Noelle Daniels is tough.
She crawls through barbed wire. She scales eight foot walls. She carries sandbags. She runs through electricity.
And she does it all for fun.
Photo submitted to the Times Observer
Photo submitted to the Times Observer
Daniels, a Warren County resident, is currently excelling in the sport of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). Participants in an OCR race have to endure physical and mental obstacles throughout the race, making it much more challenging than a "normal" race.
Daniels only recently began participating in OCR, but she is no stranger to athletic competition.
"I went to the Montour School District where I began a promising athletic career as a member of the Montour Spartan volleyball team," Daniels said. "I was a three-year letter winner, starter, captain and 2003-2004 MVP for the Spartans. While participating for my junior high and eventually high school team, I was also a five year member of various traveling Junior Olympic Volleyball programs. I competed across the country at various tournaments against high level competition, in hope of bettering my skills and acquiring an athletic scholarship to attend college."
Daniels' hard work and persistence paid off, as she received an athletic scholarship to become a Gannon Golden Knight. Success continued to happen for Daniels at the collegiate level.
"In my four years as a Golden Knight, I was a starter, captain, and 2007-2008 MVP," Daniels recalled. "I achieved many personal records on and off the court. I was a three year member of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Academic Team for maintaining a 3.9-4.0 GPA, in addition to making the Dean's List every semester."
After graduating from Gannon, Daniels continued to play volleyball recreationally. However, Daniels later realized she "was no longer having fun" in the only sport she had ever known, and hung up her volleyball shoes in 2011.
Daniels admits that she never thought she would be passionate about another sport after quitting volleyball. That changed in 2012.
"I joined the world of OCR in 2012 with the coaxing of a friend, Lisa Wood," Daniels said. "I had often heard about OCR's but never participated in one. In the winter of 2011, Lisa came to me and asked if I would be interest in trying a Spartan Race. After looking at the website and reading that I would have to sign a 'Death Waiver', I will not lie, I was intimidated. But, I signed up and decided, why not?"
"My first race was the PA Spartan Sprint at Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Palmerton, PA," Daniels said. "A 'Sprint' is advertised as three-plus miles, but this particular year turned out to be close to six miles. Once I jumped over that fire pit and fought my way through a crowd of four "Gladiators" with padded batons, and received my finisher medal, I was instantly hooked!"
After that first race, Daniels decided she didn't want to run OCR's for fun. She wanted to compete. She began to train strictly for OCR, using the geography of Warren County to her advantage.
"I train for OCR by trail running and road running for my cardio," Daniels said. "Sometimes it will be a nice run through Warren City, and other times it will be a trail I can find that will mimic the terrain of a race. Sometimes I go for time, and other for distance. I even sometimes run with a weighted vest for added resistance. I will use the treadmill if needed, but sometimes the weather is not always ideal on race day and you have to be prepared for the changes in terrain, elements and climate."
Although running is a large part of any OCR race, Daniels doesn't limit her training to running alone.
"I also train for specific OCR obstacles," said Daniels. "I have, what I like to call, an OCR playground in my backyard. I have an eight-foot wall (with an attached pull up bar) that I train on for different ways of scaling obstacle walls and to practice my landings. I also have a 150-plus pound tractor tire that I flip for leg work. I also like to perform sledge hammer hits on the tire as well to work my abs and upper body."
"When I'm not scaling walls like Spiderman, or flipping tires like the Incredible Hulk, I am practicing my spear toss. That's right, a spear. The Spartan Series has an obstacle requiring participants to throw a wooden spear approximately 20-plus feet into a bale of hay. The spear must stick in the hay, or the failing participant will be assessed a 30 'Burpee' penalty that they must complete post failure. This obstacle has the highest failure rate."
The hard work that Daniels has put into OCR is paying off handsomely.
"I have been racing for three years now and have completed approximately 25-plus events. In addition to regular participation medals, I have also brought home plaques and medals for winning my age group or an overall placement," Daniels said. "2014 has proven to be my most successful season so far, after moving from the Open Division and into the Elite Division. In May, I placed third overall female at the Mud On The Mountain at Seven Springs, PA, and placed third overall female at the Pennsylvania Savage Race at Skirmish, PA in June."
Daniels' success hasn't been limited to placing in races. She's also started to acquire sponsorships.
"I enjoy representing my sponsorships that I have acquired from my recent successes," Daniels said. "I am currently representing OCR Gear, Hylete, Mud and Adventure and the Officer Down 5K Foundation. Just like any athlete, I look forward to obtaining more sponsors to help promote health and fitness, and I am in the process of applying with several companies in hopes of obtaining a paid sponsorship."
After training hard for the last three years, Daniels wants to know how she compares to other OCR competitors throughout the world. She's about to find out.
"I recently just registered for the OCR World Championship," Daniels said. "I opted to compete in the age group category for 25-29 year olds. It was a tough decision to participate in either the Elite field or Age Group, but I am curious to see how I will stack up to females my age from around the US and other countries. The OCR World Championship will be held on October 25, 2014 at Kings Dominion in Ohio. It will be a two-day event. I will be participating in Saturday's individual event, and then teaming up with some awesome athletes for the co-ed team division on Sunday."
Regardless of how she performs at the World Championship, Daniels says OCR has been a very positive influence in her life.
"Over the past three years of competing, I find myself getting messages from old friends, new friends and the occasional random stranger, telling me how I have inspired them to get back into shape, and how they enjoy watching my journey and progress," Daniels said. "Most people seem to enjoy the posts I make regarding recipes of healthy meals I prepare to fuel me in my training."
"OCR truly has changed my life as a whole, for the better, and I look forward to competing for as long as I can and spreading the passion of fitness."