How I Went From Dodging Exercise to Throwing Punches and Crawling Under Barbed Wire

By: Dawn Highhouse

It started simply enough. My friend Jeff said his goal for 2015 was to do a Spartan Race. Did I want to join? “What’s a Spartan Race?” I asked.

I had never done a mud run or obstacle race before; in fact, I had never run any kind of race before — not even a 5K. Was I interested? Of course not! “I don’t run races,” I told him. Little did I know what the next year would have in store for me.

Before I tell you my story, here is what I learned:

Finding a sport you love makes all the difference. Try out a bunch of gyms and classes and sports until you find one you love. If you don’t love it, you won’t do it.

Training with a group is invaluable. Try out a group training class — even if the idea is not initially appealing. Classes offer accountability, camaraderie, possibly some healthy competition, all of which can make training more interesting and fun.

It’s okay to suck. Kids understand this, but as adults we tend to think we need to be perfect right out of the gate. Not true! Embrace the process, look for ways to improve, and celebrate each victory along the way.

A good coach really helps. A true coach helps you to learn and grow. After I started my training, I stopped saying, “I can’t” or “I don’t,” and started saying, “Sure. Let’s do it!” Walk up a hill carrying a bucket of rocks? “Absolutely!” Run four miles and do 200 burpees? “Let’s go!”

So, flashback to 2013, when I decided it was time to lose some weight. I had gone to see my doctor. He mentioned that my weight hadn’t changed in years. When I left his office, I felt terrible. All those diets I had tried had done nothing.

That’s when it hit home: if I wanted something to change, I had to do something differently. Going on and off diets wasn’t going to make change I wanted. I had been overweight since I was 18. Now I was 39.

It was time.

My co-worker introduced me to MyFitnessPal, and the app “clicked” for me. I learned a ton about portion control and nutrition and, finally, took off the pounds.

There I was, at my ideal weight, and I felt amazing. For the first time in my life, I loved the way I felt and the way I looked. But there was one challenge: keeping the weight off.

The obvious answer: start exercising.

The only problem: I hated exercising.

I tried running. I could do it on my own time, with minimal equipment. Best of all, no one would see me do it! Despite these positives, I found a problem with running: I didn’t love it. Every one of my runs felt like a chore.

Then I heard about a studio near my home teaching boxing classes. When I checked my email and saw there was a Groupon for that same studio, it felt like a sign. Trying not to overthink it, I hit the “buy” button.

I pulled into the parking lot on a Sunday and saw a few people holding boxing gloves standing outside the studio.

“You new?” one asked me. I nodded. “Where are your gloves?”

I found out that I had somehow switched the days in my head; I was off by a week. This was no intro class. I had mustered up all the courage and if I left now, I wasn’t sure I would come back.

“Well, if you are going to stay, I guess I had better show you how to throw a few punches.”

You know that feeling when you try something new and you instantly know you were made to do it? Well I was awful. I had no idea what I was doing or how to move my body through space. I was way out of my element.

And yet, it was fun. The person I met outside the studio came over to me at the end and said, “Well, you didn’t pass out. I think you should come back.” I laughed — and agreed. I knew I would be back.

The Intro class I took the following week helped. It is freeing to know you are really bad at something. If you can look at it with an open mind and think, “Okay, I can’t do this yet, but I can improve and I will learn,” it frees you to enjoy the beginner’s mind. With each class, I got a little more endurance. I learned how to move, I got stronger and — against all odds — I started to be a better boxer.

It was about six months into my fitness journey when Jeff asked me about running that Spartan Race. I told him I wouldn’t race but I would “Spartan train.”

Indy Sprint

So, Jeff pulled together a bunch of us from the studio including Craig Duncan, a gym trainer and future SGX coach. In our first class Coach Craig had us run four miles with bodyweight exercises like burpees every half mile. Did I mention that I had never managed to run over three miles? Oh, and that the burpees were in the snow? When it was all over, I just sat in my car too exhausted to even drive home.

But, like the first day of boxing, I couldn’t wait to go back. I loved the rest of the group. Even as we were groaning and pushing out set after set of burpees, we were cracking jokes and encouraging each other. Craig kept us motivated, and I think all of us found new strengths we didn’t know we had.

After a couple of those classes, Jeff approached me again about the race. This time I said, “Yes!”

I ran my first Spartan Sprint in Indianapolis in May. All of us who had been training in the snow slipped and slid together in the Indy mud. Everything got dirty, I was sweaty, and the race was incredibly hard — but also incredibly satisfying.

After the Sprint, I had a different outlook on life. I decided that it was time for me to say “yes” more often, instead of saying “no” out of fear. Looking back, that first “yes” to boxing classes led me to Spartan training, which led me to the Spartan Race, which changed my life. Now, I meet challenges head on. I’m not afraid. I have a completely new mindset.

When Jeff asked me about an upcoming Spartan Super, and Craig said he would train us for it, I signed up immediately. I ran the event in August, and I’m going to run the Dallas Spartan Beast in October for my Trifecta. I guess you could say I am hooked.