In honor of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, we're sharing stories from females in the HYLETE community who have pursued athletics to better themselves and motivate others to take on their athletic goals. Follow us as we feature empowering females throughout the month of February.

The Conquer The Gauntlet (CTG) Professional Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) Team is a group of Pro OCR athletes that race across all different series from one-mile sprints to multi-day OCR challenges. The team's favorite course is the 25 obstacle, four-mile course called, Conquer The Gauntlet. We got the inside scoop from four of the women of the CTG Pro Team on what it means to be a competitive athlete, what keeps them motivated, and the advice they have for girls and women in sports. 

Ashley Samples

Ashley received 1st Place in the 3k/15k at the 2017 OCR World Championship in the 30-34 age group and is originally from Michigan. She currently lives and trains in Tampa, Florida.

What does being a part of the CTG Pro Team mean to you?

Being a part of CTG Pro Team has allowed us the opportunity to represent a homegrown obstacle course race series, Conquer the Gauntlet. It has helped me to grow roots in the OCR community, connect with amazing athletes, and knowing a team is relying on you, really provides a motivational aspect to an individual sport.

How did you get started with obstacle course racing?

A few of my coworkers suggested we do Tough Mudder back in 2012. I was worried about being able to run 13 miles and hold up the group so I started to train. Come race day, all my coworkers decided to bail so I ran it by myself. The sense of accomplishment propelled me to search out more races and continue to improve my physical fitness.

What has been the toughest obstacle you've faced in a race and how did you overcome it? How does that experience compare to an obstacle you've faced off the course?

Let’s see, my scariest experience was the Pittsburgh Battlefrog. I had my first ever panic attack. We entered a mine and it was pitch black with only the light from a headlamp. We entered ice-cold water where I quickly could not touch the bottom. It was all my worst fears wrapped into one, the dark, water, losing my band. This has taught me to face my fears head-on.

What is the number one reason you compete as a Pro OCR athlete?

Growing up I always played team sports. I loved having a place to belong with friends of common interests. Since OCR is an individual sport most of the time, it’s nice to have that sense of comradery.

How do you stay motivated?

My 3-year-old is my number one fan. He watches me race, he expects me to win, so I try to live up to his expectations.

What do you train for?

I train for functional fitness. I want muscle that serves a purpose, not muscle to look “pretty.”

Who has been your inspiration?

My inspiration is my mom. She has been a wonderful example of putting family first. She attended all my sporting events as a kid and even now, my parents have traveled to the OCR World Championships to watch me compete multiple times.

What does fitness mean to you?

Fitness to me is the ability to exert one's self to the max capacity and endure physical discomfort because the mind is stronger than the body.

What advice would you give to a young female athlete who is pursuing professional athletics?

Don’t be afraid to dabble in all sports to find your passion. It’s okay if all the pieces don’t fall into place right away. I was in my mid to late 20s before I found my sport.

Follow Ashley @ajsamples .

Amy "Magic" Pajcic

Amy “Magic” Pajcic is a thirty-year-old veterinarian from Cleveland, Ohio. Her Obstacle Course Racing career stemmed from her background in running and rock climbing. To this day, she is the only woman to be on the overall podium of the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships and the twenty-four-hour World’s Toughest Mudder. Amy has been on American Ninja Warrior for six seasons, including an appearance at the finals in Las Vegas. She has over thirty OCR podiums. In her free time outside of training and working at the twenty-four-hour emergency vet clinic, Animal Clinic Northview, she enjoys hiking in the national parks, arts and crafts including painting and stained-glass work.

What does being part of the CTG Pro team mean to you?

Being a member of the CTG pro team gives me the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than just me and bring exposure to a race series that really embodies the heart and soul of what OCR is about. It also gives me the opportunity to be an ambassador for the sport, proving that women can conquer the obstacles just as well as men and that you can compete at a professional level while having a full-time career.

How did you get started with OCR?

I had been a competitive runner for my entire schooling through my sophomore/junior year of undergrad (I finished undergrad in three years, so my second year counts for two), when I decided to walk away from Track and Field because of repetitive stress fractures. At that point, I started rock climbing and switching gears to endurance running. I decided I wanted to do a marathon to knock it off the bucket list before vet school consumed my life, and I loved it and ended up doing a 100-mile ultramarathon the following year, then branched out into triathlons to mix it up, placing second in age in my first full distance Iron Man. At that point, a classmate introduced me to her friend, Michelle Warnky, who was training for the twenty-four-hour World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Between the endurance training and rock climbing, it was a natural progression to OCR. Michelle and I trained together for WTM. The race actually went pretty well. Up to that point, I had done a single regular Tough Mudder with a team from undergrad, so what could be better than doing that race for twenty-four hours? I placed third in that race and was hooked. The following year, I started driving up to four hours for races, qualifying for the first-ever Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC), where I again placed third after a difficult rig for the time stumped the majority of the world-caliber athletes. After that year, I went full-tilt into OCR, finding as many races as I could reasonably enter.

What has been the toughest obstacle you have come across in a race and how did you overcome it?

The answer to this is a little two-fold. The most difficult obstacle to overcome had been the elements. Racing and completing obstacles in freezing, wet conditions brings out a special kind of mental grit. In WTM and even OCRWC, there had been experiences in which my hands and arms were so cold they would hardly work, I was freezing, and the next obstacle required jumping into freezing water. It took some self-motivation and committing to a firm decision to proceed until I physically could not, and I was surprised to find that I never reached that point during the race. Training in similar conditions prior too, including dressing slightly colder than the current weather conditions required and submerging myself in the local park creek mid-run.

