• The Good Old Days Are Over…Or Are They??

 

Written By: Retired US Navy Chief Erin Cobb
Adventures - And Lessons Learned - In The United States Navy

The United States Navy has to advertise to get high-quality recruits, and part of that is having a catchy slogan. When I enlisted in 1993, it was “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” That sounded great to me! I knew I wanted to serve my country, see the world, and earn money for college, but having adventures along the way was even better. That’s about all I knew, which is probably a good thing. I wasn’t a jock in high school, and had very little physical conditioning. I was blissfully unaware that when I arrived at boot camp I would be expected to run, do sit-ups and push-ups, and have the endurance to march for hours. Luckily, the Navy knew that it wouldn’t just be me reporting for boot camp in this condition, and they were ready to spend the time I was there teaching me these things and more. Whether I wanted to or not, I became stronger, faster, tougher, and less likely to quit when things got tough. My adventures consisted of things like damage control (e.g., how to keep a ship from sinking) firefighting training, being gassed in a gas chamber so that you know what it’s like, and doing physical activity for hours with little sleep. What the Navy taught us was that we were all capable of conquering physical and mental challenges before we went through boot camp, we just hadn't known it yet. We didn’t know that being part of a team means that more than any desire to quit, you don’t want to let your teammates down and that's what keeps you going. We didn’t know that even when you are tired, dirty, and hungry, being with a group of people in the same situation as you makes you realize that you can keep going. But we sure learned!

The End Of A Successful Military Career...But Now What?

In the end I thrived in the military and loved my Navy career, retiring in 2015 with 20 years of service. It is true that the sense of family and camaraderie is very real, and when you are stationed overseas or deployed far from home this bond becomes even stronger, but I was still excited to retire and all the things that meant for my life. I could move back to Louisiana to be closer to my family and spend more time with them. I could eat all the foods I’d missed so much and spend holidays with loved ones. I didn’t have to wear a uniform anymore and suddenly had way more freedom than I had had in a long time. I had the freedom not skip working out if I didn't feel like it and didn't need to keep up my fitness, so I didn’t. And I reveled in it…for a while.

But there came a day for me, as it does for most veterans, that I realized how much I really missed many things about the military.  Because of the war on terrorism, today’s military must maintain vigilance and readiness at all times. We must stay fit, stay trained, and continually challenge ourselves. This means that whether you spend 4 years or 20 years in service you become accustomed to a certain level fitness, of challenge, of teamwork. When the realization hits that you are actually missing getting up in the early hours of the morning to put in grueling physical activity with your shipmates, you start looking around for a solution. How to be retired or separated from the military but still be able to feel the sense of teamwork and motivation that you had while you were in? I came across an organization called Team RWB (Team Red, White, and Blue), whose mission is “To enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” And it was through the friends I made in Team RWB that I was introduced to OCR.

OCR: A Silly Hobby, Or A New Lifestyle? 

To be honest, my first thought about OCR was, "Oh no I’m not doing that!" I didn't want to go back to possibly getting hurt, definitely getting dirty, and feeling like I was back in boot camp. I questioned whether I was capable of taking on those kinds of challenges now that I was a little bit older and less likely to throw caution to the wind. But my friends’ love of OCR, and their excitement and passion about it, made me really stop and think. I asked a thousand questions, looked at all my friends' photos, Googled "OCR,"...basically, I did everything I could to get more familiar with it. I came to realize that there was no one reason, no single “why” for competing in OCR. I have several friends who run competitive waves, who are podium contenders. And I have several friends who have become involved with organizations which enter OCRs as a group, with the intent of sticking together and making sure everyone gets through the course together. Whatever their reasons, all of them enjoy it and eagerly sign up for as many races as they can.

I even listened to those who are not in favor of OCR, finding that there are many veterans who are not interested in, or are downright critical of, OCR. When I pressed them on what it was that they didn’t like about OCR, there were several different reasons. A lot of them wondered why anyone would pay to do something that we had to do in the military. Some thought the obstacles were too simple or too easy. When comparing the OCR obstacles to military training courses they said that the obstacles were "pointless:" that compared to the things we did in the military that were designed specifically to train for certain environments or situations, OCR obstacles didn’t build any skills or make you better at anything "useful." Some also didn’t like that they perceive OCR to be "every man for himself" and seemed all about being the fastest, the first, the strongest.

I heard all their reasons, but I was interested and decided to try it for the first time in June 2018. And I fell in love with it! Sure, it’s an individual sport, in the sense that you are competing head to head for time. And if I am ever brave enough to race competitively maybe I will get a different perspective, but what I saw was that even though everyone is competing individually, no one hesitates to give someone a hand if they need it. Sometimes in OCR that’s all you need: a hand up, a foot hold, an encouraging word. To me it felt exactly like my military training exercises: we were all going through the same discomfort and physical effort, while trying to stay mentally tough. Just knowing there are that many people going through it with me gave me the strength to keep going -- to tackle obstacles that looked impossible at first glance. People offered advice and even showed me how to tackle some of the obstacles. We cheered when people nailed obstacles, gave them a pat on the back when they failed, and moved on to the next obstacle together. At the end we were all dirty, tired, and sore...but regardless of our finisher time and mistakes we felt a huge sense of triumph when they put that finisher medal around our necks.

One of the most fantastic things about OCR is that while it may not seem to be a sport that is for everyone, it embraces all levels of fitness and experiences. There will always be the athletes who will make it look easy: breezing effortlessly through the obstacles. But for every one of them there are probably 10 more OCR athletes who are just tackling them and getting through them the best they can.

What Are Other Vets Saying?

I asked a couple of my veteran friends to tell me what they love about OCR. Dwayne LeGrand, better known on Instagram as @bayou_spartan, is fast becoming one of the names to know in OCR. His answer began with the fact that he loves the challenge and the competition. Having served in the Navy, Dwayne now says what he likes most of all is the feeling of camaraderie and being part of the family that OCR brings.

Harold Hicks, a Marine veteran, says that although for the most part OCR is an individual sport there are many ways to exhibit teamwork and camaraderie, which is a huge part of the military experience. He also appreciates the sheer physicality of the sport, and the fact that it shows that you can push your body further than you thought.

Conclusion: My OCR Journey Is Just Beginning!

So how do I personally feel about OCR? I echo Dwayne and Harold’s sentiments about the teamwork and feeling of being part of a squad and a family. I also love the challenge and excitement of seeing how well I can do at a race.

I feel like I have only just begun my OCR journey. At the moment, my intent is to keep running these races with the goal of completing as many obstacles as I can as cleanly as I can. In addition to the running I was already doing to make me a better competitor, I have recently begun strength training. One day I would like to run in a competitive wave: to be truly competitive with the fastest and best out there. But the bottom line...the real reason I do it and I suspect a big part of why others do as well...is that it’s FUN!!

Remember being a kid and exploring, jumping in mud puddles, climbing walls and fences, running through open fields of grass? That’s exactly what it feels like! Like freedom and exhilaration and sheer badassness! That's the story of my journey into the world of OCR...what's yours??

LIVE FIERCE.

Erin Cobb is a U.S. Navy veteran and fierce OCR competitor. We at Fierce Gear OCR thank her and so many others for their service, and we are honored to have her as a member of our  #FierceFam.

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