’t tell me not to do it- cause I’ll do it! 6:00 Joe’s adventure race “babysitters” 7:00 learning terrain of the World & every aspect of yourself 8:45 Joe visualizing the farm before it existed 9:45 Working with foster kids- surviving & adapting 12:00 Quit your moanin & get goin! 13:30 break “Built for Adventure” 15:00 Children are our future- dealing with “broken” children 17:00 Can you push kids too hard? 19:30 Joe’s Wall Street buddies joining races 21:00 Fear of entering the art world 22:50 Soaking up life 24:05 Joe reminisces about racing with Mo Monaghan


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CREDITS: Producer – Marion Abrams, Madmotion, llc. Host – Joe De Sena Synopsis – Sefra Alexandra | Seed Huntress Production Assistant - Andrea Hagarty

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