Are you a Spartan? Have you ever thought about it and wanted to become one? Do you watch the video clips and think “No, I can’t” and “Oh, but I do want to do that”? There is something special about this particular race that sets it apart from so many competitive sports events. It’s great from all sorts of angles, and not just from that of the Spartans and their obstacles on the course. There are lessons to be learned from start to finish when you go to a Spartan event, no matter where it is or what you do there.
This was my second time at the Austin Spartan Race out at the Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, TX. Just like my first time, though, I wasn’t a participant in any of the races. Instead, I went as a (soon-to-be graduating) student intern with the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine. As we did last year, my school had a tent in the vendor area and we offered free Chinese medicine (acupuncture, cupping, and a type of Chinese medical massage called tui na) treatments to anyone who was interested.
A lot of things were similar from last time to this latest event. As it was in last year’s blog post, this year was a blur of needles and cups and no end to energetic and fascinating people who are there because they love a challenge and thrive in the face of obstacles.
Spartans come in all shapes, ages, and sizes but what they share to a person is a love for the event and a determination to help one another. Cherry on the cake? They will try anything once, and that means that all those terrific athletes who had never tried acupuncture were willing and enthusiastic about giving traditional Chinese medicine a whirl. So what was new, then? Well, it’s just like the mantra “you’ll know at the finish line” goes. In my case, my finish line was at the end of my day as an AOMA intern at the event. When I got there, I realized that I had learned quite a few things too. Spartan races will do that to you, as I am sure that die-hard Spartans and neophytes alike already know.
For me, this second time at a Spartan Race was my chance to make some new bonds, to get rid of a few fears, and to achieve a personal best in my acupuncture practice. All in all, it was great experience! And, truth be told, this particular Austin Spartan Race event was definitely a whole new adventure compared to last year. For one thing, I was the sole student intern on my designated shift day, which was Sunday. One of my buddies who was signed up got sick at the last minute and decided that it was prudent to stay home. The other intern team member had something come up and just couldn’t make it. Me? Well, I was pretty astonished to show up and find out that I’d be The Intern but I’m super competitive and I work hard so I decided to not be freaked out and instead to look at it as a fun challenge. No sense in getting all flipped out first thing in the morning when there was a long day ahead of us. Plus, I’d had so much fun the previous year that I wasn’t going to let anything wreck my mood.
The morning started out really nicely. Before anyone came to our tent for treatment, the clinical supervisor, Dr. Shen, gave me permission to take a walk and look around for a little while. (I think he knew that I’d be busy and not have a minute to see anything once things started heating up). Reveille Peak Ranch is beautiful. I walked out to the final curve before the terrain of the final sprint. People were waiting for the participants and one guy must have been a coach because he was yelling both encouragement and direction to particular runners as they came charging out from the trees and continued up the hill towards the finish line. I loved that! It reminded me of coaches I have worked with in the past, like Australian Olympic marathoner Shaun Creighton (I wrote a blog post about training with my Coach Shaun, here). There is nothing quite like working really hard and making your coach proud, right? Well, I think this coach here must have been really proud of his team because it certainly did look like they were knocking it out of the park with their efforts.
When I got back to our tent over in the vendor area, Dr. Shen and the student support staff were all ready for business. Field acupuncture done by a school requires support in the form of clinical supervisors and administrative personnel. There was quite a bit of support on Sunday even though I was the lone intern.
This included, but was not limited to: Dr. Shen, who is a faculty member, a professional practitioner, and a clinical supervisor, Tara Lattimore, who is a clinician and an administrator at my school, plus our Clinic Business Director, Stephanee Owenby, who made the entire event possible for AOMA students. A former clinical staff member was visiting at the tent before she went off to race and another faculty/clinician/supervisor, Dr. Song, was in the vicinity with her family. Still, I was the only student, though, and that was daunting. However, once we all got over the surprise of only having one intern for what was probably going to be a busy day, our role as a team started to fall into place. Spartan Races are all about the teamwork and I am proud to say that our group quickly became an incredible team who made it to the finish line in our own way.
We got so busy so quickly, but Tara supported me by doing intake interviews and by helping me keep my charting up to speed. As we got busier and busier, Dr. Shen took on treatment duties too. Stephanee, who is an extremely organized and incredibly hard-working woman, kept track of who was signing up for treatment, record-keeping, and encouragement. When Spartans I treated got up from their chair and said, “That was amazing! Wow, you fixed my shoulder (or lower back or ankle pain)” in amazed tones, Stephanee’s face would light up. Like a proud coach, she really was glad to see me doing well and that meant the world to me.
