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.
-Michelle Means tells her story to Patty Hodapp below.
Michelle Means hit rock bottom — divorce, negative body image, and a crippling cancer diagnosis. But then she realized she wanted something other than what she calls, "the road MOST traveled." Here is her inspiring journey as a Spartan woman who went from wounded to #winning.
She stared at herself in the mirror — the one thing in this world that doesn’t lie. “There it was, painfully reflecting a woman I did not recognize,” says Michelle Means, 36, of Johnson City, TX. “A woman almost one hundred pounds overweight, unable to keep up with daily activities without getting out of breath.” Means was in the midst of a divorce, raising two boys on her own, and she had lost control of her health and wellbeing. She knew she had accomplished things in life — a career, having her children, providing a home for them. “But a piece of me ached as I realized I had no stories of adventures. I had taken the road MOST traveled and I longed to know what was hidden down the road less traveled,” she says. “And there I stayed, longing, just longing...”
Michelle Confronts a Cancer Diagnosis
Then one fateful day six years ago, Michelle Means got the gut-wrenching news. Her doctors had found cancer cells on her cervix. “I knew something was up, when my mom, who worked at the doctor’s office, sat me down with a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes,” says Means. “Yup, I had it, I thought. Dammit.” But fortunately for Means, they caught her cancer in the early stages and performed a Conization procedure to remove the cells. It took several weeks to heal, but Means didn’t have to go through chemo. “It was a wake up call,” says Means. “I did not take the blessing of catching it [the cancer] early lightly, and promised myself and my children that I would live a healthier lifestyle.”
After the cancer, Means wanted to steer her future down a different path. In the aftermath of her divorce, she realized she had lost her sense of self and needed a change — to reset her priorities. “I needed personal goals. Ones that lifted my spirit. Goals with a long term vision,” she says. “I knew my children would eventually graduate and move forward in their own lives. It was time to rewrite my story. It was time to live, to build memories.”
The Power of Personal Goals
So, Means hired a personal trainer, worked immensely hard, and lost 50 lbs., rewriting the “unhealthy, inaccurate image” she had of herself. During that time, she fell in love with her current husband who taught her it was okay to go after her dreams. “He taught me that I could, and I should do things out of the ordinary because we only live once. So live big,” she says. Means took his words to heart, and in 2012, when she came across a Spartan video posted online, she knew immediately this was the goal that would pull her out of her comfort zone. In 2013, she signed up for the Spartan Burnett, Texas race. “I must have filled out the registration 10 times before I finally hit submit! It was exhilarating and terrifying.”
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A few weeks later, she stood at the start line of her first Spartan race. The announcer spoke, but she was in a fog. The next thing she knew, she was running — she ran, crawled, climbed and walked her way through every obstacle all the way to the finish line. “It was that very moment, when I ran past the gladiators and they put my first medal around my neck that everything changed...I came out of that race a different woman.” says Means. “I knew then, I had missed out on so much due to doubt and fear and that it was time to catch up on all of the adventures I had been missing.”
From Fear to Podium Finisher
After that, Means went on to conquer many Spartan races and also became a coach taking several teams on to complete their first Spartan races. “I had to show others that they could do it too,” she says. “I thought that they deserve to feel empowered and able in their lives as well!” But regulation racing wasn’t all she could do. In her first ever Ultra last year, she raced in the Age Group Division with the intention of standing on the podium. And guess what? She sure as hell did. “It was a crazy goal since it was my first ever Ultra,” says Means. “It was overly ambitious to many, but I knew if I never tried to make it onto the podium… I never would.” And as hard work would have it, she earned her first spot on the podium: the most precious moment of her whole Spartan journey. “It taught me, if you are willing to try, and have the courage to face failure, eventually, you will succeed.”
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Today, Michelle Means has lost 95 lbs., has ran over 10 Spartan races and has completed the 12 Hour Hurricane Heat. She plans to race Spartan San Antonio in March as a warmup for the North American Age Group Championship race in West Virginia, this August, after she qualified 2nd in her age group and 3rd overall in her very first Ultra in Glenrose/Dallas, Texas last October.