Spartan heart: Military-centric team helps paralyzed man take on Breckenridge obstacle race
Come Sunday at Breckenridge Ski Resort, a team of 15 collaborative team members from the More Hearts Than Scars foundation and the Longmont-based Roccor aerospace systems company will join together to take on the 30-mile, 60-obstacle Spartan Race.
At the core of this group will be Mark Herbert, an adaptive para-athlete from North Carolina who in the past 18 months has completed eight Spartan obstacle course races. That is, despite the fact that he has no feeling in his body from his chest down.
The accident occurred for the aspiring law enforcement officer while conducting on-the-job training for a SWAT-like Special Response Team, one tasked with responding to situations in the state of North Carolina’s prison system.
Due to the accident, Herbert fractured several vertebrae and required surgery that included the application of rods and screws to repair his broken back.
“I’m kind of a tinman, in a way,” Herbert said.
In the wake of his injury, the former accomplished high school wrestler struggled to find the kind of athletic and endurance hobbies for which he earned certificates and awards from his law enforcement academy pre-injury. But his co-workers at the local sherriff’s office where he worked encouraged him to continue to push forward and maintain his drive for purpose.
It wasn’t easy over the next couple of years. Herbert went from more exciting assignments on the beat to working the 9-1-1 call center. He continued to search for something in this sudden second-half of his life.
One day while scrolling social media, he saw someone else in a titanium wheelchair similar to his, and it was trudging through a Spartan race. Blown away, Herbert immediately sought out how to complete his own obstacle course, which led him to More Hearts Than Scars. MHTS is a national foundation that uses extreme obstacle course challenge competitions like the Spartan race to help people who live with physical, mental, or emotional scars.
Three words sum up the foundation’s mission: “overcoming obstacles together.”
Herbert soon connected with Zackary Pabtan, More Hearts Than Scars’ chief executive officer. With a foundational focus centered on providing people like Herbert with a transformative experience of achieving beyond their disability, Pabtan had found his next “chariot rider.”
“The wheelchair is a chariot,” Pabtan said. “Mark is a chariot rider. That wheelchair is the center of the team and we tie into it.”
On the course on Sunday, Herbert will work in unison with members of the MHTS foundation and the Longmont-based Roccor company. The teammates were referred to by Pabtan as “Knights,” relative to Herbert’s chariot. The Roccor staff aiding him will include military veterans from all service branches. The company is one dedicated to supporting active service members by partnering with medical research organizations to adapt healthcare technologies to better meet their needs.
In More Hearts Than Scars, Roccor executive Mark Lake saw a foundation he admired. It’s one he believes helps injured military and law enforcement service members to “come back to life,” post injury. As for Roccor’s connection, it’s the company’s Combat Casualty Care program and how it aids with health services where Lake saw a natural connection.
“It’s about completing the circle,” he said.
The MHTS-Roccor group will work as a unit, starting and finishing together. Herbert will compete on a wheelchair gifted to the foundation by Spartan race owner Joe De Sena.
When they tackle certain obstacles, Herbert will help to traverse them by using the pressure technology of his chest harness to drive forces onto the front axle of his wheelchair, nicknamed “Excalibur.”
Directed by Herbert’s vocal steering instructions, Excalibur will also be powered by a person pulling it forward. Other team members surrounding Herbert will also aid him, whether that be by picking him up and over obstacles or utilizing climbing equipment.
When some larger obstacles are to be traversed, such as clearing a water body, Herbert will use a specially constructed “bellyak.” It’s a kayak that effectively serves as a backboard, one he’ll lay atop.
Once the course is completed, Herbert, for the ninth time, will have accomplished what Pabtan sees as the primary goal of his foundation: Get people beyond the idea of a disability.
“It’s about victory over victim,” Pabtan said. “They are beyond what happened.”
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