By Erik Matuszewski - April 12, 2013
Joe De Sena’s ultimate goal is to have a Spartan Race included in the Olympics. For now, the Queens native who founded the obstacle racing series is happy to have the sport at New York’s Citi Field.
While the New York Mets are on a nine-game road trip, their stadium tomorrow will welcome about 12,000 participants willing to test themselves on 15 physical and mental obstacles over a three-mile course.
More than 1.5 million people competed in obstacle-style races in 2012, up from fewer than than 50,000 in 2010, and the Citi Field event is one of more than 60 Spartan races scheduled for this year around North America. The series, which had more than 350,000 entrants in 2012 and is similar to events such as the Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash, was created by the 43-year-old De Sena, who said he founded a multimillion-dollar swimming pool-cleaning business while he was in college and is now managing director for Wall Street brokerage agency ICAP Plc.
“We’ll probably have a couple thousand people from Wall Street coming out to Citi Field,” said De Sena, whose passion for endurance events has led him to participate in 12 Ironman triathlons in a single year. “It’s an introduction to the sport to a different crowd. If we get to touch a bunch of people who otherwise wouldn’t have driven out that extra 30 or 60 minutes to an event, then we’ve done our job.”
De Sena, who proposed to his wife during an endurance event, said Spartan Races are a perfect fit for the Type-A personalities found on Wall Street.
“We’ve been watching it since the movie Wall Street in the ’80s where guys are questioning their existence and what they’re doing for a living,” De Sena said. “So they get the extra bonus of actually doing something productive. It just doesn’t feel right sitting in front of a computer 10 hours a day. They get to apply not only their mind, but their body.”
Unlike some Spartan Race courses with obstacles that include mud pits, barbed wire, water and fire, the Citi Field event will be more tame. Participants will have to climb walls and cargo nets, and run stadium steps while carrying added weight from sandbags. Although the Mets are away from Citi Field from April 8-18, organizers will have only 24 hours to set up and break down the course, a process De Sena likened to setting up for a concert.
The entry fee ranged from $100 to $135 and participants will compete in waves of 200 competitors starting every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. local time to about 9:30 p.m.
The Spartan Race is among 900 events held at Citi Field on non-game days since 2009, functions ranging from concerts, trade shows and college lacrosse games to weddings, festivals and corporate meetings. While the Spartan Race participants are inside Citi Field, Cirque du Soleil’s Totem shows will be held in the stadium parking lot this weekend.
Heather Collamore, the executive director of Metropolitan Hospitality at Citi Field, said with 81 home games for the Mets, the stadium is able to average more than one non-baseball event for each of the 284 non-game days each year.
De Sena said about 40 percent of Spartan Race participants are women, and that he gets several e-mails a day from people who share how the event changed the way they perceive challenges they face on a daily basis. Obstacles are designed to get competitors out of their comfort zone, he says.
“We say it helps build obstacle immunity,” De Sena said. “We put you up against a wall, literally, and you and your friends see how you react against those obstacles. You then start to react differently to the stupid little obstacles in life like coffee being too cold, the car not starting, minor things where you used to get frustrated.”
De Sena said while his Spartan Races will exceed $50 million in revenue globally this year, “we put every dollar and a few extra back in each month as we are choosing to invest in Spartan over being profitable.”
As popularity for obstacle-style races grows, De Sena said he hopes that his series can make the jump to the Olympics, whose motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”
The International Olympic Committee reviews every event following the games, and in February the IOC’s executive board voted to drop wrestling from the program for the 2020 Olympics. Wrestling still has a chance to rally support and will be among eight sports vying for inclusion at the 2020 Games.
Golf and rugby sevens will join the Olympic program at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
De Sena is looking even further into the future for an obstacle-style event like the Spartan Race to be considered for the Olympics.
“To do so, you have to have set standards,” De Sena said. “What barbed wire should look like, what a wall should look like, what fire should look like as an obstacle. We’ve got 30 or 40 set obstacles and we know how we want them to work. It’s an Olympic sport in the making. If they have ping pong and curling in the Olympics, they should have Spartan racing.”
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