Nazareth grad tearing it up in Spartan Race

Alex Sawicki competes in advanced obstacle runs, leading an all-female team on NBC’s Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge.

Injuries derailed Alex Sawicki’s soccer career, but she’s now starring in Spartan Races. PHOTO: Mark Hill/NBC

Injuries can ruin a career.

For Alex Sawicki, they made hers.

Sawicki, a 2010 graduate of Nazareth Academy, suffered a concussion when she was playing soccer at the University of West Virginia. The injury was so severe, she was unable to make it back on the field.

The problem was, she still had the will to compete.

“After I was done playing sports, I just wanted to do something, and I wanted to get back in shape, physically and mentally, so I started running,” the Bustleton native said. “I was running, and I got the runner’s high and I felt good, but running can be boring.”

She was looking for something new, and she found it.

“My friend, Brandy DiAnno, graduated with me at Nazareth and her mom sent her an email or a text about a big race up at Blue Mountain,” Sawicki said. “We found out that if you volunteered, you could run for free. I was a college student, so that was perfect.”

It wasn’t a marathon or a 5K or anything like that. It was a Spartan Race.

These races are obstacles where competitors have to conquer the course, which sometimes includes climbing under barbed wire, throwing a spear, carrying heavy objects for far distances, going over a wall and negotiating monkey bars.

Every race is different, but they are usually full of difficult tasks, and they can last as long as nine hours.

“The first time I did it, Brandy kicked my butt. She was still playing sports, and the race kicked my butt,” Sawicki said. “But I just wanted to do it again. I was sore, I was hurt, I didn’t want to do it right away, but I knew I wanted to do it again. It was unlike anything I ever did and I loved it. I loved everything about it. I knew I had to do it again.”

Now, she’s doing it all the time.

Sawicki is an expert on this season’s Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, which is on NBC on Monday nights at 10. She is the captain of the only all-female team, which is made up of Olympic pole vaulters.

Her team will compete on the June 26 episode.

“It is very cool to be on TV, I’ll be very excited to see it,” said Sawicki, 25. “It’s an exciting show, it’s on after American Ninja Warrior. It’s a great sport.”

Growing up, Sawicki was a softball and soccer player, two sports she loved. But Spartan Races fit Sawicki like a hand to a custom-made glove.

“I love it because nobody is going to yell at me for getting my clothes muddy,” Sawicki said. “That was me, I would get in trouble for rolling around in the mud while wearing my Easter dress. This is perfect for me. Sometimes I look rough, I’ll come out with cuts and scratches on me, but I love it.”

It’s given her more than just a great sport.

One of her training partners is Tyler McCredie, her boyfriend, who she met while doing Spartan Races. Having a boyfriend who understands her passion definitely helps the relationship.

“I don’t have to explain why I love it because he loves it, too,” Sawicki said. “We met doing it. I have other friends who are involved, too. It helps when you have people like that. We work out together, and we work together whenever one of us doesn’t have a race.”

McCredie isn’t her only support.

Sawicki’s mother died when she was 11, and she has no siblings, but she has a father who is her biggest fan. He gets a little nervous when he sees his little girl competing in a brutal sport, but his love never wanes.

“He’s gotten a little more protective as I’ve gotten older, but he’s such a great dad,” Sawicki said. “Growing up, he was everything to me. He had to work, he was a Philly cop, but he made almost all of my games. Now I think he gets a little nervous, but he still supports me all the time.”

Sawicki, who works as a personal trainer, also gets support from her clients.

“I think sometimes they look at me funny when I’m walking funny because I just climbed a mountain, or I’m covered in cuts, but I use it to help them,” Sawicki said. “I always tell them that if I can do it, they can do it. They might not be doing what I’m doing, but they can get in shape.”

Sawicki can do everything in the Spartan Races, but she definitely has her favorite parts of the race.

“I love throwing the spear because I was a softball player and I am pretty good at it,” Sawicki said. “The first two times I did it, I missed, but since, I’ve been pretty good, and it helps. If you miss an obstacle, you have to do 30 burpees, so I can make up a lot of time when I compete it and they miss it.

“I’m also good at carrying things. I’m 6 foot tall, so that helps in those races. When I first started, I couldn’t do the monkey bars, I couldn’t do anything that required a lot of upper-body strength, but I’m getting better.”

That improvement has given her the title of expert for the show, but she’s far from satisfied.

“There are professionals, and I would love to get there,” Sawicki said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve played Division I soccer, and obviously that’s hard. It’s very hard, but this has been harder because it just pushes you so hard. You always have to give it everything you have, and I’m learning this as an adult. Soccer, I played my entire life.”

While Sawicki improves, so is her sport.

Networks are creating their own obstacle shows to get in on the act, and Sawicki predicts big things ahead for her sport.

“The two fastest-growing sports in the world are (mixed martial arts) and (obstacle running),” Sawicki said. “And there’s talk of making it an Olympic sport. It didn’t make it last time, but because it’s growing it could happen. It would be pretty cool to say I did that.” ••