This entry is part 20 of 28 in the series Faces at the Races

Tara Skinner 8Name
Tara Skinner


Campbell Hall, NY

Part-time sales associate

Favorite OCR series
Right now I’d have to say Spartan because it is what I have done the most

Favorite obstacle
Hercules Hoist because my arms are pretty strong and I can get the bag up and down really quickly!

Least favorite obstacle
The rig because I know right now there is no way I can do it, so I just go straight to burpees

Tara Skinner 7Ideal race distance
5 miles if it’s really tough terrain, 8-10 miles if it’s flatter

Favorite previous race venue
I really like Tuxedo, NY because it’s so big that they are able to change up the course every year

2016 OCR goals
My goal this year is to add 15 new medals to my medal rack!

Brief bio
I am 39 and have been married to my husband since I was 18. I have a 19-year old daughter, twin sons who are 14, and two rescue dogs. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and have always struggled with my weight. I had gastric bypass surgery 10.5 years ago and lost 120 pounds and gained a new life.

Social media
Instagram: @taramelissa16

Why do you compete in obstacle course racing?
Obstacle course racing allows me to be selfish. This is something I only do for me. Whether or not I do well is something I alone am responsible for and the only one I have to compete against and make happy out there is me. Pushing my body past limits I never thought possible gives me great satisfaction and allows me to be proud of myself for something I can’t thank anyone else for.

Tara Skinner 1Have you overcome any significant setbacks, such as injury, personal trauma, etc.?
I have been extremely lucky to never have been injured physically. However, when you are heavy, you are made to believe by society that you are not good enough. Overcoming some of the mental anguish from that has not always been easy. A little bit of me will always feel like the “fat girl.”

What caused you to gain so much weight in the first place?
I have always struggled with my weight and had been up and down and in my late-teens I developed polycystic ovary syndrome which makes it hard for you to lose weight.

Was there a turning point when you finally realized you needed to make a change?
I had little kids that I could not run around after my daughter was teased by one of her friends because of her weight. I was so young and I was trapped inside a body that would not allow me to do the things I wanted. My doctor saw me struggling to lose weight and suggested the surgery and five months later I did it.

Tara Skinner 2Do you struggle with self-image issues despite your weight loss success story? If not, how were you able to overcome that mindset and stay positive?
I struggle with this daily. I have lost so much weight and have gained a lot of muscle, but I still have a “muffin top” that I can’t get rid of. My calves are still huge because I used to be a dancer and am now an avid hiker. I am not sure I will ever feel good enough and this is something that really bothers me. Even with all the changes I have made and everything my body has shown me it can do, I still hate it most days. It’s so hard not to compare myself to others. I have to try and remember that not only has this body grown three humans, it has also gotten me up and down countless mountains. That is more important than a few lumps and bumps.

How did your family’s view on fitness changed once you decided to pursue a healthy lifestyle?
When my husband and I go on a date now it’s usually a long hike! My daughter has done a few races with me and one of my sons has even done two with me! I cook a lot so everyone’s eating is now a lot healthier. If are stairs and an elevator, we always take the stairs. I really hope I am being a role model for them because at almost 40 I am healthier and more active than I have ever been.

So many people lose a bunch of weight after being motivated short-term then again most of it back once the motivation wears off. What steps are you taking to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?
The gastric bypass is definitely a tool that even over ten years later helps to keep my eating in check. That being said, I still am the only one responsible for making sure I am eating right and keeping up my exercise regimen. I am very lucky that I actually enjoy working out! That is because I have chosen to do things that I actually enjoy so it doesn’t seem like work to me. My husband and I love the time we spend together hiking. The gym I go to isn’t conventional, so I am not just doing step aerobics or other things I have been doing for years. I am so incredibly happy with everything in my life right now that there is no way I would want to go back to how I was before.

How important was diet when it came to turning your life around? Do you have a go-to meal?
What I ate (or rather didn’t eat) played a huge part in my weight loss. My body physically cannot handle ice cream or carbs, like rice and pasta, now. I was a vegetarian for about a year and a half but that did not work for me because I needed more protein than I was getting to gain muscle. I really like eggs scrambled with kale and black beans with hot sauce!

Was there ever a time during your first race that you thought you couldn’t finish? Once you did finally cross that finish line, what thoughts were going on in your head?
I was having so much fun that I never thought I couldn’t finish. I kept at my own pace and knew as long as I did not try to push too hard I would finish. I also found other Spartans so incredibly helpful and motivating and that is something that has really kept me going back for more. I have a picture of me taken about 2 minutes after I crossed that first finish line and I have the biggest smile on my face. I was so amazed at what I had just accomplished. I saw the shape everyone else was in and I was mentally patting myself on the back for doing something they had just done too!