After they finished their sprints, Dr. Song and her husband and children dropped by the tent and she helped us get through the busiest period too. And believe me, we were BUSY.
Last year was a hot, steamy race. This year, it was cold. I had to learn how to open my needle packs (generally, the needles come in packs of ten) and not have them blow out of my hand with gusts of wind. That was certainly a lesson for me. Cold muscles have different field acupuncture needs than do overheated ones. Last year, I had people who had fallen into cactus plants, people who were overheated, and people who had warm, swollen bruised limbs. This year, I had people who were shivering and whose muscles were hardened and tight. Everyone seemed to have foot pains. Lower backs and necks were tight. The wind gusted with blasts of cold air and at times it even rained. Because so many people had such cold, tight muscles, I ended up doing a lot more Chinese medical massage, or tui na, this year than last year, and cupping was just as popular as ever.
All of these factors gave me a great chance to step out of my comfort zone. I am about to graduate so I am a senior intern at this point. But I’ve always been a little timid about needling people’s necks. I generally hesitate and ask my shift supervisor to come in and double check before I really go for it. And yes, my supervisors all encourage me and want to see me be confident–they certainly believe in me and tell me so–and yes, in a lot of ways I am confident. But not with necks. Well. Let me tell you something, dear reader. I learned that when I have a suffering patient in front of me and I can’t call on my supervisor to stand at my side, I have a choice: I can be nervous and do nothing, or I can put the needles in the way I have been trained to do by my mentor and guide, Dr. Fan. And I started out just a little timid but after the pace got quicker I lost the nerves and gained the confidence. I do indeed know how to needle necks. I do not need to have someone stand over me while I ease the pain of too-tight levator scapulae. After a short while, it occurred to me that I was needling with confidence and I knew that my patients were getting great results from my work. Tara, Stephanee, and Tara’s husband, Brian (who came along just for the joy of hanging out and providing moral support), all told me multiple times what a great job I was doing and they made me feel a sense of genuine self-confidence. I needed this. I am a super-perfectionist and I’m hard on myself. But I was too busy for to be self-critical or lacking in confidence–I had patients to treat and this really was my crowd. I love working on muscles and bones. And so I just jumped in and did what I was trained to do and I got all sorts of support and encouragement while so doing.
Before I knew it, I realized that I had achieved a new level of confidence that had up until now eluded me. This is a gift that is going to stick with me and I appreciate it with all my heart.
And of course, just like last year, the Spartans were amazingly fun and funny. Spartan people like to get lots of needles and have their friends take pictures or videos. I am pretty sure I’m out there on Facebook and Instagram because I lost count of how many times I heard “Dude, you gotta take a picture of this!” and “Can you record this? What does it look like?” in reference to the sight of cups on their own backs. Spartan racers are very gratified by the large marks left by vigorous cupping, and one of my sweetest memories was of two brothers who got treatment from both Dr. Shen and me. The younger one (maybe he was thirteen or so?) got acupuncture from Dr. Shen. He watched me needle his older brother, who was seventeen. I needled the older brother pretty vigorously and he had a strong muscle twitch at one point (this is a good thing for tight muscles) and his little brother was very impressed. Then, when I performed cupping on the older brother, little brother was not only impressed but also determined to experience cupping too.
By then, Dr. Shen was working on someone else, so I asked him if I might pull the needles of little brother and allow him to try cupping. Permission granted, I did just that. Oh, they both loved it! They had to get pictures, then another friend had to try it too, there were hugs all around when the treatment ended…it was so fun!
So many patients stand out in my mind due to their sheer joy and wonder at how marvelous Chinese medicine really is…and I hope that they will stick with it and always choose acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist now that they know how beneficial such treatment is. Another inspiring patient was one who had a headache before her first race and a back that was tightening up due to nerves. I needled her for the headache and gave her tui na treatment for her back. She was able to complete her race and when she came back later to tell of it, she had wonderful stories about how when she faltered there was always someone to help her and give her encouragement. Yes it was grueling but yes, she finished strong. And isn’t that what the Spartan Race philosophy is all about? Teamwork and finishing strong?
