J.D. Mealor takes team building to the extreme.

Mealor is the Gainesville, Georgia, Market Executive for Regions Bank. He leads a team a financial professionals who offer customized services. He also finds ways for the bank to make a meaningful difference in response to community needs in this area just northeast of Atlanta.

Always striving for personal and professional growth, Mealor recently challenged his leadership team to complete a Spartan Race. The idea was that overcoming obstacles thrown their way during the race could serve as an inspiration for overcoming obstacles in the professional world.

Challenge accepted.

J.D. Mealor, left, flexes during the sandbag carry. He has competed in several Spartan Races. Each one, he says, is a valuable learning experience on the importance of endurance. Sandy Salyers, seen here completing the fire jump, said she had no idea what race day would be like. Getting to the finish line was her only goal. Photos courtesy of Spartan Race.

“Self-improvement is important for every leader, and I believe we can grow our leadership philosophy in a variety of settings and from different experiences,” Mealor said.

The team’s recent race in nearby Buford, Georgia, covered 4.3 miles with nearly 20 obstacles before the finish line. Each tested the team’s mental and physical endurance.

Sandbag Carry

We’re not talking about a small sandbag here. They weigh up to 45 pounds, loaded down with fillers like sand and water. The distance of this obstacle ranges, and it includes various inclines.

Monkey Bars

This obstacle often includes inclines, too, making it one of the most challenging. This is especially true when hands are wet and muddy.

Barbed Wire Crawl

People must crawl under a series of wires or ropes, usually in muddy conditions, with obstacles like rocks and hay bales in their path.

Fire Jump

Go ahead. Hop across a line of burning wood, if you so choose. (This generates a lot of social media buzz from Spartan clients. The resulting photos can be pretty cool.)

Spear Throw

The idea is to launch a spear roughly 15 yards to reach a target, usually a bale of hay. It is one of the most difficult obstacles in the race.

“The finish line is where the spoils are,” Mealor laughed. He said the reality is, in life and business, just like in a race, you have to find ways to overcome challenges in front of you. Those obstacles may, indeed, be the line between failure or success.


Rising to the occasion

Brian Brooks was excited to participate in his first-ever Spartan Race. After months of training through a CrossFit regime, he knew he was physically prepared.

“There was so much great energy on race day. As our team got to the starting line together, I realized that we were going to rise to the occasion,” he said.

Just like in his professional job as the Athens Market Executive for Regions, Brooks knows the value of meeting a challenge head-on.

“Sometimes things get difficult in business, but you must step up and find a way to get through it,” he added.

Phil Bonelli, left, is laser-focused as he navigates the monkey bar obstacle.  Bonelli’s approach to completing the Spartan Race was to focus on one obstacle at a time. From surviving a stroke in 2017 – to being able to compete in a Spartan Race in 2019 – Brian Brooks knows about overcoming obstacles. He said building up the mental endurance needed for the race was a healthy challenge. Photos courtesy of Spartan Race.


One step at a time

Phil Bonelli is a Commercial Relationship Manager with Regions, meaning he provides financial services for north Georgia businesses. A newcomer to Mealor’s team, Bonelli had one goal in mind.

“Going through this race, all I wanted was to see Sandy with mud in her hair,” Bonelli said with a chuckle. “And that happened.”

Sandy Salyers is a long-time colleague, so she and Bonelli share a unique relationship that focuses on career development. The Spartan Race provided a special opportunity for the duo to support each other on a different type of terrain.

With obstacles ranging from easy to difficult, Bonelli said his thoughts were focused on meeting them one at a time. Much like the advice Salyers provides him in overcoming work challenges.

“There were many obstacles where you had to use your own strength to pull yourself up,” Bonelli said. “I took that responsibility seriously, and really leaned on my team for the encouragement every step along the way.”


Getting to the finish line

Salyers set one goal for the race: Get to the finish line.

“I survived it,” she said, laughing.

Salyers wasn’t quite sure what she was getting herself into. When she showed up on race day, all she knew was what Mealor had told her. She focused on Mealor’s encouragement and motivation to finish the race.

Like many first-timers, Salyers couldn’t get through all of the obstacles, but she did complete the race. Thanks, in part, to the team she had around her cheering for her success.

“They were in my ear and would not let me give up, even though I tried many times,” she said, adding that that is exactly what teamwork is all about.


Lessons learned

Mealor believes the lessons his team learned will carry forward in the years to come.

Leadership, says Mealor, is all about serving others and making them want to follow you.

Even if that means carrying them somewhere way outside of their comfort zone.