In 10-plus years of putting on races around the globe, we've heard literally thousands of remarkable stories about why people race. Now, our mission is to bring them to life. In Why I Race, we're highlighting the infinite reasons that people take to the course, and the unbelievable, transformative impact it has on their lives, and the lives of those around them.
Geoff Speyrer grew up in Louisiana, but he doesn’t talk much about his childhood. Instead, this warrior’s story starts with when he joined the U.S. Army. The September 11th terrorist attacks had occurred just a few years prior, and Speyrer watched as guys around him received deployment orders to Iraq straight out of basic training. After he finished training in February of that year, Speyrer got married on May 9 and deployed on May 15, where he spent a majority of his 18-month deployment working route clearance and explosive ordnance disposal.
After serving his year and a half, Speyrer returned home to find that readjusting to regular life while battling post-traumatic stress disorder would take a significant toll on him. He began to struggle with addiction — first it was alcohol, then it progressed to cocaine and methamphetamine.
“Because of the night terrors that I was having, I didn’t want to go to sleep,” Speyrer said. “And whenever I would do meth, I could stay up for days and not go to sleep. And then whenever I would crash out, I just wouldn’t dream.”
With his new dangerous lifestyle came run-ins with the law and driving while intoxicated offenses. He began to feel like his life had no value, and he intentionally overdosed on two occasions, believing that if he were no longer alive, he wouldn’t have to be in pain anymore. And the more legal trouble he got in, the more difficult it was to ask for help.
“I wasn’t getting the help that I needed, and being that I was always on the run, I couldn’t really ask for help,” he said. “What are you going to do? You can’t go to the cops. You can’t tell somebody, ‘I need to go to the hospital,’ because when you go there, there’s a chance that the cops might show up — then you go to jail.”
On Aug. 25, 2018, that fear became a reality for the veteran when he woke up one morning with a SWAT team standing over him.
“At that point I was like, ‘Man, I’m ready. I’m so tired,’” Speyrer said.
Accepting a Six-Month Sentence … Voluntarily
While Speyrer served his time, his house was broken into several times and all of his belongings were stolen. He would later get out of prison with only the clothes on his back, but having gained what he really needed — the motivation to make a change.
Speyrer started attending life skills, anger management, and narcotics anonymous classes while he was still incarcerated. That’s when he started to see a difference in his perspective, where he no longer felt the urge to be under the influence.
“I told some of my friends in there, ‘This time is going to be different. It has to be,’” Speyrer said. “We had a family day and my grandmother’s there, and she’s like, ‘If you could just get it right one time...’ Those words just stuck with me and I thought, ‘This is that one time.’”
On his sentencing date, the judge offered Speyrer the option to get out right then and there, on probation, with just a $100 bond. He had a difficult decision to make.
“I was like, 'Man, I’ve created such a positive routine in here right now, but I don’t think I’m actually strong enough to go out and handle it and just be right,'" he said. "It’s time that I accept responsibility for my actions and take ownership of the crappy lifestyle that I was living.”
The judge reduced all of Speyrer’s charges down to misdemeanors, and after six months he was released. The last time Speyrer was picked up by the police was Aug. 25, 2018, and he's been sober ever since.
Uphill Battle After Uphill Battle
“So I got out, and that’s when the real battle started,” Speyrer said. “You’re no longer in the comfort of those walls. It’s real easy to be sober when there’s nothing around you, but when you get out, then you have all that temptation of the outside world.”
After a while of being unable to get a job, he felt — mentally — like he wanted to relapse. Speyrer sat down with his mom and girlfriend and openly discussed his desire to re-enter a Veterans Affairs program for PTSD. Within seven days, he began a two-month program, during which he started journaling. And while he was in there, he saw something life-changing.
“I see this video for Spartan, and it’s like, ‘Set a date,'" Speyrer said. "I’m like, ‘Man, I want to do that one day. That’s the camaraderie that I want to feel.’ Because these girls and guys are awesome athletes, and then I see other people that are just on a journey — they might’ve been overweight, they might’ve been this, whatever.
