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Army vet Josh Fiore knew he could win Spartan Ultra World Championship title ... and he did

By DAVE DYER | The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. | Published: January 2, 2018

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The conditions at the start of the Spartan Ultra World Championship in Iceland last month were, to say the least, intimidating.

The temperature was 28 degrees with a stiff wind. Worse, there was a driving mass of freezing rain pouring down on the 600 competitors preparing to take off on the brutally challenging 24-hour competition.

In other words, the conditions were just perfect for North Andover resident Josh Fiore.

“When I heard about the race, about six months ago, I said ‘That’s my race, I can win it,’” said the 36-year-old Fiore, a former army medic and EMT studying to be a physician’s assistant.

“I love the cold and the worse the conditions, the better I do.”

It wasn’t always this way, but Fiore definitely knows his strengths. And 24 hours and 71 miles later, Fiore finished first by a half-hour over the runner-up. The rest of the international field had dwindled to less than 300 because of the unusually harsh conditions.

That made Fiore a world champion and $6,000 richer, the prize money awarded to the winner of what is considered the ultimate OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) competition in the world.

“There were some tough stretches but (winning) was the best feeling in the world,” said Fiore, who grew up in Methuen. “And my legs felt surprisingly good.”

Which, after finishing an OCR competition is remarkable.

The course consisted of six-mile loops and just running that 12 times in 24 hours in miserable weather is tough enough.

But, in the tradition of OCR, there were 22 obstacles per loop, like traversing walls, clearing hurdles, carrying 60-pound sacks up and down hills, crossing monkey bar-type equipment and traversing balance challenges.

Overcoming such varied obstacles requires a variety of strength and athletic ability, which is exactly what Fiore enjoys about OCR competitions.

“To be good at it takes a combination of speed, strength and endurance,” said 5-foot-10, 165-pound Fiore, who led the from start to finish. “You have to find the perfect balance. If you’re just a great runner, that’s not good enough, and if you’re strong and athletic but can’t run, that won’t work.”

Through diligent and intense training, Fiore seems to have found that perfect balance which, for those who knew him at Methuen High (MHS ‘99), is a stunning development.

Finding his niche

His elevation to world champion at such a demanding sport just doesn’t seem like the Josh Fiore they knew.

“I loved football but I wasn’t very good at it. ... I played four years and never started,” said Fiore. “I did indoor track for a year and I tried wrestling for a year.”

Looking back, Fiore wishes he had stuck with track and gone out for cross country. Because, during his four-year stint as a medic in the army, he discovered he was a pretty fair runner.

“I wasn’t really interested in it but we had to run two miles and I did it in 10:10,” he remembered. “I thought then that maybe I was a good runner.”

Fast forward to 2014 and Fiore, on the suggestion of a friend, checked out a “Warrior Duel” competition, a somewhat different form of obstacle racing.

He tried it, “had fun” and then mixed in a similar Spartan race with trail runs and pure ultra marathon running events.

Hiking important, too

The next year, Fiore started taking Spartan races seriously. He went all out, with considerable success, both in them and the ultra marathon running events he continued with. He also completed hiking the 48 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire, mostly in the winter.

By the time 2017 rolled around, Fiore was ready for the world championship race in Iceland.

“When I registered, I was pretty confident I could win it. But, as the race got closer, I heard about these amazing athletes who had entered,” he said.

“I decided that I was just going to run my race, do my own thing and have some fun with it.

“My initial plan was to sit back and let the other top runners burn out before I picked it up. But I got out in the lead right away and was running so comfortably that I decided I’d just stick with it.”

Since his impressive world championship triumph, Fiore has been inundated with congratulations and well wishes on social media.

The response, the prize money and the incredible feeling of accomplishment are all reasons why he is eager to do more races in the future. But there is a more compelling reason as well.

“I love winning but it’s more about the experience,” said Fiore. “I would have never gone to Iceland if it hadn’t been for this race and now I want to go back. I’ll probably concentrate on the longer competitions now.”

Whatever the race, competitors will be wary of Fiore. He is, after all, a world champion.

Proposes at the finish line

Josh Fiore will certainly never forget last month’s Spartan Ultra World Championship, and not just because he won.

Throughout the race, he kept an engagement ring in a pouch in his backpack, ready to pop the question to his girl friend, Cheryl Puello, at the completion of the race.

That had him doubly excited after he crossed the finish line. But things didn’t go exactly as planned.

“After the announcement of the winners, they asked me if I had anything to say and I said, ‘yes’ and took off my backpack,” said Fiore.

“But my hands were frozen and I couldn’t open it to get the ring. Another guy tried it for me and, after he was having trouble, asked if it was all right if he ripped it open. “I said, ‘sure.’ He ripped it open and the ring flew out. At first, no one could find it and a lot of people were probably wondering what was going on.

“I finally found it and proposed and she (Puello) was definitely surprised.”

Even better, Fiore got the answer he wanted even though “she hates surprises and she hates large groups of people.”

In addition to the competitors and support people congregated at the award ceremony, an estimated 400,000 people were watching on a live stream online.

©2018 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)
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