I wanted to feature Emily Celuch in my article series in a huge way after reading her story. In my eyes, Emily has many “beyond” bad ass traits. Although she faces struggles with PCOS, PTSD from being a domestic abuse survivor, and being a single mom, she manages to get onto an OCR course and use the mud and challenges to help heal. Her story is a powerful one of how she’s overcome many difficult obstacles in her life, and how it’s making her into a Badass Woman of OCR.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I'm 27 years old and live in Mason, OH. It's a suburban area of Greater Cincinnati known for Kings Island. I have a full-time job working for Mercy Health in medical claims, and I'm a single mom (no shared custody) of my amazing 3-year-old daughter, Addie.
I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), an incurable endocrine disorder that affects all of my hormones, especially insulin. I take a diabetic medication every day to regulate my body's insulin levels, and as a result of the hormonal imbalance, struggle with cystic acne.
I am a survivor of domestic violence and struggle with anxiety/depression/PTSD as a result. I am lucky to be where I am today.. I've been free of my former spouse since August 2015 and was granted a permanent protection order last year.
I would love to someday soon leave the corporate world to work full time as a personal trainer/group fitness instructor/Spartan SGX coach. As of now, I'm certified to teach Les Mills Body Pump, a one-hour group fitness barbell/strength class choreographed to music. Doing this class was really where I seriously started my fitness journey and found my passion to help others achieve their fitness goals. In 2011, I weighed almost 300 pounds. I lost some weight, and then regained most of it during pregnancy. I started losing weight before leaving my ex due to stress and anxiety, but lost the rest and then some in a healthy way once I was on my own. I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm not done yet 🙂
Did you always consider yourself athletic?
Absolutely not!!! Before Spartan Race and OCR in general, I NEVER considered myself to be any sort of athlete. And a lot of that has to do with my self-esteem – I never believed I could be a runner.. that I was too big or slow or whatever. I never thought I'd be able to have the strength to climb over walls.. crawl through mud.. carry buckets or anything else. I'm still terrified of heights so cargo nets, A-frames, inverted walls and rope climbs are a work in progress lol.
How did you get into the sport of OCR?
Back in February or March, I'd never heard of Spartan or knew that OCR was a real sport. I'd expressed interest in doing a Tough Mudder to an instructor friend of mine at my gym, and she told me to try a Spartan race first. So shortly after that, I registered for the Sprint at Perfect North in Indiana since it was less than an hour drive from where I live. After the Sprint, I was hooked and decided on doing the Beast and Super in West Virginia to complete my first Trifecta.. which I'm very proud to say I completed it 🙂
What was your first race like? Which one was it?
So my first race was the Spartan Sprint in Indiana in July. Took me almost 4 hours to finish it haha.. but it was pretty awesome. I hiked the whole course with a couple of guys I'd met at the first wall when I blurted out ‘I'm going to need help getting over this' hoping someone would hear me lol. We stuck together the rest of the course, helped each other out and coached one another through burpees. I think I ended up doing 210 total. I was very undertrained and had no real upper body strength or grip strength for many of the obstacles. But it was an eye opener of how I really needed to train differently and absolutely start running regularly.
In the midst of the race, I share my story of domestic violence with them and talked about finding my faith as a Christian and how it's helped me healed from some of the trauma I went through. After we finished the race together, they asked if they could pray for me and over me. I was very grateful for the prayers.. it was pretty incredible I met fellow Christians during my first race just by chance.
I decided to volunteer after the race, which was not a great idea. I didn't eat enough or rehydrate very well. I ended up almost passing out in the evening towards the end of the shift when a fellow volunteer kept me from passing out by dumping water on me, giving me pop and chips at his truck to revive me for the last hour or so. And that was how I met my teammate for West Virginia lol. Turned out he is a personal trainer in Newport, KY which is also not far from me.
Tell us about the races you have done so far.
Spartan Sprint, IN
Morgan's Mud Gauntlet, IN
The Farmer's Mile, OH
The Great Pumpkin Run, OH
Viking Dash Trail Run, OH – Half Marathon
Arctic Dash, OH – 5k local OCR
What initially drew you into the world of OCR?
I'm not sure that I would say I was drawn to OCR.. It feels more like I stumbled into this incredible subculture that I never knew existed. And then I just dove in haha.
After the Spartan Sprint, the sense of accomplishment was like nothing I ever remember feeling.. maybe because it was something I chose to do and pursue on my own. Without anyone else's influence or control.
And West Virginia absolutely changed me for the better.. the Beast certainly broke me down. I was in a lot of discomforts by the end.. I cried some too during the second half. But I made it to the fire jump without serious injury after almost 8 hours on the course, which was my goal. It grounded me in a way I hadn't felt grounded in a long time… Possibly my entire life.