"But they talk about how Spartan gave them purpose for their life, a way to train, setting a date, something to work toward. So Spartan became a goal of mine — even just to do one.”
Speyrer progressed through the program, and when he got out he began cycling every single day. He was still smoking cigarettes at the time, but quit cold turkey the day he did his first local 5K in November of 2019. And in February of 2020, he ran his first Spartan Sprint in Jacksonville.
He knew then that he wanted to do all the races he could, because making physical improvements was helping him improve his life.
“This part of the journey, there was nothing really about anyone else,” Speyrer said. “It was just all me, me, me. I wanted to be better. I think we all want to be better — that’s why we train.”
But Speyrer’s “why” has now come a very long way from where it started.
Giving Veterans — or Anyone Struggling — a Purpose Again
Last year, on May 22, Speyrer launched an event in his current hometown — Destin, Fla. — called SET 22, which stands for Strength and Endurance Training. (The 22 symbolizes the daily average of 18 to 22 veterans who take their own lives.) Consisting of a 100-mile bike ride, a 26.2-mile run, and a 200-pound tire flip for one full mile, the first SET 22 raised over $10,000 for Mission 22, a nonprofit organization dedicated to healing American's veterans. This year on May 22, the event will livestream on Speyrer’s Facebook and Instagram pages, and he even invites people to come join him in completing a part of the challenge, or to do the entire thing alongside him.
“I want to make sure that the people that start with me — if they want to run the whole thing — finish with me,” Speyrer said. “I want to make it an attainable goal.”
The money raised will benefit Healing Paws for Warriors, a veteran-owned organization that provides rescue service dogs to struggling veterans. Their tagline, “Rescue a dog, save a veteran,” is very powerful to Speyrer.
"A lot of people think that when somebody has PTSD, they had to have intense combat," he said. "But anybody can have PTSD. It’s whenever your moral belief system is violated — like survivor’s guilt, that ‘It should’ve been me. It should’ve been me.’ — that’s when you get PTSD.
"That’s why these nonprofit groups are so important to me. Some of these guys haven’t been out to eat in years just because they don’t want to be around people. But the dog gives them that sense of purpose, just like training gives me that sense of purpose again."
As a coach, Speyrer’s very first client (or friend, as he’d like to call her), Mariah, lost her husband — who was a veteran — to suicide. Speyrer met Mariah through an online PTSD support group, and after learning her story and her struggle with her weight, the two decided to conquer a Spartan race together. Speyrer returned to Jacksonville in 2021 to crush both a Sprint and a Super in the Honor Series, and Mariah found herself far more in her element than she could have imagined.
“I carried the two buckets, and so did she,” Speyrer said. “She’s got them both and she’s like, ‘One’s for me, and one’s for Adam, my husband.’”
Getting to experience the emotion of a Spartan race alongside his client, close friend, and confidant made it very clear to him that his “why” was no longer self-centered, and highlighted just how far he has come.
“What I do is not about me," Speyrer said. "It’s about giving back to my community, it’s about giving back to the people that believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. I have a duty to help others — that’s what I believe in. If you make sure somebody else’s life is alright, God — or whatever your higher power is — will always make sure that yours is okay."
Though Speyrer says he still struggles to speak to people and remains affected by insecurities, he believes strongly that using his social media — like his Facebook group, Building a Better Tomorrow by Geoff — to be open and honest about those things is a great first step in helping others be more open about their own issues.
“People paint this real perfect picture on social media, and I always try to exploit any weakness that I ever have,” he said. “I try to always be very transparent and be like, ‘Look, I struggle too.’ I have my good days and I have my bad ones. Sometimes my PTSD gets me super anxious. But when people look to you for motivation and inspiration, that means something. That has value.”
With a 2021 Sprint and Super under his belt, Speyrer’s goal this year is to finally chase down his Trifecta title, and to continue helping others find purpose in life, just like he did.
“I just want to help people see the light in themselves, like I’ve been able to find in myself,” Speyrer said.