Ross Pinard unwittingly became a college athlete.
“That’s a funny story,” he said when asked why he joined Umpqua Community College’s obstacle course racing team in its inaugural season.
“I was working as a temp with the grounds crew (in the summer of 2017) and one of our jobs was putting in all the bark mulch for the course,” Pinard explained. “(UCC athletic director) Craig Jackson was there, too, and he said I should try obstacle course racing. I assumed it was just a class.”
UCC became the first school in the nation to have a collegiate obstacle course racing team during fall 2017. The team is coached by Andrea Bowden, who also owns her own fitness studio Next Level Fitness Training.
“When I first met Ross, I was not sure OCR was right for him,” Bowden said. “I wasn’t sure he wanted to play. I feel like it took him a while to warm up to the idea. It’s one of the things I really respect about him. I feel like he was really sussing out the situation, but he didn’t want to say no until he knew that he knew for sure that he wanted to pass on it. Once he was committed, he became one of my most (if not THE most) reliable athletes. He even showed up to my classes off-season.”
More schools have added OCR as a club sport in recent years, but Umpqua remains the only school with a collegiate team.
Bowden brought a mixed group of athletes together, including a large number of non-traditional students, to build the program during the first two years. The OCR team is active for two seasons: fall and spring.
Pinard was a soccer player at Douglas High School where he graduated in 2008 and the 28-year-old enjoyed becoming part of a team again when he joined.
“OCR is different, it’s not a traditional sport, but the training is the same,” he said. “Just the obstacles are different.”
While many high school athletic teams will have strength and cardio training, it’s not often athletes will be asked to climb walls or swing on monkey bars.
Pinard finished his first obstacle course race at UCC, on the track that he helped build, in 32:39. This year, the track was extended and Pinard ran the course in 29:01.
“He’s gone from the back of the pack to the front of the pack,” Bowden said. “As far as work ethic, leadership, improvement, training smart — he’s the guy. He goes over and above, but is also very smart about taking care of his body.”
Pinard also became a co-captain of the team this year with Garison Leif. Leif, Pinard and Robbie Yard are the three returning athletes on the team.
“There are times I know I have to be more of a leader by example, but I still like to joke around,” Pinard said.
The Riverhawks’ OCR team will run the final race of the season on Nov. 4 at the Spartan Sprint in Sacramento.
Pinard and the other returning sophomores ran the course last year — it’s longer and tougher than any race they’ve done this season.
Pinard finished in 1:09.49 last year and 11th in his age group. This year, he’s hoping to break the one hour mark and compete for a spot on the podium in the men’s 25-29 age group.
“I’m almost willing to bet he can podium,” Bowden said. “But I’m definitely sure he will be much closer to the podium.”