Letter to Joe: I Didn't Finish Tahoe

Fear. Anyone who has taken a true risk knows that fear does not step out of the way when we want to pass by. It stands firm. It stares us down. It growls, and it bites. When Cecille Salazar ran her race, she faced two gargantuan fears: her fear of water, and, afterwards, her fear of death. While she did not finish the race due to cold, her brush with bodily danger brought her into the warm company of the EMTs at the Spartan medical unit. Her body thawed and her heart touched, Cecille wrote the Spartan community this letter of thanks.

Hi Joe,

My name is Cecille Salazar and I ran today in the Coin Holder Elite Heat. It was my first time getting a coin, so I was very excited and trained hard to prove that I deserved the opportunity.


Unfortunately, I did not finish the race. I have a phobia of water and can’t swim. I had done water obstacles before though at the Chicago Spartan races and I managed with a life-vest and doggie paddle. That, and the length of swimming wasn’t very long — 30-45 seconds at best. I thought the same may be required at Tahoe.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. For one thing, the water was freezing. I could barely move my arms to paddle. It was also much longer than I expected; at mile eight of the course, my energy was pretty spent. I tried for 30 seconds and was terrified; one of the volunteers needed to throw me a rope to get to shore. They offered me 60 burpees. But that wasn’t an option for me, an elite (or really for my pride). I sat and rested, contemplating voluntarily dropping out or facing that terror again.

I tried again. Bar none, it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I was so cold, I just went on my back, held onto my jacket and kicked my feet. I couldn’t feel my arms or legs. Since I couldn’t see where I was going a lot of the time, I probably spent 15-20 minutes in the frigid water. I was terrified. There were times where I was certain I would pass out. Your staff and fellow Spartans was the only thing that kept me going. Staff on kayaks constantly checked on my safety. Fellow Spartans encouraged me. In the end, I finished and managed to grab the ladder. I was so cold that I began to cry. But again, my fellow Spartans didn’t give up on me, encouraging me to take one hand, one foothold at a time. I made it up the ladder and rested, pretty sure that it was the end of my journey.

I didn’t want to give up yet. It took me five minutes to unhook my safety vest because I had no more strength, but I got up and started to jog. My teeth wouldn’t stop chattering, and my body was shaking uncontrollably. I walked, bracing myself, and put one foot in front of the other. Once again, concerned Spartans asked if I was okay, and I lied, of course, so as not to disrupt their run. One female racer didn’t even ask. She took off her long sleeve top and told me to put it on. The severe cold I was battling gave way to usual civilities. I accepted the gift with a “thank you” (which she probably didn’t understand due to my chattering teeth) and continued on.


It was too much. My mind said “keep going,” but my knees buckled and I flagged down the nearest Spartan for help. In minutes, I was in a medical tent wrapped up in a poncho to trap heat. My pulse was at 56 and I just kept on crying and repeating how incredibly cold I was. I was attended to by three staff members, Anthony, Nancy, and Dave. All three were amazing. They got my pulse up to 76, kept my focus, got ahold of my emergency contact, and got me to an ambulance. They did such a great job that I didn’t even need to go to the hospital. The paramedics picked up where they took off, warming me up even more and monitoring my condition, and in minutes I was released on scene with my best friend, warm and dry clothes and two coats for good measure.

I may not have finished the course, but I leave Tahoe teary-eyed and grateful to the entire Spartan community, who took care of me from the beginning to the end of my ordeal. This experience really taught me about the Spartan spirit, and I continue to want to work hard to embody that and stay true to what this community aspires to be.

I have no idea whether you will actually get to read this, but whoever does, please pass on a giant “THANK YOU” to staff, volunteers, and all the kind Spartans who lend a helping hand and words of encouragement.

You will see me on the course next year.

Cecille Salazar