Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email email@example.com.
I walked my way through the Spartan Race in 2016, battled cancer later that year, and returned the the Spartan course in 2018.
Despite fighting a sinus/ear infection, constant phlegm and a cough that just won't quit, I completed my second Spartan Sprint Race on Oct. 13. For those of you who may not know what a Spartan Race is, it is an extreme obstacle course crossed with a four-mile run crossed with a whole lot of mud.
Though my mother (and doctor and co-workers and immune system and the list goes on and on) may not have been thrilled that I decided to go through with the run, despite these various illnesses and cold and flu symptoms, I needed to do this run. It wasn't just so I didn't forfeit my non-refundable ticket. I wanted to do it because of the significance of my first experience in the Spartan Race series.
My first was in August 2016, just weeks before my cancer diagnosis. I often tell people this to illustrate that I had no symptoms of cancer aside from the lump I discovered during my monthly self exam.
Though I felt healthy from the outside, I was definitely out of shape, but I didn't want to admit it. I was weighing in around 200 pounds, which gave me an official overweight BMI on my 71-inch frame. While BMI isn't always the best indicator of a "healthy weight," I can tell you my extra cushion was not excessive muscle; it was pure flab.
In that race, it showed. Pretty much as soon as we started, I began walking. Throughout the course, I skipped about half the obstacles. Any climbing-related task got a hard pass from me. I could barely support myself on the monkey bars, let alone propel myself across the 15-foot span. We had to carry a bucket of rocks, which I had to set down every ten feet to catch my breath. I eventually finished it, with a finishing time clocking in somewhere in the two-and-a-half-hour range.
This year, my performance was much different. I ran the entire first mile and only took walking/jogging breaks when I was overcome with a coughing attack. I did all of the obstacles (minus one, thanks to extreme mud on my shoes not letting me get traction on the wall). I traversed both the monkey bars and the swinging rings. I carried the bucket of rocks without putting it down at all. I climbed a vertical rope to ring a bell, which is something I've literally never done before. My finishing time this year was less than 90 minutes, and probably could have been even better had I not been fighting various infections.
This is one achievement that I am proudest of since conquering cancer. It really illustrates how far I've come since that last race. In 2016 during the first race, I was so easy to give up on an obstacle.
The differences between the rope climb of 2016 and 2018 illustrates this best. In 2016, I didn't even attempt climbing the rope since I knew I had never done it. Even though I haven't attempted it since then, I was determined to do so in this year's race. I was about a foot away from the bell and my muscles were on fire. Yet, I didn't give up. I hoisted myself hard and slammed my palm against the side of that brass bell.
As I've said before, I don't like being called an inspiration for my battle with cancer, but I truly inspired myself during this year's race. I told myself I was going to attempt every obstacle and truly give it my all. I far surpassed my expectations and have the sore muscles to prove it. Thank goodness typing only requires me to sit and use my fingers.
Furthermore, while my improved physical performance may be due to the higher emphasis on fitness and healthy living, I think there's another cause for this positive change.
In 2016, I still had two testicles and did not do very well. Now, I proudly wear the title of Uniballer and finished within the first third of all runners. Clearly, having two testicles was weighing me down two years ago. Thus, we can conclude that losing Lefty was the advantage I needed to be able to complete all the tasks.