For Pittsford athlete, cerebral palsy is no bar to Spartan Race
KILLINGTON — Killington Resort welcomed some of the world’s strongest obstacle course racers last month to compete in the Spartan Race, which tests the mental and physical strength of athletes with punishing climbs and grueling obstacles including heavy objects to carry, walls to climb and pits of fire to leap over. Covering the entire face of the mountain, the Killington course has long been hailed as the toughest in the entire circuit.
On the starting line Sept. 15, was adaptive athlete, Jason Davis, 40, of Pittsford. Born with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills, Davis took on the course with the support of Team Believe 923, a nationwide organization that provides accommodations, safety measures and equipment to adaptive athletes.
Davis was upbeat when asked why he chose the toughest course on the Spartan circuit for his “rookie race.”
“Cause I’ve spent my whole life beating the odds and overcoming life’s biggest obstacles, so why would this be any different?” he said.
The youngest of five children, Davis was raised with the same supportive child-rearing style that his parents took with his older siblings. While their approach may have been tailored for Davis’ physical abilities, the demands, expectations and opportunities presented to him stemmed from the same “no-nonsense, no excuses” style of parenting that they took with all of their children. This became the foundation for Davis’ philosophy today, that anyone can do anything they set their mind to, regardless of life’s challenges.
Davis used a wheelchair until age 11, when a new surgery made it possible for him to begin learning to walk with crutches. At that time, Davis vowed never to use a wheelchair again.
While his family’s approach was successful at home, society was not always ready to embrace people with disabilities. This was particularly difficult for Davis to understand when he was turned away from a karate school at age eight, while attempting to be just like his big brothers. The rejection cut deep but did not crush Davis’ competitive nature. Rather, it fueled his fire for the same opportunities to participate and be included and accepted as an equal. That same year, Davis joined his family in the March of Dimes walk. He completed seven miles independently rolling his wheelchair with a finish time of seven hours. The following year, he did the same walk again, cutting his time by two hours.
In February of 2010, after a casual conversation with a co-worker about martial arts movies, Davis shared that as a child, he dreamt of being a martial artist. His co-worker laughed, saying, “Yeah, and I was going to be a sensei.”
This conversation rekindled Davis interest to train in the martial arts.
Davis approached a friend who owned a karate studio to ask her opinion. Eventually, she started an adaptive karate class.
Davis soon discovered health benefits that exceeded his expectations. At a point when physicians were running out of options to keep him comfortable, karate helped Davis develop body control and a level of physical fitness that he had never before experienced. He found that he did not need the muscle relaxers and other medications suggested by his doctors for day-to-day comfort and function.
With this success, Davis was compelled to ensure that no child would ever feel the same rejection that he experienced years before. In 2011, he founded the Adaptive Martial Arts Association, a national organization that advocates for opportunity and inclusion of those with disabilities to participate in martial arts and physical fitness training.
After watching his brother Chuck finish the Spartan Sprint in 2017, Davis, just like when he was a kid, couldn’t be outdone by his big brother and vowed to compete in the race himself in 2018. Through a vendor at the race, he discovered Team Believe 923 and reached out to them for assistance in competing.
“I really wanted to do it and Team Believe would help me with the safety aspect of the race,” he said.
Davis took the idea to his personal trainer, Kyle Finneron, a Spartan competitor himself who has a good understanding of working with individuals with disabilities. The two developed a rigorous training and nutrition plan. This plan, coupled with his martial arts training, has led Davis and his health professionals to agree that he was in the best shape of his life.
While he was encouraged to try easier races before graduating to a Spartan Race, Davis wasn’t interested.
“That’s how I wanted it,” he said. “It was go big or go home.”
The Spartan Sprint is an obstacle race, between three to five miles long with more than 20 obstacles and challenges such as cargo nets, rope climbs, wall climbs, sandbag carries and more.
With the support of Team Believe 923 and a handful of sponsors, Jason Davis and his brother Chuck Davis were ready to compete together on the same playing field. Joining them was Finneron and Robin Crossman, a family friend who also inspired and supported Davis in his quest to compete. Crossman, a Spartan competitor himself, was the director of the 2018 Death Race in Pittsfield — a race similar to the Spartan Races, but much more challenging.
On the morning of last month’s Spartan Sprint, Jason Davis said he was feeling confident. He had been training for a year and had his friends and family with him.
“I was ready to see what it was all about and what my capabilities were,” he said. “I was pretty excited.”
The Spartan course showed him and his team no quarter. Davis and his team encountered deep mud, steep climbs and a whole array of obstacles. The most challenging walls and nets to climb came at the end before he crossed the finish line.
“I was completely spent, but I did it,” he said.
The secret to his success?
“Nonstop determination,” he said. “I also had an entire team with me that was cheering me on and telling me not to quit.”
Davis has set his sights on more obstacle races, including one at Fenway Park in Boston.
“I’d like to try a different course next year just to make sure that Killington really is the toughest one on the circuit,” he said.
He’ll be bringing his message with him.
“I want to show the world the power of a positive mindset and that just because we face something unique it doesn’t mean we are any less capable,” he said. “Instead of focusing on our disabilities, it’s time start looking at our abilities and conquering goals.”