SPLENDORA, Texas On March 17 in Splendora, thousands will run, climb, swim, and slog through a 3.2-mile, mud-filled obstacle course all in the name of good fun, personal accomplishment, and the chance for a free beer at the finish line.
But Houston s Angel Gonzalez will be the first to attack the course in a wheelchair.
I m about two weeks away from trying something I guess that s never been done, said Gonzalez.
He s talking about the Warrior Dash. Billed as the world s largest running series, it pits weekend athletes against a cross-country obstacle course that includes everything from swamps to rope climbs to a final leap over a barrier of fire. The post-race party is often as popular as the race itself, with contestants chowing down on turkey legs and celebrating with an adult beverage or two after their difficult test of endurance.
The races are held all over the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. But after watching his girlfriend complete in last year s race in Texas from his wheelchair, Angel Gonzalez decided he couldn t just be a chair-bound spectator anymore.
We just kind of looked at each other and was like, Man, I think I want to try it. And she was like, I was thinking the same thing, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, who completes in a variety of wheelchair sports, is training for the Warrior Dash at the Houston Multi-Service Center on W. Gray. In addition to a weight-training and conditioning-circuit regimen, he is also retrofitting his wheelchair with mountain bike tires to help him get through the muddiest parts of the course.
When he reaches obstacles that require crawling through mud, he plans to launch himself from his chair and commando crawl the entire way. A team that will include his brother and girlfriend will meet him at the end of each obstacle to help him back into his wheelchair.
You know they ve never done it, I ve never done it. So we re gonna figure it out as we go, said Gonzalez. A team by your side and friends and family by your side I think anything can really be done. If you want to do it you can.
Gonzalez, 33, was paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal cord injury when he was 23. Doctors believe he may have suffered from a rare condition called surfer s myelopathy. The spinal cord injury is so-named because it has often been suffered by first-time surfers hyper-extending their back while repeatedly pushing up from a surfboard. A blood vessel leading to the spine can become kinked or pinched, depriving the spinal cord of oxygen. Gonzalez was surfing in Hawaii when he was injured.
But now a college student in his final semester, studying advertising and marketing at the University of Houston, Gonzalez says he never let his paralysis diminish his lust for life.
Our life is an obstacle. So why can t we do the Warrior Dash? We hit obstacles every single day, from getting into our vehicles to getting out of our vehicles. Throw a little mud in there and it s just another obstacle, he said.
And when he becomes the first paralyzed athlete to compete in the Warrior Dash, he plans to make sure his effort is captured on video.
You know the reason why I want it recorded is one day I m gonna have kids. And you know that conversation s gonna come up, I can t do it. I can t do it, he said he expects his future children to say. Well, no, you can, he said he plans to tell them.
The East Texas Warrior Dash competition is March 17, 2012, at Creekside Edge Off-Road Park in Splendora.