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The Time I Lost Some Toes to Frostbite

In late September of 2019 I found myself knee deep in snow at the summit of one of the tallest mountains in Lake Tahoe. It was the world championships for the death race (now known as Spartan) and here I was running towards a glacial lake, ice broken inviting me to my death.

OK maybe that’s a little exaggeration about my death but I found out later that over 70% of the 2,000 qualified racers had to be medically pulled from the race from hypothermia.

The race was a total of 17 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Additionally there would be 70 obstacles inserted into the race that had to be completed. I was now at one of these obstacles which required you to swim out to the middle of the lake, around a buoy and back to the shore.

I knew if I slowed down to test the water I may never get in and might be like my other competitors sitting on the shore re-thinking my life choices. 

With about 50 yards left I started stripping. Off came my jacket, then sweater, then shirt and shorts. I had cleverly brought a grocery bag just in case and started stuffing everything into it. 

Next thing I knew I hit the water. 

Let me just stop right there and say that if you’ve never jumped in an icy lake… you’re not missing anything. Pins, needles, fire, whatever kind of pain you are imagining double it and that’s what it felt like. 

I had planned to swim normally but ended up kind of flopping around trying to swim out. I think what I was actually subconsciously doing was trying to pull myself up into the air out of the frigid water. 

I gave up trying to swim normally and flipped onto my back kicking my way out and back to the shore again. 

When I was finally out and in nothing but my underwear and shoes I had a choice to make. I could stop and get dressed in clothes that were now wet (the bag did nothing to keep them dry) or do something I saw on tv once. Yeah those were my choices.

Following the example of one Bear Grills I grabbed some handfuls of snow and started rubbing my skin down to dry off. Guess what? It actually worked! I did get a bit colder but it was a dry cold much like I imagine hell would be like.

Without getting dressed I took off down the mountain running in nothing but underwear and a frozen smile. 

There’s a lot more to this race but needless to say I did finish and actually placed pretty well at 10th in the world. Ah yes the glory that comes with pain.

We discovered when pulling my shoes off that the tips of my toes were black. Yeah sorry I might have exaggerated a little on the title about losing my toes but the tops were definitely dead. 

I had experienced frozen fingers and toes before and the pain was beyond comparison when the feeling would begin to come back. This was different however. I knew something was wrong when the feeling came back to my feet but not my toes.

Over the next few months I would lose quite a bit of skin and tissue from the frostbite that had started working on me.

You may be one of those people who wonder why in the world this would be something I would do by choice. Or you could be one of those who understands the value of doing something difficult in order to learn and grow.

No matter the category you fall under I believe there is one thing you could take away from my experience 4 years ago.

I may have exaggerated about my toes but I didn’t exaggerate about jumping right into the water, swimming (sorta) and then running through a snowstorm down a mountain in nothing but my undies. 

Now is this because I’m tough? No, not really. I screamed like a kid when in the water and shivered while running in the snow. A tough guy would have flexed and wore a tough-man grin the whole way. 

Is it that I’m a masochist and can only find happiness when I’m suffering? Well I certainly hope not! What a terrible way to live. 

No if I’m being truly honest it was because I was curious. I was curious if I could finish such a tough race. I was curious if I could actually finish well or maybe at the back of the pack. 

There was no prize money, no glory and nobody waiting at the finish line except my loyal wife frozen to the bone waiting for hours to spend 2 minutes welcoming her husband back safe.

That curiosity drove me to do something hard, but also do whatever it took to finish and finish well. 

We all have a choice to either go with what life hands us, or get a little curious and make ourselves uncomfortable. Everything is interconnected. Inserting new and uncomfortable things into your life will expand your mind, strength and horizons allowing you to accomplish your dreams no matter what they are.

All of this I learned on a freezing cold day in the mountains of Lake Tahoe back in 2019. 

Or at least that’s how I remember it happening. 

Published By:

Author: Joseph Stevenson

I’m a brand advisor for 7-8 figure solo-prenuers, entrepreneurs as well as larger public companies. I’m the guy companies come to when they feel stagnant and inauthentic. I’ve been able to help thousands of businesses find their niche, market for customer needs and explode their revenue. I have close to 20 years of experience in online marketing and brand building having worked with companies throughout the US and in some other major countries.