Anxiety and panic attacks happen when I feel like I'm losing control over my circumstances.. or feel so overwhelmed that my head starts spinning and I can't control my breathing. Like I lose my footing. So OCR has become my means of regaining my footing. Unplugging from my life. And focusing on ALL that my body is capable of while meeting some of the best people I've ever met along the way.
Do you feel that due to strong women like yourself, that others are more willing to push their own limits?
Oh absolutely!! Throughout the past year, I've posted a lot on my social media pages about my struggles to lose weight, my successes, and everything in between. A friend of mine from college, I learned recently, became so inspired by my fitness journey that he quit smoking, started working out hard, and completely changed his lifestyle.
And my dad, who is not in the best shape, even said that one day he might have to do a race with me. I'm not sure how serious he was in saying that… BUT it felt good to hear.
Yes, these are two people that are close to me. But I underestimated my own influence on those who keep up with my posts, and I keep wondering what more I can do to inspire others to change their lifestyles.
On the course what has been your least favorite obstacle and why?
Hmm.. I'd have to say that my favorite Spartan obstacles at the moment are the sandbag carry, Herc hoist, swims, and walls that I don't need help over haha.
On the course what has been your least favorite obstacle and why?
The least favorite obstacle is The Bridge hands down. I really did have a panic attack at the top of it during the WV Beast. I was literally yelling and hyperventilating.. I really don't know how I kept my body moving to get across haha. But I had an awesome teammate and kind stranger to help me out.. even guys in front of me trying to distract me til i started climbing down the other side.
Unfortunately, there was a guy coming across as I was going down who started mocking me. I called him out saying, ‘Dude that's not f****** funny.' And lots of others around us started saying that wasn't cool and not something he should do. My teammate joked that I turned a mob against him haha. Either way, I'm glad my adrenaline was pumping enough that I had the courage to stand up for myself and not just stay silent about it.
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?
The Spartan Ultra event in Iceland.. an OCR under the Northern Lights would be nothing but epic!! I'd be severely undertrained as of now. but I'd be doing it for the experience. Not everything has to be a competition.. sometimes you have to take a step back and enjoy the moment. Be proud of what it took to get you there and appreciate being there.
With so many amazing women on course this year, do you find yourself becoming more competitive, inspired or both?
I'm inspired by all the women out there. I'm not at a competitive level yet and only registering for open waves. Someday, though, I hope to be up there in those elite waves alongside those incredible women.
What type of training do you complete for OCR training? Tell us a bit about that.
I do a little of everything because I feel that you have to for OCR. HIIT classes once or twice a week, running, circuit training, and lifting (squats, deadlifts, front squats, push presses, benching; power cleans, clean and jerks, etc etc). For my body, I have to constantly change it up. I'm currently in the last week of Ashley Horner's Charlie Mike program, and going to start Pipehitter, another program she developed, next week. I've seen great results from Charlie Mike and ready for a new challenge!
For someone that is newer to the OCR sport, what is one solid piece of advice that you wish to pass on?
Take your time and don't be afraid or ashamed to skip an obstacle if you don't feel comfortable doing it for whatever reason. No obstacle is worth a serious injury.
Who inspires you?
My daughter, always. Every day, she wants to do anything and everything I'm doing. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be for her sake.
There are so many people to name that inspire me in my life so I'll try to only name a few lol.
Laura Nickerson, a fellow Spartan athlete whom I connected with because the Spartan social media team shared our stories of surviving domestic violence. She's been such an amazing friend and I hope someday to be running in elite waves alongside her!
Jessica Calhoun, whom I also met cause of Spartan sharing my story. She's a wonderful mom of two children who are on the autism spectrum. We have never met in person because she lives in California, but maybe we will soon-ish.
Lexi Newman, whom I met through our team, Crazy Mudder Muckers, and who inspired me to start lifting.
My team, Crazy Mudder Muckers who are all a very supportive community and always willing to offer help/advice.
And so many other friends who have helped me along the way.. they know who they are lol.
Is there anything else you want to share with us?
#whyirace – for the women scared to leave their abusive situations because they feel trapped and scared. For the women living with PCOS and struggling to lose weight or find the motivation to change their lifestyle. For my daughter so that she sees what it means to be strong and independent.. to show her nothing is impossible and she is capable of anything she puts her all into. For those struggling with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, ptsd and addiction. And, finally, to overcome my own fears, phobias, self-doubt and negative thoughts I fight to silence what seems like every day. Because I have a purpose in this world of OCR. Because every day that I wake up to see my medals displayed on a shelf in my room, I'm damn proud and grateful to be a Spartan and part of the OCR community.
Whats the best way to reach you on social media if someone wants to reach out?
The best way to connect with me is through my Instagram, @spartanwonderwoman, or add me on Facebook (Emily Celuch)