Saint Mary’s Grad Reaches New Heights in Obstacle Course Racing

Johnny Luna Lima '18Johnny Luna Lima ’18 was on a run through the hills of Las Trampas Regional Wilderness Park several years ago when he was instantly drawn to the Saint Mary’s College campus off in the distance. He knew right away that it would be the ideal setting to continue his education, but not necessarily for the reasons most students choose.

“What really attracted me to Saint Mary’s was the easy access to trails, and I wanted to be close to family,” said Luna Lima, who transferred to SMC from Diablo Valley College in the fall of 2016 and completed his bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Health and Human Performance in 2018.

During his time at Saint Mary’s, Luna Lima took full advantage of both the hilly Moraga trails and the College’s world-class education to further his fledgling career in obstacle course and mountain racing, becoming a rising star of the Spartan Race series, one of the premier competitions in obstacle racing. The 24-year-old recently completed his best season yet as a Spartan racer, finishing second in the elite national series, and achieving first-place finishes in the Big Bear Beast and Utah Super events.

The Spartan Race tests athletes’ speed and endurance in trail and mountain running while challenging them to navigate obstacles such as rope and wall climbs, crawling under barbed wire, and throwing spears.

A native of Brazil, Luna Lima had originally set his sights on becoming a professional soccer player, playing for the San Jose Earthquakes’ academy team and Cal State San Bernardino, before becoming burned out on the sport. In 2014, he happened to stumble across the Spartan Race World Championship on television and became hooked.

“It was the first time I had seen anything like it,” he said. “The adventure of it really excited me and the challenge of testing your body and figuring out what you’re made of.”

It’s no coincidence that Luna Lima’s success in high-endurance sports coincided with his Saint Mary’s education, where he immersed himself in the scientific principles of how to fine-tune his body to peak performance. The College’s exercise physiology class was a particular breakthrough, he said.

“It really helped me to understand the basic training principles and led me to become a more patient athlete with how I trained,” Luna Lima said. “I let my tissues become stronger and more resilient to the repetitive stresses of training.”

Professor Chi-An Emhoff, chair of the Department of Kinesiology, could see from Luna Lima’s engagement in classroom discussions that his interest in the coursework went far beyond the academic.

“Johnny is one of those students who would ask questions beyond the scope of the class and bring the discussion to a higher level,” she said. “He’s constantly thinking about how to apply it in his personal life and his own personal endeavors.”

With his Saint Mary’s studies complete, Luna Lima has relocated to Boulder, Colo., a mecca for endurance training in the United States, to continue his ascent as one of the nation’s top mountain and obstacle course athletes. He hopes to one day become a physical therapist, but for now, his focus is on making use of his Saint Mary’s education and training to reach new athletic heights.

“My current plan is to really focus on running and obstacle racing, and see where my limit is, how far can I push myself, and what the future holds,” he said. “All through College, I had the itch to go live in the mountains and make the most of it.”

To learn more about SMC's Kinesiology Programs, visit