Next up in my Badass Women of OCR article series, meet JahLisa James. She is a 30-year-old badass who has done multiple obstacle course races and ran her 41st Tough Mudder event when she competed in the 2018 World's Toughest Mudder event in Atlanta. I have been following along on JahLisa's adventures for a while on Facebook and wanted to profile her for this series because to me she embodies being a Badass Woman of OCR in so many ways. She is strong, determined, works hard to overcome her own obstacles, and gives back to our community alot in the form of volunteering. This article is just a super small tidbit about this “Badass Woman”, so sit back and enjoy getting to know her better.
What was your first OCR race?
My very first OCR was Mud Titan in December 2013. I did my first race because I wanted to see if I could do it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and before the race was over, the suction of the mud had ripped the bottoms out of both of my shoes. I still had a great time though.
You have recently had a major surgery, but I still see you doing races. Please tell us about the surgery, and how you are overcoming this on course?
In August of 2017, I had my 2nd back surgery, a lumbar fusion, my 1st surgery being August of 2007. To be honest, I knew I would have to have another surgery last year, but I truly hoped I could have finished out my OCR season before having it. I initially got injured in high school, so this is something I have been dealing with over half my life (15 years), so I never really let any of the issues with my backstop me from doing what I really wanted to do. If you see me on the course, you will see that I modify penalties or obstacles. Running hurts, so I walk fast. Instead of burpees, I do push-ups. I am extremely careful when it comes to heavy carries, and whenever I climb a wall, I always ask someone to brace me as I come down so that I don’t drop very hard. Most of the people I do the courses with know my story, so they are always mindful of when I’m out there.
Is there one obstacle that is still a struggle for you? If so what is it and what are you doing to overcome this obstacle?
I am not a fan of any obstacle where you have to dunk your head completely under water. I can totally swim, don’t get me wrong, but something about putting myself in an obstacle where I’m completely submerged terrifies me. I have been known to spend 5 minutes staring at the Dunk Wall at Spartan or sitting in Arctic Enema at Tough Mudder, psyching myself up to put my head underneath the barriers. Also, Cage Crawl at Tough Mudder, if I never had to do that obstacle again, I would be totally fine. I really don’t think I am doing anything to overcome the obstacles except to get out of my own head and do them before I have time to think about how much I hate them, which, in case you are wondering, is a lot.
Is there any race / OCR that you won't do?
As much as I would like to think I am capable of completing it, I don’t think I would ever do a Spartan Hurricane Heat or Ultra Beast. I say that because for the Hurricane Heat, I don’t think, with the limitations that I have, that I would be able to complete the course within the timeframe required, and then for a Hurricane Heat, there are just too many people relying on me to keep up and do what they are doing… I hate feeling like I am slowing anyone down and that would be too much pressure on me.
If you have to look back at all the OCR races you have done, is there ever a moment that has scared you?
Back in 2016 when Tough Mudder had the obstacle Rain Man (legionnaire version of Cage Crawl), I started the obstacle and took in water up my nose at the very beginning. If you’ve never done Cage Crawl/Rain Man, you are basically floating under a cage for what feels like a mile but is only about 20-25 feet. Since I took in water at the beginning, the entire time I was struggling to breath and not take in more water. That was the most scared I have ever been and I have fallen off obstacles before. It wasn’t until a few events later that I was talking with a volunteer who told me that the cages lift up and I could have just stood… in that moment, I couldn’t think of anything except getting out of there as fast as I could.
What is your on-course spirit animal and why?
I hate how overdone and overused this one is, but I’m going to have to go with a Unicorn. I say that because there are not a lot of black women in this sport and I have tried to make a name for myself. I’m also super slow on the course too, so maybe a Sloth or a Tortoise.
In the world of OCR the way it stands now do you feel that it is better to cater to competitive folks or weekend warriors?
What was your own personal take away from your first obstacle course race?
I learned that I could do a lot more than I really thought. I remember that first race had a rope climb & nobody else could do it and I made it to the top. For the next two miles, people were congratulating me on that and other things I had done on the course, it created a new sense of self I wasn't aware I had.
Please define what being a “Badass” woman is to you.
Being a Badass woman means being a trailblazer. Even if you are afraid, you take chances and do it anyways. You don't allow anyone to hold you back or tell you that you aren't good enough. You spread love and kindness to others, on and off the course, and sometimes you let someone else have the limelight, even when you know you deserve it. A Badass woman knows her strengths and weaknesses but never lets either get the best of her. And most importantly, she has a beautiful spirit, inside and out.
Do you believe it is harder to participate in an event or be a spectator?
I have done countless OCRs and only been a Spectator a few times… but from talking to Spectators and from my experience, it is much harder to be a Spectator. After my surgery last year, I still went to a few events and hung out on course and volunteered, and that life is extremely difficult. For me, it may have just been FOMO, but as a Spectator, you are standing around not knowing what is going on, missing out on the camaraderie, the pictures, the stories… you aren’t building the same memories, but you are still, at times, doing the same amount of walking and experiencing the same rain, heat, cold, or whatever else that the participant is experiencing. And at the end, you don’t even get a headband or a medal! Spectators are the real MVPs though.
What’s one random fact about you that you would like to share?
I am fascinated with mountains and natural water elements – probably my favorite place to be is outdoors in a scenic location with those views. Simply gorgeous.
What is the one piece of OCR gear that you cannot live without?
I do almost every course with my cell phone in a “dry” case. Sometimes I use it for pictures, other times, just in case I have an emergency, I like having it on me. And the case are big enough that they can hold my car key if I don’t do bag check.
Who inspires you?
A variety of people inspire me for various reasons – but I think what sticks out the most is when you have that person who is terrified of an obstacle, staring at it, about to give up, and with the encouragement of a complete stranger approaches them and helps them out. It makes me want to try the things that scare me when I see people want others to do well and push them into greatness. To me, it isn’t about the person who wins the race or does the most, but the person who selflessly takes the time to help others along the way… regardless of how long it takes. I have a lot of friends who do that, so I couldn’t possibly name just one.
What drives you to continue to race / OCR – is it a need to “feel the fear”, a competitive streak within yourself or?
The community. I have every intention of stopping Spartan after a double Trifecta, double Savage Race Syndicate, and Tough Mudder after I hit my 25th event… then my surgery happened, and the community rallied behind me so much, I knew I couldn’t leave them. This year alone, I am 2 races away from my 4x Spartan Trifecta, already completed my Savage Race Double Syndicate, and this weekend at WTM, will be completing my 41st Tough Mudder event. When I started racing 5 years ago, I never could have imagined I would do so many and meet such amazing people. I can honestly say I am living my best life and that is thanks to OCRs.
What is the best piece of advice that you have gotten from anyone over the years in regards to OCR, racing, life?
“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right.” – you have to believe in yourself because no one else can do it for you.
If someone wants to reach out on social media, how can they find you?