Jewish Spartan and the Million Dollar Mile
An Orthodox Jew from Florida who took home $25,000 after competing in
the new CBS show "Million Dollar Mile" and defeating a world
class athlete. He dedicated his win to his coreligionists on Sunday.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Michael Neuman, 26, said, "I
wanted our Jewish kids to feel proud and powerful after my run
I wanted to get a win for the Jewish people and make a Kiddish Hashem
[the sanctification of God's name], that was the goal."
In the show, co-produced by NBA All-Star LeBron James and hosted by former
NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, contestants have the chance to win up to $1
million by running a five-part obstacle course against a professional
athlete. In the episode that aired on July 13 (after having been filmed
weeks before), Neuman wore a kippah throughout the mile-long course set
up in downtown Los Angeles.
Hosted by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, Million Dollar Mile is co-produced
by NBA superstar Lebron James. Set on the streets of Los Angeles, Neuman
joined contestants leaping across a maze of rotating walls, sprinting
uphill, traversing a punishing trail of monkey bars above the streets
of the city, and ziplining from 15 floor building. Given a two-minute
head start, he was hunted down by elite athlete, Veejay Jones one of five
elite 'defenders' on the show, whose mission is to prevent contestants
from winning cash prizes. Jones is nicknamed 'The Prodigy' for his giant
killing record in national obstacle course racing, netting his first title
aged just 16.
The Miami Beach native was able to keep his lead over three grueling obstacle
events, as Jones narrowed the gap, eventually leaving just a hairline
between them as they hauled themselves up a rope traversing a 15-floor
"It was totally exhilarating and an awesome experience," Neuman
told Aish.com. "I am super grateful to God for giving me this opportunity!
I wanted the world to see a proud Jewish guy with a yarmulke not only
take on the world's best, but also do well."
Most previous contenders had been caught by Jones during the first obstacle.
"When I saw I was up against Veejay, I thought, 'This is an insane
task, he is the fastest defender on the show.'"
"As I was half way up the rope climb at the end, I was in so much
pain, my arms were on fire, my heart was racing and I was struggling to
breathe." Then he looked down and Veejay Smith bearing up on him.
"I was seconds from giving up."
The sound of his name being chanted from some supporters gave Neuman his
focus back. "I took a deep breath tried to stay calm, I do what I
always do strengthen myself, I started talking to God and I carried on
pulling myself up to the top."
Neuman was heaped with praise by his opponent, the current North American
Spartan Race Champion, as the best contender he had yet to come up against
on the show. Neuman believes that competing as a proud Orthodox Jew sets
an example to other Jewish kids that they can overcome even the most 'insane'
challenges in life. "That was the real victory."
Neuman decided to walk home with the $25,000 he won after the second
leg of the competition. "I knew I had to end up being a winner at
all costs," he said of his decision not to go all the way for the
$1 million grand prize. "It was not enough for a guy wearing a yarmulke
to just show up and lose
I was the top winner of the episode because
winning at all is very demanding. Most go home empty-handed." He
described the race as "a true test of mental grit and strength."
In fact, CBS claims it was the most difficult obstacle ever produced.
For five weeks ahead of the filming of the race, Neuman set himself a
grueling regime, waking up at 5.30 AM, in the gym by 6 followed by a run,
all before morning prayers at 7.30. After work, he returned to his workout,
this time to a specialized gym for obstacle racers for hours of deadlifts,
monkey bars, working on his agility, balance and endurance. He would unwind
with an outdoor training session followed by daily ice baths to help reduce
Neuman has always placed his religious observance above pursuing a sports
career. "I always wanted to be a professional athlete, but I always
chose Shabbat over playing in competitive leagues which could have opened
up opportunities there, because the leagues typically played on Saturdays,
Eventually qualifying and working professionally as a psychologist, Neuman
took his love of sports to the evenings and Sundays, and discovered the
emerging, highly challenging world of obstacle racing.
Neuman recently became the first Orthodox Jew to gain the podium (i.e.
finish in the top three) in a Spartan race, which is comprised of a series
of obstacle courses. And he always competes wearing a kippah.
"A Holocaust survivor once told me to speak up and make a Kiddish
Hashem when I asked her what we can do to fight the new wave of antisemitism,"
he said. "Since then I've always competed with my yarmulke. It's
my way of saying to the world the Jewish people are strong and proud.
Neuman said the show's producers were supportive of his decision to wear
the traditional headgear, and appreciated his commitment to his faith.
The athlete also made sure his kippah was securely fastened before competing
on the show. In a previous Spartan race, on the gold standard U.S obstacle
course, Neuman's kippah had fallen off - not surprising the ups and downs
of the course - but it cost him, losing a place on the podium as he returned
to pick it up.
"I wanted the best chance of winning, but my kippah is incredibly
important to me. It was also a question of kiddush Hashem (setting a positive
image as a Jew). Everyone would notice the Jewish guy who didn't care
that his kippah had fallen off and kept on racing. After a thorough conversation
with his rabbi, despite understanding he could complete the race if his
kippah fell off, it wasn't something he wanted to happen.
"So this time I secured it with 6-8 Bobby pins and two kippah clips
I didn't want to face the decision to go back for it."
Judaism "taught me a lot of discipline" he said. "Everyone
can pursue their dreams while never deviating from keeping Hashem and
Torah values as the center of your life."
"I'm so proud of being Jewish, and I feel I am playing my small part
in creating a positive image for the Jewish People." He added, "Wearing
a kippah is always a responsibility, and I guess you feel that more strongly
when the cameras are on you. The most important of all is just smiling
and showing that you love life."
Neuman has never faced antisemitism for wearing a kippah in competitions,
although he said he's surprised some people and attracted stares at starting
lines. But, he continued, "The part I like best is making friends
with strangers at competitions and having them tell me they've never really
met an Orthodox Jew before."
Neuman also found the kippah was a magnet for deeper conversations, even
from the show's host, NFL star Tim Tebow. "He came over and said
hi, and we had a little G-d conversation before the filming."
[Compiled from two
articles: by Shiryn Ghermezian on Algemeiner.com and by Adam Ross on Aish.com]