Spartan Women: Chrissi Shew, Epic Loss to Elite Racing
In honor of International Women's Day, we will be sharing real Spartan women's inspiring stories of living like a Spartan. Please join us on Instagram as our female heroes takeover and motivate you to face your every obstacle with force, grace, and gratitude. Read Spartan Woman - Chrissi Shew's story below.
From zero to hero, Chrissi Shew picked up Spartan Racing and quickly climbed to the elite bracket. Then, life sent her injury, death and loss. Here’s Shew's story about how the practice of being a Spartan woman on the course helped her transform her life when she needed it most.
For Chrissi Shew, 31, of Philadelphia, PA, her Spartan story is her fight song. She wasn’t an athlete. In fact, she had never even stepped foot in a gym. But three years ago, she went through a rough breakup with a long-time partner, which threw her into a violent depression. “I was not eating and I was abusing alcohol,” says Shew. “I lost 25 pounds and felt my body begin to shut down. I knew that if I didn’t get out of that depression it was going to kill me.”
Chrissi Shew: From Zero to Hero
In September 2015, Chrissi Shew got herself to the gym, signed up for a Spartan race, and by November she was “healthy and shredded.” She threw herself headfirst into training as an open racer for Spartan events. In one month, she went from "zero to hero" as they say, placing 7th in the elite heat of the Miami Spartan Sprint that December. And from that moment, Spartan racing became integral to her life. She thrived on the competition and being in her body during her training.
When Life Falls Apart
Nearly a year after her Miami victory, Shew’s life came to a grinding halt. Most people experience some level of physical, emotional, or financial hardship during their lives. But Shew had a life-shattering three weeks. First, she lost her job. Then, she suffered a crippling knee injury, tearing her ACL and meniscus, and spraining her MCL in the first mile of the South Carolina Spartan Beast, on October 29. She had just arrived at the monkey bars (her strong suit), which were wet with dew. Having previously completed the monkey bar obstacle earlier that season in pouring rain conditions, she went for it. “I got one bar shy of the bell, lost my grip and went down,” says Shew. “I screamed bloody murder.” At least five other competitors stopped to help her. She couldn’t put weight on her knee so she had to take her first (ever) medical DNF AKA (Do not finish).“This broke my heart because that weekend I was supposed to be earning my fifth trifecta for the year,” she says.
To make matters infinitely worse, days after her injury, Shew’s mother passed away from lung cancer, and her best friend died of a drug overdose. “I couldn’t work, I couldn’t walk,” says Shew. “All I could do was grieve.”
Spartans Strong: Sticking Together
As she suffered with the emotional turmoil of her loved ones’ passing and physical trauma of her injury, Shew knew she needed to start racing as soon as possible after knee surgery to help her cope with her hardships. Through months of physical therapy, rehabilitation, and hard work, she was able to conquer basic gym workouts and start racing again. She completed a stadium sprint on crutches with the help of her friends. “I had a very large metal knee brace that I wore for every race, which held up through many miles and much mud,” says Shew. “While I always came in last place, I stayed in the elite heat and held myself to all elite standards.”
The Pivotal Race: ‘I Could Do Anything’
Shew set her sights on the Killington Spartan Beast, just eight and a half months after her surgery. She started at 7:45 a.m. with the elite female wave. “I knew I was going to be slow, but I was NOT prepared for how long that race took me,” says Shew. It took her just under 11 hours — over 4 hours longer than her typical time — to complete the 15 mile race, during which she had to overcome several quit points. “I got to the bucket carry and considered walking right past it,” she says. “But my strength took over and I reminded myself I was an elite. Completing the race with my integrity intact meant everything.” She crossed the finish line crying hysterically. “It was after that race that I knew if I could endure and overcome that tortuous 15 mile race, I could do anything.”
Related content: Complete guide to the bucket carry
But even more than her own physical strength, Shew relies on the Spartan community as she heals and continues to bounce back. “The Spartan race community never gave up on me, even during those times that I wanted to give up on myself,” says Shew. During the Killington Beast race, many of Shew’s friends stopped to share words of encouragement as she slowly powered through the course. She says that while she didn’t always have support in life pre-Spartan, she has always felt supported by the Spartan community. “That says so much about this community of people and how much love and inspiration there is to go around,” says Shew. “I don’t think I could have been as successful in my recovery without the Spartan community and the life-long friends I have made along the way.”
Spartans are limitless
Chrissi Shew has proved to herself, time and time again, that she is so much stronger than she thinks. But says the key to achieving that sense of inner strength comes from shedding the limits we set for ourselves, emotionally, mentally, and physically. “The truth is that those limits are completely imaginary and not even close to reality,” says Shew. “Spartan has helped me realize that there isn't a single mental barrier that I can't break through; there isn't a spiritual boundary that I can't rise above and grow from; there isn't a physical obstacle that I can't successfully conquer, and there isn't any emotional hardship that I am incapable of overcoming."
"Spartan Race has helped me recognize the power I've had inside all along and that is just the most incredible gift I have ever received.”
Today, Shew has over 50 Spartan races under her belt, and she has her sights firmly fixed on Spartan’s Citi Field, New York event in April.