Busting Through Barriers With Spartan Adaptive Athlete Misty Diaz


The word “can’t” isn’t in Misty Diaz’s vocabulary. This 4-foot-4-inch adaptive athlete with myelomeningocele, the most serious form of spina bifida, has crushed the world’s most extreme physical challenges, from scaling a ski jump mountain in 30 minutes to completing a trifecta of Spartan obstacle courses in two days—all on hot-pink crutches.

Diaz, who goes by the nicknames “Lil Misty” and “Biggie Smalls,” has finished more than 190 races, including 10 half marathons, and broke four adaptive athlete records for the more than 65 Spartan races she has participated in around the world. She’s proof that we’re all capable of more than we give ourselves credit for. Here is Diaz’s inspiring story and her advice on pursuing your dreams.


From mailbox to mountain

Six years ago, the idea of becoming a sponsored professional athlete wouldn’t have occurred to Diaz. Although she had been active when she was younger, she had just undergone a failed 28th surgery, was in pain and was on a lot of medication, with a home health nurse visiting her several times a week. She was also going through a divorce. Sad, angry and exhausted, she knew that she was headed for trouble. She resolved to start moving. The first day, she made it to the mailbox.

“For me, just to be able to walk from my front door to the mailbox was the biggest reward,” Diaz said. “I was starting to notice that the sky was blue and the flowers were pink and that there were purple flowers that I’d never seen before.”

The next week, she made it around the block. After two weeks of walking, she made it two blocks away to the ocean,—a place she’d never been in the two years that she lived there.

“I just felt happy. I felt energetic,” she said. “I was meeting new people. I was seeing things that I didn’t know were in my neighborhood.”

Then a call came through letting her know that her insurance covered a SilverSneakers plan at her local 24 Hour Fitness gym that was five blocks away, her first experience in a gym.

“I started introducing myself, and I just loved the atmosphere and I loved meeting so many people and … just being a part of something,” she said. Diaz started walking on the treadmill and doing upper-body exercises, and she began noticing some of her discomfort going away.

Excited about her new mobility, she signed up for a Ronald McDonald 5K walk, began raising funds and told a friend so she wouldn’t back out. On race day, she showed up in a purple tutu, red lipstick and braids.

“I raced when everybody raced and stopped when everybody stopped. And I knew from that instant, I wanted to keep doing what I was doing over and over and over again.”


Building a team, finding her mission

As she ran more 5Ks and then a 10K, she began to develop a community—both online and in real life—people who became her support and inspiration, from the Sherpas who ran with her carrying water and snacks to her first coach, Michael, who volunteered on social media to train her for several months for her first half marathon in Yonkers, New York.

Every step of the way, her community and determination have helped her meet each goal, even those that proved much harder than expected, such as that first half marathon in New York that was steeper than she had trained for. Nervous, Diaz posted on social media, letting people know she was there, hoping for encouragement and connection.

At mile 6, just when the going was getting especially tough, a car suddenly pulled up next to her honking with the windows rolled down and its passengers screaming, “We love you! We follow you!” They had seen her message about the race online and had rented a car to come cheer her on in the race. Next, a group of people ran out of a food market to cheer her on with groceries still in their hands, followed by a man who ran out of his house in his robe and bedroom slippers shouting encouragement. When Diaz reached the finish line, the family in the car were waiting for her there, including their young son in leg braces.

“In that moment, I knew that I was creating something that was bigger than I had ever expected,” Diaz said. “And I knew that I needed to keep doing it.”


Getting from Point A to Point B

Since that time, Diaz has tackled all sorts of extreme obstacles, from that sprint up a mountain in the Red Bull 400, which she accomplished solely on the strength of her arms, to the rope climbs, fire walking and 50-pound bucket brigades of the Spartan Trifecta—to her first bench-press competition (she won the state division).

Each time, Diaz says, she’s not sure whether her body can handle it. But she just keeps an open mind and puts one foot in front of the other, preparing and pushing fear aside.

“[People say, ‘I’m not that strong … I couldn’t do that. I can’t sign up for that,’” she said. “I still think that way sometimes until I’m actually in that moment where I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I underestimated myself. Why did I do that?’”

Her triumph over physical limitations is an inspiration to anyone struggling mentally or physically but especially to those in the spina bifida community to whom she is a role model and reminder of all that’s possible. She visits and mentors her young #spinabeautiful fans, getting together with their families in cities where she’s racing and even encouraging some to begin racing.

Lil Misty’s Tips for Achieving Your Dreams

Have a great “front row.”

It’s important, Diaz said, to surround yourself with people who you know will be there for you, people who are doing positive things and encouraging you to challenge yourself, people who lift you up when you want to give up. For Diaz, this front row is made up of just a couple of people, but she says that they are the strong foundation that has helped her succeed.

Ask for help.

To get to the next level, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from people who have been in a similar situation, those who can mentor you or show you how to get there. You’ll both get something out of it.

Be loud about your progress.

Once you make progress, start talking about it, Diaz said. Share it with your friends. Post it on social media. Tell people how you did it so you can inspire each other to do more.

Don’t listen to fear.

Everyone hits places where they’re uncomfortable and afraid, Diaz said. You can choose to stay there, or you can push past that uncomfortable feeling and try something new. What’s the worst that can happen if you take on a new challenge? You’ll get stronger?

“It’s just fear,” she said. “Once you push past that, you’re fine. Just keep a continuous forward motion.”

Photos: Tom Casey, box24studio.com
Hair and make-up: Chane l