Published June 9, 2017
Four UB students are competing on the upcoming season of “Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge,” the hit NBC competition series that tests physical and mental limits with a mile-long obstacle course filled with mud, water and fire.
Their journey, however, which included months of training, lifting and running, did not begin in a gym, but rather a math class.
Dubbed the Mathletes, the team consists of four UB math students: Chris Komin, a senior majoring in math and film study; Zoe Herrick, a junior majoring in math and biomedical engineering; Trevor Bernard, a sophomore math major; and Ellen Lutnick, a junior who switched her major from math to exercise science.
The second season of “Spartan” premieres at 10 p.m. (EST) on Monday, June 12.
The students are competing with 24 teams from across the nation for the opportunity to win $250,000. Each team consists of five members: two men, two women and an elite Spartan athlete chosen by the show who serves as captain.
Their challenge: a grueling obstacle course inspired by Spartan Race that is designed to test determination, endurance and will.
The competition places an emphasis on teamwork, often requiring contestants to problem-solve instead of relying on athleticism. Here, says Komin, is where their math courses gave them an advantage.
“Having a background in math gives us the analytical mindset,” says Komin. “We're problem-solvers and go about obstacles in terms of efficiency rather than strength. We’re able to formulate and calculate quickly the best way to tackle Spartan obstacles.”
But textbooks and homework formed only a portion of their preparation. The students are also avid rock climbers and used the activity as one of the foundations of their training to sharpen their grip and upper body strength.
“Rock climbing is essentially physical problem-solving, which is super satisfying for people who like problem-solving and is basically the same general idea as the obstacles in the Spartan challenge,” says Lutnick.
With a workout schedule that resembled a part-time job, balancing classwork and tests made the semester an obstacle course of its own.
“That was the busiest semester of my undergrad, with 16 credits of difficult courses, six credits of research, my job at Chipotle and my volunteer position at the climbing gym,” says Herrick. “Cramming in time to train was pretty difficult, but I squeezed it in everywhere I could.”
The challenges placed on the students, both on the course and in the classroom, helped the group develop a bond that will last beyond graduation.
“We went in as friends, but we came out as family,” says Herrick. “You don’t go through an experience like that without doing some major bonding. There is so much trust involved in being a team and working through the obstacles.”
The Mathletes hope to return to the show for the third season.