FORT CARSON, Colo. -- From 1997-2003, April Luu jumped out of airplanes with the 82nd Airborne Division, became the first female parachute rigger to be stationed with 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and was the first female to go up against her male counterparts in the Marine Corps Linear Infighting Neural Override Engagement program. "I thought (the Army) seemed fun and exciting," she said. "I'm an adrenaline junkie." She met her husband, a Marine, in 1997. Just before her unit deployed to Iraq in 2003, Luu learned she was pregnant. "I got out after that," she said. "I didn't want to miss out on her life. I can't get that back."
Luu and her husband settled in Colorado Springs, raising their daughter and, later, their son. In between shuffling her children to school and Gymboree classes, Luu said she began teaching fitness classes and participating in organized sporting events. "I started doing the 'fun runs' a couple of years ago then I did the Warrior Dash in August 2010 and placed third," she said. "I got addicted." Luu competed in the Devil Dash, placing first among female athletes. She ran the Rugged Maniac and the Tough Mudder, placing in the top five. Then she found the Spartans. "I only trained for a few weeks before the Spartan," she said. "You don't know what's going to happen next. I thought, 'Now this is a race.'" Luu competed in the elite heat of the May 5 Colorado Military Sprint Spartan Race -- a 4.7-mile course winding through Fort Carson and featuring 30 obstacles. She placed first among females, coming in at 1 hour, 7 minutes, 43 seconds. "Standing on stage with the helmet (trophy) was amazing," she said. "I thought, 'I'm hooked.' I knew I wanted to go for the world title." Luu trained, working with Max Performance trainers and Arizona Diamondbacks trainer and conditioning coach Aaron Knutson. "They built me," she said, adding that in addition to teaching eight-nine fitness classes each week, working with clients as a personal trainer and working out with her coaches twice a week, she is still a full-time mom. "You've got to really want it." In December, Luu entered the next tier of Spartan racing -- the Texas Spartan Beast, a 13.5-mile course with more than 25 obstacles. She won with a time of 2:19:48, more than 18 minutes ahead of the next female competitor. "I was possessed," she said, adding that she averaged a 7:20-mile time while navigating mud pits, barbed wire crawl and Tyrolean rope traverse. "All the hard work paid off." The next day, she ran the race again. She won, adding nine minutes to her time from the day before. "I was the first athlete -- male or female -- to win the 'Beast' back-to-back," she said. With sponsors vying to support her, Luu returned to Colorado to continue her training and her quest to reach the No. 1 slot. At the Arizona Sprint Spartan Feb. 9, Luu missed the top female slot by five seconds. The next day, she reclaimed her place on the winner's podium. "I trained hard for the sprint," she said. "With the shorter distance, there's no time to make up for a mistake." Luu said she missed her spear throw and had to do 30 burpees -- an exercise combining a pushup and jump -- as punishment, allowing for another athlete to sneak in front of her. "It's getting very competitive," she said. "I know I have to get faster between now and Vegas." Currently ranked fourth among female Spartan athletes, Luu hopes that a win at the April 6 Super Spartan at Lake Las Vegas near Henderson, Nev., will push her to first. "If I get first in Vegas, I'll be the No. 1 female in the world," she said. Since the 2012 World Championship in October, Spartan scoring takes an athlete's top-five times and calculates placement. Since October, Luu has only participated in four races. In each race, top athletes may earn thousands of dollars in prize money. "I'm doing this professionally now," she said. "My sponsors cover my travel and outfitted me. Them believing in me, it means a lot. It's been a ride." "It's exciting and she's really good at it," said Daniel Luu, April Luu's husband.
Daniel Luu said he helps manage his wife's schedule and finances, as well as their children while she races.
"It's a passion she's had for a long time," he said. "I'm glad I'm able to help so she can do what she does best -- win races." After Nevada, Luu said she will participate in the May 4 Colorado Spartan Military Race at Fort Carson, defending her title and she's encouraging others to get involved. "Do it," she said. "See where it takes you. You've got to take that jump, that leap. "I'm in the best shape of my life now. You've got to want it and you've got to work hard for it."