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Penn State Student Competes in Spartan Death Race

by on June 17, 2012 11:14 AM

This weekend, Kyle Schillaci, a fifth-year architecture student at Penn State, took on one of the biggest challenges of his life. Its name: the Spartan Death Race.

In this challenge, participants are sent into the wilderness of Vermont to perform mentally and physically taxing missions. One of the most difficult factors of the race is that the participants are unsure of what to expect; the obstacles, rules and tasks change every year.

The race could last up to 48 hours.

“The main reason I wanted to try to do it was, two summers ago they told me I had type 1 diabetes,” Schillaci said. “However, because of my active lifestyle and good eating habits, I chose not to take insulin injections and have continued on this path to this point. I accepted that this was something I would have to live with, but it would in no way slow me down.

“So, I wanted to see if I could compete at the same level of other athletes.”

Schillaci headed to the mountains in Pittsfield, Vt. Thursday to prepare, as the race could start at any given time.

“They try to break you mentally,” he said.

Every day for the past two weeks, participants had been receiving emails with continually changing information about the race. Schillaci said that a final email with the final start time was sent out the day before he left. However, he expected even that time to change. That was just the beginning of the mental challenges that the participants endured.

Certain clues were given in these emails that both stumped and prepared the contestants for the race. Schillaci said he was to bring a life jacket, knitting needles, yarn, dress shoes, and a clipping from a bonsai tree.

When asked what scared him the most, he said, “Probably if there’s a lot of swimming. I’m not a very good swimmer. I did a lot of triathlons and the swimming was terrible for me. Since they said there’s a lifejacket, I’m nervous.

“Other than that, the tasks don’t really worry me.”

Every year the Spartan Death Race has a theme. Betrayal was the theme this year, and one of the first things he received was a coded message with the Cesar Cypher on it.

Schillaci said he had to brush up on his history.

“Some of the tasks require you to decipher codes or puzzles,” he said, describing how in a past year, participants had to climb a steep mountain and memorize the names of the first 10 presidents. They then were required to recite the names when they reached the bottom.

“If they messed up, they had to climb the mountain again,” he said.

Mentally, Schillaci said he felt prepared from his years of being a dedicated student.

“The mental crush of sleep deprivation is not completely foreign to me due to the rigor of undergraduate architecture school,"  he said. "I have seen the sun rise too many times to count.”

He added: “If you fall asleep, you’re disqualified.”

However, let’s not forget this is also a grueling physical competition. In fact, the Spartan Death Race’s slogan is “you may die.”

To prepare himself, Schillaci worked out at CrossFit Nittany on Hawbaker Industrial Drive in State College.

“I do crossfit probably six days a week. It’s basically my main workout," he said. "I do double workouts three days a week. I also have wooden rings and a tire in my basement and a climbing rope outside. Well, I did until my landlord cut it down.”

This year, the racers received the task of having an article published about their participation in the race.

“This year’s penalty is if you don’t have an article in the paper, you have to swim 12 miles the day before the race.”

Danielle Matalonis is a student at Penn State and a summer intern for covering local news and events.
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