Tara Skinner 9How do you train for obstacle course races? Do you have a coach, training group, online workout plan, etc.?
I go to a gym where my trainers design a weight lifting program geared specifically towards my goals. I go three times a week and I do one week of weight lifting and then one week of their CrossFit type workouts and switch back and forth. I also walk far distances through the woods and hike up mountains. My husband has filled a bucket with 50 lbs of rocks for me to practice with! I also run many local 5ks just to keep up with my cardio.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
I hope to still be racing. I will be almost 50 years old but I now realize age really is just a number. Your body can truly do what your mind tells it. I would hope to me motivating others as well because, hey, if I can do it anyone can!

What advice do you have for people who make excuses about why they can’t do an obstacle course race?
I love this question because lately I have been talking to people about this a lot. YES, anyone can do these races. They are built to let you go at your own speed and choose which obstacles you want to do. There are still some obstacles I can’t do so then I just do the burpees. Nobody makes you do anything you are not comfortable with. Just go at your own pace. Unless you come in the top-three there is no award for finishing in a certain amount of time, so what I do most of the time is tell myself I’m out for a nice hike with a little light jogging and some obstacles thrown in for fun. The only thing truly holding you back from earning your medal are your own thoughts!

Tara Skinner 6Give me a fact about yourself that would impress most people?
When I first lost the weight, I went on the Rachael Ray show and the Tyra Banks show to talk about it. Many people who have the surgery try to hide the fact that that’s how they did it. I wanted to use my story to help other people change their lives. I never hide the fact that the surgery has helped me lose the weight because keeping it off has been all ME!

Have you had any embarrassing race experiences?
I was once running a local 5k and part of the course took me through a soccer field where there was a game going on. The parents were giving me dirty looks as I was dodging their kids on the field, but I thought, “Hey, blame the race coordinators, not me!” I crossed the finish line ten minutes quicker than I had ever done and later found out, oops, I made a wrong turn somewhere and knocked off almost a whole mile. Yeah, I wasn’t supposed to run through that game.

Have you been watching “Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge” on TV? If so, what is your opinion of the show?
I don’t think it represents the actual Spartan Race. This to me feels more like a game show. The obstacles are not like real race obstacles and the distance is much shorter. I enjoyed the old format more where they taped actual races.

Do you follow any of the top elite racers? If so, who are your favorite OCR athletes?
I love Spencer Mahoney. I think the way he turned his whole life around is amazing. I have also been following Kevin Donoghue. He lives right by me and everyone who knows him says what a great guy he is. I am pretty excited that he is opening a training facility ten minutes from my house!

Tara Skinner 4Are you pursuing any achievement this year, like a Spartan Trifecta or running one race from each of the major series?
I chickened out of the Beast this year (I am already signed up for one in 2017), but I am running my own Trifecta, as I did a Stadium Race, a regular Sprint and am doing a Super. I am also doing a Rugged Maniac, Terrain Racing, Civilian Military Combine, Mudman X, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and a City Challenge Race. I am trying to do as many as I can!

How many medals do you own and what do you do with them after the race?
As of today I have 13 and will have 19 by the end of the year! They are hanging in my home on a beautiful rack that says, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I love my medals!! Yes, I have memories and some pictures of all my races but the medals are something tangible. They’re a true reminder of what I accomplished.

What’s the furthest you’ve traveled to attend a race (or are planning to travel this year)?
I plan on going to Fenway (for the Spartan Stadium Sprint), which is just over four hours from my house.

Does your husband also race with you? How can race organizers do a better job at making races more of a fulfilling activity for the family?
No, he doesn’t. He is my biggest supporter, though! I have come home to flowers after a race and he once left me a banana in the kitchen before a race that he had carved “GO SPARTAN” on! All of the families I see always seem to be having a good time! I love that some of the races have kids races.

Outside of OCR, what is your biggest passion?
Bringing awareness to homeless dogs in shelters. Mine have brought me so much happiness and there are still so many that need to be adopted.

Tara Skinner 3Pretend you’re a race director for a day. Describe the course you would design (including pre- and post-race festivals, if you’d like).
I would make the walls more user-friendly. Only the 8-foot walls have blocks for people to use, but I would put them on all of them. Only the people who truly need them would use them so it would not detract from the integrity of the obstacle. I would add more photographers because we love our pictures! Post-race, I would offer massages and wine for the women who don’t drink beer!

Is there anything else you’d like to share (OCR-related or about life in general)?
I consider myself the “everyday Spartan.” I am not an elite racer nor will I ever be. I do not have the time to work out everyday nor do I have the willpower to eat clean all the time, but I still get out on the course and earn my medal. I feel that sometimes people see the Elites and think that the race isn’t geared towards them because they aren’t in that kind of shape. I hope to inspire everyday people who care about their health and want to have some fun to get up the courage and sign up for a race!

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