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Spartan CEOJoe De Sena: “Integrate your kids into your daily routines”

Integrate your kids into your daily routines. When they are off from school, take them to work. Workout with them in the mornings and if you are heading out for a run or a swim, take them with you. If you are working on a project, let them help. There are endless ways to spend […]


Integrate your kids into your daily routines. When they are off from school, take them to work. Workout with them in the mornings and if you are heading out for a run or a swim, take them with you. If you are working on a project, let them help. There are endless ways to spend time with your kids and it often starts with helping them to take a step out of their comfort zones.

I had the pleasure to interview Joe De Sena, Founder and CEO of Spartan. Joe De Sena — Founder and CEO of Spartan, the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand — has demonstrated his entrepreneurial drive since his pre-teens. After building a multimillion-dollar pool and construction business in college, and creating a Wall Street trading firm, De Sena set his sights on ripping 100 million people off their couches by creating the Spartan lifestyle. Following a successful career on Wall Street, De Sena moved his family to Pittsfield, Vermont to operate an organic farm, a bed and breakfast, and a general store for hikers. It was here his passion grew for ultramarathons, adventure races, and endurance events, and thus the idea for Spartan was born. With more than one million annual global participants at more than 250 events across more than 40 countries, Spartan offers heats for all fitness levels and ages, from beginner to elite and kids as young as four-years-old. The brand has transformed more than six million lives since it was founded in 2010. De Sena is also the New York Times Best Selling Author of “Spartan Up” and “Spartan Fit,” and recently released his third book, “The Spartan Way.” As a popular keynote speaker, De Sena has parlayed the teachings of his Spartan Principals into the SpartanX Leadership Forum, a series of events in which participants collaborate to solve challenges alongside business leaders while learning to overcome mental and physical obstacles. De Sena’s Spartan Up! podcast features weekly interviews with some of the world’s greatest minds in business, sports and leadership. In addition to race events, the Spartan lifestyle that De Sena built encompasses all the tools one needs to transform their lives including partnerships with fitness brands such as Life Time, 24Hour Fitness and the DailyBurn; complementary training, nutrition plans and content; television series on ESPN and Facebook; forthcoming documentaries about the brand, sport and health; and an extensive line of apparel and licensed fitness gear and equipment.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory?”

Growing up, my mother was really into yoga and eating healthy at a time when it wasn’t popular, especially in Queens. She introduced me a whole world centered around mindful, healthy living, to the point where we even had a Buddhist monk living with us. Concurrently, I started cleaning pools and learned the value of hard work, always going the extra mile. From there I started a number of successful business ventures which led to a career on Wall Street, until I left to pursue something meaningful, something that could really make a positive impact on people’s lives and thus, Spartan was born.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

While I was working on Wall Street, I found myself living a sedentary lifestyle — sitting at my desk all day, working long hours, entertaining in the evening — and the combination led me to fall out of shape. A chance encounter with a man I met in the stairwell — walking up and down the stairs with a dumb bell changed my life. He had fallen into the same routines I had, until he turned things around himself. He convinced me to sign up for a race and I’ve never looked back. After I turned my own life around, I realized that I wanted to help others overcome obstacles in their lives as well and thus, Spartan was born.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

My days are insane, I’m typically up before 5am to get my workout in with the kids, before running two miles to the Ferry to head to the office. I then try to use the Ropeflex for 30 minutes while taking calls and then it’s go, go, go throughout the day. When I get home in the evening, I try to work out with the kids again then I collapse and do it all over again the next day.

Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

I’ve spoken to a number of experts about this and found that the research — both scientific and from people that are around kids extensively, show the lack of connection between parents and children really creates a whole host of future issues, and we can all imagine what those are. Kids need that connection and I am fortunate to have a wife that fills in for my shortcomings, in traveling and constantly working. We are truly a team and are united in and dedicated to maintaining that connection with our kids.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

Selfishly you get a ton out of spending time with your kids — it fires you up and makes you much happier. And, on the other end, it does the same for them. Who’s going to be a better teacher than a parent to their kids? If we want to have a great society, we have to spend time with our kids, and teach them.

Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

I work my kids into every possible aspect of my life and daily routine — and I believe that doing hard things together is important — whether that’s running a Spartan race or a marathon, going skiing and mountain climbing, or learning Mandarin — suffering together builds tremendous relationships.

A friend of mine and I once took our kids hiking in Canada up a mountain with the destination of a warm cabin to sleep. However, shortly after setting foot, we were caught in a snow storm and determined that the best plan of action was to continue on our route. After hours of hiking, we finally reached our destination, cold and hungry — as we huddled over a pot of hot soup. We worked together, listened to one another and made it safely to our destination, and that experience brought as all together as individual families and as one big group of friends.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

You don’t get everything in life, so you have to sacrifice some of the stuff that’s not moving the needle. Keep track of your time for a week and I guarantee you will find hours of wasted time that could be better put to use with your kids. Make an assessment and inventory of how you spend your time, then determine how to best optimize it, so your family receives the attention they deserve.

Integrate your kids into your daily routines. When they are off from school, take them to work. Workout with them in the mornings and if you are heading out for a run or a swim, take them with you. If you are working on a project, let them help. There are endless ways to spend time with your kids and it often starts with helping them to take a step out of their comfort zones.

How do you define a “good parent?” Can you give an example or story?

A good parent is selfless, they put their kids first — and do the hard things. Hard choices make an easy life and easy choices make a hard life and I remind myself of that every day. I could let my kids skip wrestling practice, or the morning workout to make them happy, but in the end that is only going to hurt them.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big?” Can you give an example or story?

It’s important that kids know that it is on them to determine their future. I was sitting on a chairlift with my kids once, and I told them — “hey when, I die I’m going to burn all my money,” and they were taken aback. While I wasn’t being serious, it sparked a discussion — it’s the first time they realized that they have to learn how to make it on their own.

The first step in inspiring your children is to make sure they know that they don’t need to directly follow in your footsteps. Showing kids examples of people who are doing great things is great way to kick-start this. When I was a kid, my mother introduced me to a 3,100-mile run, which inspired me at a very young age and showed me what was possible. Kids just need to see possibilities and lots of options so they can dream big. I also tell my kids that the people they aspire to be put their pants on one leg at a time, just like them.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success?”

I define success in life as being healthy and alive, doing the right thing (making sure you’re not doing the wrong thing), being honorable, having integrity, helping people and showing my kids that I love them.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrug” is a classic to me. It reminds me that you need to work hard for the things you want in life, which is an important message to pass on. Steve Callahan’s “Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea” helps set my frame of reference, reminding me that that things could be worse. I want my kids to also learn this lesson and realize that no matter how they feel about a situation, things could be worse, they could be stuck in the middle of the ocean trying to fish to stay alive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My father once said to me “if you can’t do it, I’ll get somebody who can,” so I became the person who can.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I call it Spartan. Spartan is a community that inspires people from all walks of life to be the best version of themselves, overcome the obstacles in their lives and help others do the same.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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