At 66, Vivian “Viv” Schoeller channels the voice of her inner tomboy as a Spartan racer. It’s a role she embraces not only for the physical challenge, but perhaps more importantly for the community of Spartan athletes who support her.
“What I tell everybody is that I don’t want to be frumpy, dumpy or grumpy when I get old,” she laughs. “That’s just not me. So I don’t stop. I put one foot in front of the other and, well, I guess I’m very determined.”
Viv caught the Spartan racing bug after her friend Randy Weller, an experienced racer, urged her to be a course volunteer. “As I was watching, I thought it didn’t seem really tough,” she recalls. “I was mad that I didn’t enter the race because I knew I could have done it.”
That did it. At the age of 63, she crossed the finish line of her first Spartan Race and has never looked back. That year, she earned her first Trifecta status by completing sprint, super and beast length races in the same year. She accomplished the same feat in 2016 and 2017. For the record, the sprint distance is 3+ miles and 20+obstacles; super distance is 8+ miles and 25+ obstacles, and beast distance is 13+ miles and 30+ obstacles.
The rest, as they say, may be history. But Viv’s life as a child growing up in Connecticut and settling as an adult in northeast Pennsylvania has played a big part in shaping her powerful will and belief that she can do anything she sets her mind to.
She tells the story of growing up and her dad always wanting a son. “I guess I was destined to be a tomboy,” Viv says. She recalls her dad enrolling her in horseback riding lessons, which led to a show competition. “I think that gave me a good foundation for competition.”
In the meantime, her father shared his skill for training homing pigeons as a member of the Signal Pigeon Corps during World War II. Later in life, showed and trained various breeds of dogs. Toss in grooming school, and her passion for canines bloomed. She competed in American Kennel Club obedience, tracking, Schutzhund training, World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) freestyle dancing, and therapy dogs certified with Therapy Dogs International.
Viv’s path eventually led to volunteering with the 4-H and training seeing-eye puppies for the sight-impaired.
Fast Friends & Community of Support
It’s no coincidence that training guide dogs for the visually impaired and Spartan racing intersected in Viv’s life. A lifelong friend is visually impaired, and that friend’s son, Michael Tubiak, is a visually impaired Spartan athlete.
In fact, Viv has completed three races as Michael’s sighted guide. At the Palmerton Super in Pennsylvania, the pair teamed up with Team Believe 923 for adaptive athletes and completed a very tough course in nine hours. “What a memorable experience that was!” she exclaims.
As she explains the training, racing and support that Spartan racers share, she makes the analogy to a big, passionate family. And that family is growing.
In 2016, more than 2.5 million people worldwide entered Spartan Races. And today, the Spartan Race organization hosts 200 events in more than 30 countries, standing behind its mission to “Rip 100 Million People Off The Couch.”
“You meet the most amazing people who have all kinds of stories and different motivations for doing this,” Viv explains.
“It’s really about being surrounded by supportive people, as well as being supportive to others. I never really expected the social component of racing, but it’s amazing.”
Viv says the Spartan experience has changed her life. What began with daily walks with her dogs morphed into 10-mile solo runs up and down the hills of her rural community. “I did a little bit at a time,” she says. “And that way it didn’t seem too hard.”
Today, she squeezes in training at lunchtime. She also has a treadmill in her house and a bicycle set up on a trainer for winter days when training outdoors isn’t an option.
Viv is matter-of-fact when it comes to the attention she has garnered as a 66-year-old Spartan Racer. “If you can do it, I can do it,” she says. “And if I can do it, you can do it.” It doesn’t matter how fast or how far you go, she insists, it’s just about moving and connecting with a community of like-minded people of all ages.
“My son says I’m as slow as the speed of smell,” she laughs. “For me, it’s not about being fast. It’s about being ABLE. You’ve got to keep your body moving and be thankful and happy for the little moments, no matter what they are.
She is also influencing future generations. Her grandson is 5 years old and completed his first Spartan kids race in 2014. “He’ll always remember that. We had so much fun. And now he is a Spartan, too.”
Spartan racing has also fueled Viv’s quest for healthy aging. “As long as I have the ability, I will run,” she says. “I always want to be able to get up those hills and show my grandson what aging looks like.”