The Spartans of ancient Greece were known as the fiercest warriors and competitors of that era, so to meet Tooele County’s happy-go-lucky Hobie Call, a modern-day Spartan racer, may seem a bit perplexing.
He doesn’t fit the profile of the ancient Spartans, but don’t let his friendly demeanor fool you. The 35-year-old Tooele resident has become one of the top Spartan racers in the entire Spartan Race circuit.
Spartan Race is a mixture of cross-country racing and military boot camp training. The racers compete for more than three miles with more than 15 different obstacles to overcome such as mud pits, climbing walls and barb wire crawls. The twist is that the racers don’t know beforehand what obstacles will obstruct their way.
Call has worked his way up the leaderboards of these races to be ranked No. 9 in the world, according to Spartan Race’s most recent points leaderboard. But that part doesn’t matter to Call. In fact, Call had no idea where he was currently ranked. For him, it’s all about fulfilling his dream of becoming a professional athlete in some form.
He trained and ran in the Olympic trials for the marathon run in 2007. When that didn’t pan out, his family started to tell him it was time to give up his dream and move on to a “real” career.
“My family said, ‘You need to quit your running and get a real job,’” Call said. ‘That’s how it’s been my whole life. It’s a good thing these races came up.”
Once Call heard about the races in December 2010, he started training, and he’s made it his focus. He’s accumulated around $20,000 in prize money since that time, and he’s also sold his own training videos called “How to Train for Obstacle Course Racing,” which feature him in the DVD instructing viewers on obstacle course racing preparation.
The early parts of obstacle course racing presented a unique challenge. Call had the talent to compete in Spartan Race, but he didn’t have the funds to travel to the races.
“My first four races we were living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “We were about as broke as they get.”
Call was working at Salt Lake City-based Kelly’s Heating and Cooling at the time, and it was difficult for him to even purchase contact lenses for the races. He needed contact lenses because racing while wearing glasses just wasn’t feasible with the intensity of the obstacle courses. After sign-up fees, traveling expenses and medical examinations, Call needed about $500 to travel to Temecula, Calif., and compete in his first Spartan Race in January.
“We didn’t have $500,” he said. “But I had been at this my whole life, so I thought, ‘Don’t stop now. This looks like something that might work out.’ So we did it. We spent every extra penny we had to get to the first race.”
And Call won.
“I won so I figured I better keep going,” he said.
Call continued winning, still scraping by to get to the following race. His second race was in Chandler, Ariz., in February 2011 so he was able to drive, but his third race was in Burnet, Texas, in March 2011, so he was required to fly. He and his family sold their TV in order to pay for Call’s plane ticket to Texas.
Finally the fourth race came about, and it was in Miami, Fla. Call decided to have a fundraiser. He sold chimichangas and cookies around his neighborhood, and then a friend hosted a party where people were able to donate money toward Call buying a plane ticket to Florida.
“There was no way we were going to get to the next race, and yet we found a way,” Call said. “People were just pitching in because they wanted to see me get to the race, and they knew I didn’t have any money. Regardless of all odds we just kept making it happen.”
He cut every expense he could think of as well while on his trips to the Spartan Race locations such as staying with people he knew to save on hotel expenses.
His family has also gotten into the fun of Spartan Race and supporting him. Call said his children compete in the kids races at the Spartan Race events and said they really enjoy those small races. Call said his wife, Irene, has also competed in a few Spartan races. Call has five children ages 13 and younger.
Now Call is one of the elite racers in this sport, and he’s become elite because this is what he focuses on. He quit his job so he could focus on training for the races and selling his instructional DVD.
“I train smarter than anybody else for these races,” Call said. “Most athletes are runners, and then they come and do an obstacle race. Then you get Cross Fit people who come do an obstacle race, and then you get triathletes. But I’m an obstacle racer. I train for obstacle races, and that’s it.”
After the ’07 Olympic trials, Call broke off and did several events that were precursors to him becoming a Spartan racer.
“I’ve always been better at strength than speed,” he said. “I like things that require more strength and endurance than speed. Obstacle races fit that bill a little better. Put me in a 5K road race and I’ll just be close to the front group. I’m not great by any means.”
The most rewarding part of this experience for Call has been seeing others be motivated by his story.
“I go to races and people will be like, ‘I’m here because of you,’” he said. “The more time that goes by the more people you hear that from. Just to see that you motivated others to be better in whatever way, that’s the best of it.”
Call said he hopes others won’t be afraid to follow their dreams. He hopes his experience can be an example to others that you can do exactly what you want to do.
“You’ve got to have patience,” he said. “You’ve got to work for it. You can’t just dream it at night. You’ve got to wake up and live it. No matter how long it takes never give up. Believe in yourself. The worst that can happen is you don’t make it. So what? It’s still better than not trying. Not trying is the worst thing. If you make it, awesome. If you don’t, you’re still going to be happier than you would have been if you didn’t try.”