Obstacle course racing builds strong bodies, minds, communities at UCC

Published by J.R. Williams on

Keith Sorenson competitively takes on the five kilometer and 20 plus obstacle course race.
Photo provided by UCC Athletics website.

The River Hawk obstacle course racing team, which started in 2017, is now competing with four athletes while also including some members of UCC’s track and field team. Noah Retherford, one of the team’s members, has been competing in obstacle course racing as a solo athlete for many years prior to his UCC experience.

UCC incorporated obstacle course racing in 2017 making it the first collegiate scholarship obstacle course racing team in the country. Two athletes, William Turner and Andrew Pascal were the first teammates signed to the River Hawks Obstacle Course Racing, OCR, team.

Whitney Pitalo, UCC’s assistant athletic director, in a phone interview, said, “OCR is a summer and fall sport, and while most events have passed, there is a competition scheduled for the UCC River Hawk team Dec 4.” The team participated in eight events this year, including hosting an event here at UCC.

Riverhawk staging pre-raised at the world championship in New England.
Photo provided by UCC Athletics

Renate Richardson is the current OCR coach and is also UCC’s assistant track and field coach. 

The sport of obstacle course racing involves competitors running over various distances and overcoming various physically challenging obstacles. Mud and trail runs are often combined with obstacles which are designed to push athletes beyond mental and physical fatigue.

OCR has become popular nationwide especially on university campuses with many universities following in UCC’s footsteps and sponsoring OCR athletes and building competition programs.

Obstacles include climbing over vertical walls using ropes and strategy, mastering rock walls, carrying heavy natural or oddly shaped objects, traversing bodies of water and crawling under or jumping over stations designed to replicate the barbed wire and flame hoops made famous by competitions like The Spartan race, to test endurance, strength, speed and dexterity.

Event designers, coaches and athletes use many obstacle designs similar to obstacle courses used in military training as well as obstacles uniquely tailored to competition and racing. Races vary in distance and difficulty, often combining trail running, road running and cross country running.

Obstacle courses contain many different challenges that test the athletes’ physical strengths and abilities. Pictured is Noah Retherford.
Photo provided by UCC Athletics website

As a sport, obstacle course racing allows athletes to fully embrace the outdoors while getting down and dirty. Students who love nature and being outside will appreciate the opportunities obstacle course racing grants athletes, to enjoy the great outdoors in a number of different ways.

OCR is more than just a sport for some competitors. The sport is reminiscent of the freedom of childhood, running around, climbing on trees and walls and hanging on tree branches. It’s a challenging playground for adults that promotes teamwork and good sportsmanship through group cooperation in planning and overcoming obstacles.

Pamela Decko shows off her competitive skills just one week after fall training started.
Photo provided by UCC Athletics website.

The wide array of obstacles will test an assortment of muscles as well as agility. Dusting down dirt paths, mucking through muddy water and climbing up rocks and walls has athletes much closer to nature than on an oval track or a gym. Hiking, crawling and traversing obstacles allow competitors to channel their inner wild child while flexing some serious brain and muscle power.

OCR also challenges competitors’ brains to concentrate on focused individual tasks in spite of the chaos and noise of competition. It also requires athletes to maintain focus on the long-term goal of pacing so they can finish the race strong.

The OCR experience isn’t just about being strongest or fastest, it is also about expanding horizons and the community. For example, the Tough Mudder Race has participants sign a pledge promising that athletes will “put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time” and “help my fellow mudders complete the course.” It is often a commitment to leave no runner behind. 

For more information on obstacle course racing with UCC, contact Renate Richardsonassistant track coach. Event schedules are available on the River Hawks website.

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