Why I Spartan

Thursday, June 10, 2021 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

When a noun becomes “verbified”, it's usually because language has evolved to accommodate a transformation: A word has morphed from a fixed concept to one that's more fluid and actionable.

We “text”, we “email”, and we “DM”. These words, also examples of anthimeria, tell stories about our culture by pointing to which terms get promoted to a different lexical category.

Lately, I have been toying with the idea of using Spartan in its verb form. Can you blame me? I have been spending upwards of seven hours in the gym every week, prepping for one Spartan race after another and hoping my hard work would one day translate into effective advocacy for the animals.

Stef dela Cruz SPARTAN RACE

SMILES AMIDST THE SILT. Despite the sandbag on my shoulders weighing about 60 pounds – twice its original weight after being drenched in rainwater and mud – I somehow managed to carry it with just one arm and a ready smile. (Spartan Philippines)

Wait, what? Animals?

My training

“It's just another five kilograms.”

I stared daggers at fellow vegan Constantine Macabante who, based on how he was adding more plates to either end of the already-stacked barbell, wasn't backing down. Devoting almost every waking hour outside of work to train me in matters of strength and endurance, he was challenging me to break my personal record yet again. Much like DC's hell-wielding comic book character with whom he shared his name, Constantine wanted to do something good... by being a tad evil about it.

It's just another five kilograms. His voice echoed in my mind – taunting, mocking. I stared miserably as he prepared to record a video of me and what was to unfold, his tattooed biceps telling me he knew what he was talking about. Ugh, how annoying. I scowled at the barbell, wondering what it would break first – my back or my spirit.

We were days away from the Spartan Race. I knew I wanted to lift that barbell, so I gave it a go.

It felt like pushing the world away with my legs, the gym floor somehow sinking farther into the ground as I gripped the barbell with everything I've got. I heard my body talking to me – too heavy, Stef, too heavy – as I pushed my muscles way outside of their comfort zone.

And it was over. Just like that, I successfully finished the deadlift and reached a personal milestone. With sweat trickling down my face – the only tangible proof that I did something particularly hard that day – I knew I was on my way.

Spartan race 2019 medals

TACKLING THE TRIFECTA. At the time I wrote this two years ago, I was one race away from completing the Trifecta medal. (I did get my Trifecta, by the way.)

Almost everyday, I felt sore where I didn't know muscles existed. I ached in ways I never knew possible. But thanks to a diet free from animal products, pain was never a mainstay. If anything, recovery was fast: Being a vegan made healing a breeze. I wasn't too surprised; after all, study after study led to the same conclusion.

I found my body changing and I liked it. It was a pleasant side effect of my desire to be stronger. My friends would then ask me why I was training so hard when I was just a couch potato less than a year ago.

Answering them was easy. My reason was always front and center, something that fueled me when fatigue threatened to stop me in my tracks.

But first, let me tell you how much more fun it is because I don't have to do this alone.

My tribe

I get to train and race alongside many other animal lovers. Collectively, we are Vegan Strong Philippines. Many of us didn't have a sports background; we jumped into the fray because we wanted more vegans to Spartan, expecting others to witness how powerful plants were in fueling our bodies.

Vegan Strong Philippines

NO ANIMALS HARMED. Without consuming animals for food, every member of Vegan Strong Philippines who took on the Spartan trail in Cebu – arguably the toughest one yet in the Philippines – completed the race. (Betty Castillo)

This shared expectation is what keeps us going race after race. Differences do not divide us because we know why we want to stick together.

As vegans who Spartan, we have found our tribe.

My truth

I Spartan – yes, verb – because it's one of the ways I get to normalize respect for animals in a society unfortunately hardwired to think of them as objects. I know, it seems farfetched at first: How exactly does a race help promote something as tangential to it as veganism?

So many myths about protein and strength have led people to believe that meat and milk are necessary in sports. But I've seen the truth with my own eyes: Plants mean power.

Plants are naturally rich in antioxidants. They are also an excellent source of protein, even for the animals whom humans commercially raise for food. When protein is sourced from plants instead of animals, we get all the amino acids we need – sans the cholesterol, animal hormones, and excess saturated fat.

But health is only a secondary reason I'm a vegan. I decided to forego animal products for ethical reasons – I saw fear in their faces and realized I was the cause of their pain and death. I just couldn't look away anymore.

Choosing to Spartan is my way of showing others that one can be stronger and faster because of – not in spite of – being vegan. That, bar none, is my number one why.

* * *


Written originally for the August 2019 issue of Crosstrain.ph. Reposted with permission.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!