This year, I did not manage to flirt with the guys at the volunteer station and get a t-shirt. However, I still have pictures from last year and am happy to show on a photo of me at school after that first Spartan weekend. As you can see, my eyes are still swollen and my face is puffy so it’s not the best picture of me that I’ve ever had taken.
I was so happy and proud to wear that shirt and it is a treasured memento to this day. And this morning, as I write, I am even more tired and puffy than I was last year. How come, you might ask? Well. With all the help and support I got from the AOMA team, I was able to treat a whopping twenty-six patients yesterday. YES! You read that right. Twenty-six patients! The day before, there were several interns working and it was busy. To be fair, I think they were more junior interns but…all total, all of them together, they only treated twenty-five patients. I don’t know how many we treated as a whole, but Stephanee counted up my numbers and when she told me what I’d done and how I stacked up against the Saturday team, I let out a whoop of joy. My last patient, aka #26 (who we almost didn’t take because it was late, starting to rain, and the day was winding down anyway), laughed out loud and said he was glad to have helped me achieve a personal best.
How cool is that? So yes, Spartans go to these events and have an incredible time while working incredibly hard…and so do many of the folks in the vendor booths. I know that’s how it went for us, anyway.
Spartans enjoy the benefits of teamwork and are pushed and supported by their coaches and friends. After all they have done to get there and all they do to complete their race, they develop true confidence. Spartans really do know at the finish line. And in a funny way, this soon-to-be graduated acupuncturist experienced something similar in the AOMA tent this weekend. What can I say? There’s just something in the air at Spartan events, I think.
I wish my closest friend and schoolmate, Jennifer Kipp, had been with me for this event because we had such fun last year. But I also am glad I was by myself and allowed to shine with the support of my teachers and school peeps who care about me and who are determined to make great treatment for patients happen at this event. And twenty-six patients? Yeah, buddy! That was amazing! So by the finish, I was left with the sense that yes, I am really ready to graduate. I knew this already, of course. I’ve also been a practicing bodywork therapist (tui na, of course) and health coach for well over a year now. I have an office in South Austin where I practice on Sundays and Monday and I just recently acquired an office in North Austin where I now practice on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays too. I am ready to graduate and I have known this for a while now. Even so, at the finish I felt a welcome sense of clarity. Working as a team with faculty and staff, treating so many patients in a day, and seeing how much people appreciated my work was a bit of last little push that tells me for sure that I am ready to leave the nest. It was a a long day that wiped me out, but it was a great day that I’ll remember forever.
By the end of the day, as you can see here, Tara, Dr. Shen, and Stephanee were pretty wiped out too. But they, too, were happy and proud of our hard work. It is such a joy to attend the Spartan Race in Austin. Next year, even though I will be graduated, I hope to be able to take part as one of the support staff for the student interns who will be working hard and loving the chance to provide Chinese medicine to Spartan racers. And who knows? Several of my patients urged me to sign up with a training team and try it for myself. I think I just might do that! No matter what I do, though, I will always keep the lessons I learned and the confidence I gained close in my heart. One of my dearest goals is to become just like my favorite teacher and most-admired practitioner, Dr. Fan. I also have wanted to feel a bit more confident in myself as an acupuncturist. And there is no mistaking it after today–I am Dr. Fan’s student for sure. I also have more confidence now. It sounds so silly, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I get a little teary when I think it, but by the end of the day, I came away from the event thinking: I had it in me all along, I just didn’t realize it until now.
You do know when you get to the finish line at a Spartan Race, whatever it is that is your own obstacle course and whatever it is that constitutes your finish line. You know.
What else can I tell you?
Thank you Spartans, and thank you Dr. Shen, Stephanee, Tara, Dr. Song, Brian, Michelle, all my teachers and mentors at AOMA (especially Dr. Fan), and–last but not least–thank you to everyone I treated and especially patient #26.
Two Hearts Wellness is a local holistic health and wellness outfit with a passion for all things nourishing, including but not limited to: joyful living, great food, art, and literature, and–of course–traditional Chinese medicine. If you want to learn more about me, click here and do feel free to follow my blog and/or my Instagram, connect with me on Facebook, or contact me here to set up an appointment for personal training or health coaching services. If you are interested in Asian bodywork therapy, click here to book an appointment online.