Hobie Call sold his house and quit his job to train for the 2007 Olympic trials, but while there he ran the second worst race of his life. Because of that heartbreak, he found a new sport and became a three-time world champion of obstacle course racing.
Call, who lives in Erda, grew up running the hills in California and Wyoming and watching his dad run marathons. Call decided at age 9 he would run his first marathon.
“I wanted to be the best runner in the world,” Call said. “I thought it was normal for a kid to have dreams like that.”
In sixth grade, Call lived in Star Valley, Wyoming, and would sprint the mile to school and back home after the bell rang.
“I knew I wanted to be great, so I just ran a lot,” he recalled.
In college, Call decided there were no coaches who could get him to where he wanted to be as a runner, so he trained himself. After years of training and finding himself in the best shape of his life, with a wife and four children, Call decided it was time to go to the Olympic trials.
“If you haven’t made it by 30, you’re not going to make it,” Call said.
He had spent his life training and this was his last chance. He sold his house and quit his job so that he could focus on training. The family also had fundraisers to raise money to send him to trials.
Call was hopeful as he had recently attained a personal record at the Top of Utah Marathon, running a time of 2:16:38. But at the Olympic trials, Call had the second worse race of his career and didn’t qualify for the Beijing Olympics.
He was angry that he had trained his whole life to have an awful race. But, he used that experience to fuel him to train even harder. Call planned to race at the next Olympic trials, but couldn’t because of an injury.
“If I would’ve done well, I would’ve said, ‘I did my best,’” he said. “But there was no way I was going to go out like this. I had done all I could. I was almost 34 and had nothing to show for it. I only had moments where I was ready to run a 2:12 marathon.”
At 34, he was now living in Utah and the snow and smog limited training outdoors .In addition, he had a job. For most elite athletes, it’s their full-time job to train. But Call was an HVAC technician and still had to fit in training whenever he could.
Call had come to a decision and told his wife, Irene, that he was done. He had given everything he had and now he had to move on.
But in 2011, Irene Call received a Facebook message from a friend who talked about a Spartan Obstacle Course Race. A Spartan race is a series of obstacle races that can feature a fire jump, climbing under barbed wire, wall climbing, mud crawling and several other challenges.
“It’s like an adult fitness theme park,” Call said.
He saw a picture of mud and thought there was no way he would get involved.
“I work construction and saw the picture of mud — and I hate mud,” he said. “I put down planks so I don’t have to walk in the mud.”
Things changed, however, when Call saw a magazine article that said whoever could win all of the Spartan races in the U.S. in 2011 would win $100,000. Call showed up at the first race and his dad told the director, Joe De Sena, who founded Spartan racing in 2007, that his son was going to win the race and the $100,000.
There were 14 races that year, with one called the Death Race. Call was initially told that the $100,000 didn’t include a win at the Death Race. He said he thought to himself, “I just might be the guy that could pull this off.”
Later, after Call was on a roll winning, the organizers added the Death Race to the list to win the grand prize.
“I paid $120 to sign up, which I had never paid a $120 for a race in my life,” he said. “I had to buy contacts. We scratched together everything we had to get to the race in California.”
Call won the first race by six minutes.
“There was no money,” he said. “We got a sword and helmet trophy. The award ceremony wasn’t much. It could’ve been a race, but wasn’t designed to be a race. If I had not shown up, there wouldn’t have been a race at all.”
But the media jumped on the story of Call trying to win $100,000.
At the next race, in a town in western Arizona, there were wanted posters with Call’s picture on them offering money to competitors if they could beat Call.
“They were offering people money to beat me, because it would cost less than paying me $100,000.There were no rules so things were always changing,” Call said.
Call had bought radio control cars for his kids one Christmas and had to sell them to buy an airplane ticket to one of the races. Besides holding fundraisers, the family relied on help from friends, and even sold their TV.
By the fifth race, they had nothing left to sell, so they went into debt on a credit card to get Call to the starting line. Call entered the Death Race but had to drop out.
“I went in as confident as I could, but ended up dropping out after 37 hours,” he said.
The $100,000 was off the table now, but Call was the face of Spartan’s marketing campaign for the whole year. The Spartan organization wanted him to keep coming back because it generated interest in its races.
Call told the organizers he couldn’t afford to keep coming back because he had credit card debt that he amassed as he tried to get to the last few races. Spartan CEO De Sena paid off Call’s credit card and helped sponsor a few of his next races so Call could continue.
Call went on to pioneer and bring attention to obstacle course racing, amassing more than 50 Spartan wins, and making him the most decorated Spartan competitor to date. Yet, despite all of the victories, his fans have commented on his humility and how they enjoy talking with him after events.
“I hope to inspire people to first, believe in themselves; second, follow their heart; and last, to never give up,” he said. “This is what it took for me to be 40 years old and accomplish what I have. I could have easily quit at 25, 27, 31, 33 — but I didn’t.”
Call trained by himself for years. Those years, he said were filled with a few glorious moments, but also hard work over and over every day.
“The first race was a highlight because everything I had done in my life all of a sudden made sense,” Call said of Spartan racing.
“The industry right now is good,” he said. “Thousands of people are showing up to participate, but the sport for the spectators still struggles. More people do OCR then marathons and road racing, but hardly anyone knows about it. There’s some television, but it isn’t very good.”
Call has plans to change the format of OCR racing, but is waiting to find the right connections in hopes of transforming the industry.
After years of dedication his fans call him a legend and a king. Call has been called the Michael Jordan of OCR. The biggest difference between him and Jordan, though, is that Call participates in a sport that is not financially rewarding.
He said there is a dichotomy between his two personas: the winner and the father and runner-in-training.
“The world sees the two-hour glory moments, but the kids see the months of training,” Call said. “It’s an honor to be the first and a privilege, but I’m retiring poor.”
Call said he is about 95-percent retired from OCR. The biggest bonus from retiring is that he will be able to spend more time with his family.
“It’s really been a sacrifice and a lot of hard work,” he said. “I had to believe in myself that it was possible year after year.”
While Call learned to never doubt his own potential to succeed, he also believes everyone can realize their potential.
“Everybody has something in them,” he said.
For Call that “something” is the fire to never give up on one’s dreams. Along the way, he found he has the heart of a champion.