The Face Behind The Race

Saturday’s wrestling match to raise money for cancer survivor’s awareness campaign.

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This weekend at Fit 4 Life in Erwin, a Carolina Ring Wars wrestling event will raise money for a local cancer survivor’s awareness campaign.

Susan Espinoza, 48, of Fayetteville competes in Spartan races all around the country in an effort to show people who have been diagnosed with cancer that they can remain active.

Spartan races are grueling obstacle course runs that vary in distance and difficulty. There is mud, water, monkey bars, rings and ropes. In addition to running, competitors must crawl, hang and climb.

Espinoza had always been athletic. She traveled to play soccer in Germany at the age of 18 and played competitive softball for many years, stopping only recently.

After seeing a friend of hers race, she began running Spartan race open heats as a recreational hobby in April, 2016. She ran in three races that year and committed to racing competitively in the next year.

In April 2017, after a race in Charlotte, Espinoza found a lump under her arm.

The mother of one had become accustomed to checking her body for bumps and bruises after each event, and it was during that post-race routine that she discovered her lump.

It was cold and she had been sick that spring, so she thought the lump was a swollen lymph node. But when it didn’t go away, she went to the doctor’s office. The doctor had the same assumption; a swollen lymph node. But when it didn’t go away, the doctor ordered some tests.

At the age of 46, at then end of May of 2017, Espinoza found out she had breast cancer.

“I accredited Spartan races for helping me find that because I probably would have never found it had I not done that race the day before,” she said. “I put it back on Spartan. I wouldn’t have found this lump without doing these races. So, at that point I decided I’m really going to start doing this — as soon as I beat this — I’m going to start running competitively, be an elite racer and start running to raise awareness for people to be doing self exams. Mammograms can’t detect everything. Ultrasounds can’t detect everything and I want everyone to know that they need to be aware of their own bodies.”

During the course of her cancer treatment, surgery and radiation, Espinoza continued to race. She ran two races in Spring Lake in Sept. 2017, in week three of her radiation treatment.

“I had third-degree burns on my body and under my armpit,” she said, “I still raced. I got first.”

She set her mind to continuing to compete and she set competitive goals for herself. Because her treatments made regularly competing in the longer, more physically-difficult Spartan races, Espinoza’s recommitted to setting her 2018 bar even higher.

“I’ve competed in six races so far this year. I’ve got two firsts, two seconds, a third, a fourth and a fifth.” She said she even ran a race in the mountains, which was out of her normal comfort zone. She placed fourth there.

“I’ve always been an athlete. So this kind of came naturally,” Espinoza said.

“There are several different levels of Spartan races,” she explained, “There’s a Sprint, which is 3 to 5 miles, there’s a Super, which is 8 to 10 miles, and there’s a Beast, which is 12 to 15 miles. If you complete all three in a calendar year, you get a trifecta. Last year, my goal was to get a triple trifecta but with the cancer treatments I was not able to do that. I got a double trifecta instead. So this year, I’m going for a triple.”

She will run her seventh race of the year this weekend — a Beast — the North American Championship, where all athletes from the United States, Canada and Mexico come to compete in West Virginia. She qualified for the North American Championship in April, and if she finishes well enough this weekend, she will have qualified for the World Championship.

She plans to run two more Beasts in November and if she runs another Beast in December, she’ll have completed a quadruple trifecta.

Originally from Seattle, Espinoza married into the military and found her way to Fort Bragg in 1994. She’s been stationed around the country, but has always come back to the Fayetteville Army base. Her son was born and raised in Fayetteville, and she considers the city to be home.

She underwent a lumpectomy, in which surgeons removed three tumors. She also had five lymph nodes removed and went through four weeks of radiation. She underwent genetic blood tests to determine whether or not she had mutations in her genes that would make her susceptible to breast cancer. That blood test is called the BRCA gene test. She is now prescribed Tamoxifen, which she must take for five years to reduce the risk of her cancer returning.

Said Espinoza, “I go back every three months, they check me, and everything seems to be going OK.”

Spartan race registration costs between $150 and $200, that does not include travel and accommodations. Espinoza now runs them with breast cancer awareness in mind. She’s taken part in the Cape Fear Valley Ribbon Walk, the All-Women’s Walk in Greensboro and her story was featured on April 30 in the Fayetteville Observer. She wears pink socks and spreads the word about self examinations, on not having blind faith in mammography, and about knowing one’s body.

“People come to me all the time to ask questions and I just try to help and give my advice,” she said. “One of the reasons that I tell everybody why I race is for this reason, for breast cancer awareness and to show women that they can. So many people think (a cancer diagnosis) is the end of their lives ... and I’ve totally proved that wrong.”

Fit 4 Life Fundraiser Presenting Ring Wars Carolina

Fit 4 Life Dunn is presenting Fight for a Spartan, featuring Ring Wars Carolina this Saturday, at 3 p.m. The event will be held at 101 Regency Blvd., Erwin, and is expected to last no longer than two hours.

This will be an outdoor event. In lieu of rain, the wrestling ring will be moved inside. Organizers hope to host between 100 and 200 guests.

A portion of the day’s proceeds will go to breast cancer survivor Susan Espinoza’s Spartan Campaign and her quest to raise awareness for breast cancer research. Ms. Espinoza runs Spartan races for breast cancer awareness.

Admission tickets are $5 for children and $10 for adults. The admission cost is considered to be a donation to Ms. Espinoza’s campaign.

There will be raffle tickets on sale. The prizes will be a free three-month Fit 4 Life gym membership, valued at $200, and a free month of personal training, worth $160.

The food truck, Tacos El Corral will be on site. Water will be available for $1, inside the gym.

Wrestlers will have merchandise on sale and some may be available for autographs and pictures before and after the event.

For more information, call 910-980-0144.

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