The Real Story Behind the Spartan in the Apple Watch Commercial
If you haven’t seen it yet, the new “Dear Apple” commercial for the Apple Watch Series 3 is well worth checking out.
It features real customers narrating letters to the company, describing how the watch changed and sometimes saved their lives. They talk about recovering from surgeries and monitoring glucose levels and staying active in old age and even being saved from a car crash with the watch’s SOS feature when they couldn’t reach their phone. There are a lot of emotional stories packed into two and a half minutes, but there was one in particular that stood out for us.
His name is Arthur Ware, and in the commercial he’s standing in a muddy field and calling himself a “country boy from small town Mississippi” who, thanks to his Apple Watch, ran his first Spartan race this past December and then a full marathon in February.
We had to learn more about this guy.
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When we call Ware at his home in Greenwood, Mississippi, he sounds exhausted. We’re worried that he might nod off right in the middle of a sentence. He explains that earlier that morning, he finished his latest endurance test, a local 5K called the 300 Oaks Race. But that’s not the reason he feels so drained. “I had chemotherapy treatments yesterday,” he says with a heavy voice. “That tends to take it out of me.”
‘I Can’t Fight Off a Common Cold’
You might think Ware has cancer—“most people assume that when they hear the word chemo,” he says—but that’s not what he’s battling. His story goes back to 2006, when the then 22-year-old Ware was enlisted in the Marine Corps and stationed in Africa. In just a few weeks, he’d lost 50 pounds for no apparent reason. He was worried, but not enough to consult a doctor. But then one day, as he was leaving the cafeteria, a fellow soldier asked him, “Have you been shot?” Ware looked down, and realized that his pants were covered in blood. Without realizing it, he’d been bleeding rectally.
He was medevaced out of the country, and his doctors discovered that he had “something swimming around in my gut, some kind of parasite. They told me, ‘It’s no big deal, we can kill it. But we found a bigger problem.” That’s how Ware learned that he had ulcerative colitis, a chronic autoimmune disease of the large intestine.
In the beginning, he was optimistic that he could beat it. “I started doing a chemotherapy drug called remicade,” he says. “It gave me some relief, but it also left me feeling fatigued. And I was already tired all the time because of the colitis. It was like being sick all the time.” The disease wrecked havoc on his immune system, he says. making him especially vulnerable to viruses and infections. “I can’t fight off a common cold,” he says. “Sniffles can put me in bed for a month.” He also has an issue with malnutrition “because my body doesn’t properly absorb nutrients,” Ware says.
For several years after his diagnosis, he went into a deep depression. “I think it’s what caused my first divorce,” he says. “My ex just couldn’t handle it. The guy she’d married was gone. I didn’t have any energy anymore. Every morning, it wasn’t ‘Will I feel okay today?’ It was ‘How horrible am I going to feel today?’ Some days I was so sick I couldn’t walk. I had to ask other people to bathe me. You can lose your optimism pretty fast in a situation like that.” He was hospitalized for three months for depression, and felt like his life was over. “I was rotting away,” he says. “It was only a matter of time.”
His ‘Horrible and Life-Changing’ Spartan Race
One day, he happened upon an online photo of Marine Corporal Todd Love, a triple amputee—he’d lost both legs and an arm in Afghanistan—competing in a Spartan race. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I had to find out more. I’d never heard of this Spartan thing, so I did some research. It didn’t seem all that different from what we did in boot camp. So I thought, if Todd Love can do it, so can I.”
His first-ever Spartan race was in December of last year, a five-mile Sprint in Conyers, Georgia. Ware remembers it being “horrible and life-changing.” And he means that as a compliment. His favorite part, he says, was the dunk wall. “The air was 32 degrees. I don’t like cold weather at all. It’s my least favorite thing. But when I went in that water, it was uncomfortable but it was also exhilarating. And I was moving so fast I warmed up pretty quickly. You realize, all the stuff you’re so scared of, you can get past it before it knows you’re coming.”
He survived, and his numbers were nothing like what he was expecting. He finished 334 out of 1,619 people, 284 out of 1,084 men, 59th out of 179 in his age group (men between 30 and 40). “I couldn’t believe what I’d done,” Ware says. “A year earlier, I couldn’t get into my clothes without somebody helping me. But now, thanks to this race, I was becoming myself again. I was hooked.”
Since then, Ware has competed in several Spartan races, even though his health hasn’t improved. “No matter what I do to try and get better, it doesn’t make a difference,” he says. “Even now, I’m doing these races, I’m eating right, I still cannot keep my ...” He pauses, briefly disoriented by his malaise. “I’m sorry, it’s hard to focus sometimes. My body still won’t absorb nutrients properly. I eat right, I exercise almost every single day, I drink plenty of water, and my body just won’t absorb what it needs.”
‘My Body Isn’t Who I Am’
Ware is not about to give up on his Spartan ambitions. And his Apple Watch is part of what’s helped him get there. “It keeps me accountable,” he says. The activity rings—which reward or reprimand you if you aren’t standing, moving, or exercising enough in a day—have kept him going when everything else in his body just wants to crawl back into bed. “If I don’t get all three of those rings, I feel like my day isn’t complete,” he says. “It’s become a point of pride.”
Ware, who’s now 34 years old, says his next big goal is to do an Ultra Beast. “I don’t know if I’ll get there,” he says. And not because of his health. He’s the father of six kids—two biological, two adopted, and two step-kids (from his new marriage, to a woman who supports him unconditionally)—and finances are already tight, as his condition makes any full-time employment impossible.
But he’s determined to race another Spartan. “I need it,” he says. “It puts things in perspective.” He may never get better, but enduring the hell of a Spartan competition reminds him that his body doesn’t decide his fate. “The way I look at it, I’m going to be sick no matter what,” Ware says. “I could just give up and slowly rot away. Or I can get in the mud, and remind myself that my body doesn’t control me. My body doesn’t have the final say. My spirit is more important. My body isn’t who I am. I can overcome it. I can say, ‘No, I don’t care if you feel tired and just want to stay in bed. We’re doing this. I’m the one in charge.’”
Ware pauses, but this time it’s not because the fatigue is getting the best of him. His voice grows strong and defiant: “It’s about taking control back.”
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