Jews & Sports

from Big Mo's Sports Desk

The Orthodox 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 building.

"It was totally exhilarating and an awesome experience," Neuman told "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 muscle inflammation.

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 inside.… 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 and by Adam Ross on]


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