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Prescott vets train for intense obstacle course

PRESCOTT -- A disabled veteran who could barely run six months ago has turned everything around as he trains for the upcoming 2013 Tough Mudder obstacle course.

"When I got into the VA domiciliary in Prescott, I could barely run a mile," said Spencer Morton during a break from weight training at Yavapai College's gym. "Tomorrow I'm going to try to run 15 miles with a 20 pound pack."

Morton, an aviation operation specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999, is president of Team 1, a group of local veterans with combat and noncombat disabilities who train for athletic events that benefit charities.

"Team 1 believes service doesn't end at home," said Morton, who's working on an associate's degree at Yavapai College. "We're veterans, we know about serving, we love serving, and when you get back home there's not a lot of serving going on. It gives us purpose to accomplish these things, help our fellow veterans, and give back to our community."

The Tough Mudder, which takes place Feb. 23 and 24 in Mesa, has raised more than $4 million for Wounded Warrior Project.

"Tough Mudder is going to be fun - 12.5 miles of an obstacle course including fire, ice, heights, ropes, barbed wire and everything is teamwork-related," Morton said. "The event builds camaraderie."

David Ward, vice president of Team 1, said the teamwork necessary to complete Tough Mudder attracted him.

"I can't do this challenge by myself; I need to get help from my teammates," Ward said. "You have to finish together as a team. That's what Team 1 is all about."

Morton, who has PTSD and a noncombat disability, was working out at the VA gym when he mentioned to the kinesiotherapist he wanted to run a triathlon.

"He told me, 'Action without purpose is useless, and purpose without love is useless - figure that out and why you're running,'" Morton said.

So Morton went home that night and thought about it.

"I decided to do this for charities," Morton said. "I had a triathlon set for a year out, and thought the Tough Mudder would be a good halfway point."

Michael Winter, lead kinesiotherapist at the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System, said the facility helps veterans by promoting functional independence through exercise that builds strength and endurance and promotes lifelong physical activity.

"We want to make sure there is a purpose in their action," Winter said. "Instead of running for personal glory, we tell them to find something that makes it more meaningful."

The medical center also helps veterans transition into civilian life, said Winter, a Desert Storm veteran.

"When veterans come out of combat to reintegrate into society, they've left a close family of fellow veterans who depended on each other for their lives," said Winter. "They come back home, deal with combat stress, don't have that support, and they're alone."

Winter said in the VA's program lets veterans know they are a family, that veterans support veterans, and "they build each other up so they can fulfill their goals, making our community so much better for it."

Team 1 also strives to help veterans achieve more than they ever thought they could.

"It's possible to accomplish anything you put your mind to, no matter what situation you're in," Morton said.

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