When it comes to the sport of OCR and feeling inspired, all it can take is for someone to decide to make a change and reclaim their life. This is very much the case with Jessica Calhoun. She was dealing with multiple health issues and decided to reclaim her life. I wanted to feature her in this article series because Jessica has not only turned her life around 360 degrees, but she continues to push her limits and works hard to be the best mom she can be to her kids. Reading her story made me cry, and I hope by sharing it, she will help to inspire others.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a 45-year-old suburban mom in Southern California. I have two elementary aged children both on the autism spectrum. I work as a residential mortgage loan officer and an independent consultant for a health and wellness company called Arbonne.
Did you always consider yourself athletic?
Not at all. I was involved in some sports in jr. high, was on the swim team in ninth grade and gave track a try…but being a smoker at a very young age and with my poor grades sports became something I lost interest in.
How did you get into the sport of OCR?
I found myself at 42 years old at 350 pounds. My health issues were mounting….on top of being morbidly obese and a smoker I developed sleep apnea. I never exercised, rarely even taking the stairs and needing a belt extender on an airplane. Out of desperation I elected to have bariatric surgery, called a gastric sleeve. At a post-op visit the Dr posed the question, “when are you going to sign up for your first 5K? The sleeve will only do so much, and your lifestyle needs to drastically change.” I knew the grim statistics of people never losing all the weight, and gaining all of their weight back. There is a common misconception it’s an easy way out, but it’s simply a tool and results are never guaranteed. I hit a wall when I only lost about 60 pounds…and I was well aware aside from improving my diet and portion control that taking steps to build lean muscle mass would be a way I could start to improve my metabolism. I also knew getting involved with fitness would help me drop the bad habit of smoking for good, which it did. I saw some pictures of a coach and a few other members of my gym doing a Spartan Race on Facebook, and I was intrigued. When that same coach asked me if I would be interested in signing up with his team for the next race, I went for it.
What was your first race like? Which one was it?
The Spartan Super in Temecula, CA January 2016. It was the very first athletic event I had ever participated as an adult. I guess I decided to bypass that 5K. The weather was mild, and I wore my very first pair of running shoes I had ever bought, which proved to be not very good on those killer hills out there. It was the first time I learned to trust strangers…I found the camaraderie amazing. I remember feeling very overwhelmed needing so much help just to get over the wall to the start line, looking out at the hills and viewing people all the way up there. I just couldn’t even wrap my mind around going up that high. I approached each obstacle one at a time and evaluated if I could complete it or needed help. I remember the vertical cargo net was the one that terrified me the most….and a guy on our team climbed up the other side with me and talked me over. By mile 7 my knees were inflamed, and I was the most physically exhausted in recent recollection…but I figured if I made it that far I could finish. I will be forever grateful to the coach who asked me to come out there and the team that took on so many burpees for me to help me along.
Tell us about the races you have done so far.
Spartan Super Temecula Jan 2016
Valencia 10 K Trail Run March 2016
Down N Dirty Castaic April 2016
Sugar Daddy Half Marathon July 2016
BattleFrog Lake Elsinore August 2016
Spartan Beast Lake Tahoe Oct 2016
Santa Clarita Half Marathon November 2016
Spartan Sprint Castaic Dec 2016
Spartan Sprint Lake Elsinore Jan 2017
Valencia 10 K Trail Run March 2017
Wings For Life Run May 2017
Taco and Beer Run 5K May 2017
Spartan Super Monterey 2017
What initially drew you into the world of OCR and adventure racing?
I knew my mindset needed to be drastically changed. I knew that signing up for races would give me additional motivation to train. I also really needed those accomplishments to give me confidence in other areas of my life that needed to be addressed. There is an anonymous quote out there, “Set a goal so big you can’t achieve it until you grow into a person that can.” I knew OCR would help me grow into the person I was meant to become.
Do you feel that due to strong women like yourself, that others are more willing to push their limits?
Yes. We all impact each other whether we take responsibility for it or not. An example of strength can be contagious. I feel we can place some imagined limits on ourselves…programmed by other’s opinions that aren’t necessarily true and can quite possibly be a reflecting on their insecurities. Showing you're not afraid to push your limits can inspire others to discover the potential for themselves and start to believe it.
On-course what has been your favorite obstacle and why?
The Hercules Hoist, just because I went from not being able to do it at all to get it up there with ease. It is where I feel like the weight training is paying off.
On-course what has been your least favorite obstacle and why?
The Bender. I encountered that in Monterey, and it took everything I had and helped others to get over it. The angle to get over is just something I can’t physically do on my own right now….but
If someone were to give you a plane ticket, and a paid race entry to any event in the world which one would you love to go and do?
A Spartan Race in Greece.
With so many amazing women on course this year, do you find yourself becoming more competitive, inspired or both?
I am so inspired by the women racing this year. I feel like my only competition is myself.
What type of training do you complete for OCR training (i.e., crossfit, running, etc.)?
I swear by CrossFit. It was the gateway into discovering my love for OCR. I make sure I go consistently, with the understanding that getting in shape is building a “base” so to speak…building that strong foundation and listening to your body is key. I also listen to my coaches, work on my weaknesses and ask as many questions as I need to. Currently, I train at The Block SCV in Newhall, CA. I also change things up…hiking trials, hill training, even things like trying out salsa dancing and competing in my first CrossFit competition.
As a parent myself, I know it is super hard to get in the time to train/be with the family / and even work. How do you keep a good life and work balance going so that you can spend time with your family?
Every week I look at the kid's schedules, then I work in the amount of gym time/training I can accomplish. I think of this as self-care…that it restores me and makes me a stronger mother. My work is fairly flexible, so I work as much as I can where I can. Every weekend I do something fun with my kids.
For someone that is newer to the OCR sport, what is one solid piece of advice that you wish to pass on?
Trust the process of training and OCR and how it can allow you to discover things about yourself you didn’t know was there. Don’t worry about what others think….how you feel about yourself is what matters most.
Who inspires you?
My children first and foremost. My family and elite runners like Amelia Boone, Rose Wetzel, and Faye Stenning. I appreciate Amelia Boone’s candor about getting injured and what she learned from it.
What is one your one A race/bucket list race you want to do?
Spartan Race in Killington, VT, home of the original “beast.”
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
While I am not an elite or a competitive runner….what matters is I am always looking to improve. Courage can be a daily habit.
What’s the best way to reach you on social media if someone wants to reach out?