The actual obstacle I struggled with the most had been balance obstacles, the slack line in particular. When I started CTGs, I knew the slack line would be there, so I spent an entire day struggling to get from the ground and stand up on the line. At the end of the day, I could take a couple of steps without an assist stick, and that was an accomplishment. It will make more sense when I finish this story, but I had just heard a really awesome song that was new to me, so while trying to walk on the slack line, I pretty much had that song on repeat. As I realized, learning to walk on the slack line, at least for me, required me to be relaxed, and trying to complete a difficult obstacle in an active race after having just run up the prior hill and you’ve got ground to make up is not exactly relaxing, so I had to find a way to get to my mental happy place quickly to get through the delicate balance obstacles. I ended up going back to my song on repeat while I was practicing to get me back to that same mindset. Now, every time I come to a balance obstacle, I take half a second to start that song in my head, chill out, and I can usually hit it first try. I think that same idea applies to other obstacles also. If you get flustered mid obstacle, that is when the stupid mistakes happen. When I’m climbing and get in my head, I fall, then realize that there was a much better foothold that I would have seen if I had just taken a moment to breathe.

What is the number one reason you compete as a Pro OCR athlete?

Really the number one reason why I compete as a Pro OCR athlete is that I enjoy it. I love the thrill of the competition. Nothing makes me happier than working through and conquering an obstacle or a rock climb. It’s an experience you really can’t get elsewhere.

How do you stay motivated?

Staying motivated can be a struggle, especially in 2020 when there really aren’t any guaranteed races. Having goals always helps keep motivation, and a race on the calendar is a goal. Without races on the schedule, you have to find other goals to work towards, even the small things like “I want to run up this hill without sending my heartrate through the roof,” or “I want to be able to maintain this pace to the end of my street.” At the end of the day, I think you have to enjoy the sport and the process of training enough to want to do it for yourself. For me, I enjoy speed work and trying to hit splits on a track, so I mix in enough of those types of running workouts to keep my interest. I think the variety of OCR training does a lot to help keep motivation too. You have to have running speed and endurance, you have to have power and strength endurance, and you have to have some obstacle finesse. If you don’t want to hit the gym today, go climb instead.

What do you train for?

The bulk of my training is running and rock climbing. I train for an overall functional balance, so I hit the gym to make sure the muscle groups I’m not using as much keep up with the rest to avoid injury. Really, for OCR, you need the balance.

Who has been your inspiration?

My dad has been a big part of my inspiration. When I was in fifth grade, he started coaching the CYO cross country team, so he and I ran together a lot. One of my favorite racing memories was crossing the finish line of my Iron Man with my dad.

What does fitness mean to you?

Fitness is more than just an ability to perform, it’s the freedom of having the physical capability to be able to confidently try new things or go to new places. Being fit means I can take on just about any trail without the fear of getting in over my head, and I can manage well with life tasks like moving, climbing stairs, and going to the gym before work without completely exhausting myself.

What advice would you give to a young female athlete who is pursuing professional athletics?

My best advice for female athletes is to ignore stereotypes; don’t let them define who you are or what you should do. It’s also ok if you are the only female in your group. For example, most of the groups I climb with have no or few other females, and when I was in school, I worked out with a bunch of guys. Additionally, ignore everyone who tells you that you will get too big or manly if you lift regularly, you won’t unless you tailor your routine based on those goals.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the HYLETE community?

My words of wisdom, passed on by my high school cross country coach, is to Enjoy the Journey. There are a lot of long hours of preparation that go into training, and there really isn’t a definitive endpoint. If you don’t enjoy it or appreciate it along the way, then what is the point? Life is too short to spend so much time on something that doesn’t make you happy.

Follow Amy @amypajcic.

Michelle Warnky

Michelle Warnky Buurma has always been active and adventurous, and her biggest focus in life is living out her faith by loving God and loving others. She lived overseas for 5 years right after college teaching English in Kazakhstan with a Christian organization. She is recently married to Joel Buurma, who is a farmer, so they love eating healthy veggies from Buurma Farms all summer and fall. Michelle loves challenges and seeking to be healthy in body, mind, and soul, while also encouraging others to be healthy and challenge themselves as well!

In 2015, Michelle started and is co-owner of Movement Lab Ohio, a gym focused on obstacle training. She has competed on 8 seasons of the hit TV show American Ninja Warrior, seasons 5-12. She was one of the first 3 ladies in season 6 to hit a qualifying buzzer and has gone on to hit 3 qualifying buzzers. She is one of 3 ladies to have hit a city finals buzzer (10 obstacle long course). She also competed in season 11 on the All-Stars team of Team Matt, with Ryan Stratis and Karsten Williams, and they won the title. Michelle got to complete the first 3 obstacles of stage 3. Michelle's record was 11-1 in her races against other ninja ladies on the 3-year show of Ninja vs Ninja. She also runs obstacle course races and joined the Conquer the Gauntlet Pro Team 2 years ago. She has placed 3rd at the OCR North American Championships, two 4th place finishes at the OCR World Championships, and has won several series races, like Savage, Conquer the Gauntlet, Mud Ninja, and BattleFrog. She also tried out the 24 Hour World's Toughest Mudder race in 2013 and completed 55 miles and 242 obstacles! She also won the 2017 Platinum Rig Master of the Rig World Championship.

What does being a part of the CTG Pro Team mean to you?

I've really enjoyed getting to be a part of the CTG Pro team, celebrating each person's accomplishments and learning more about their lives across the country. I generally only race a few months out of the year (after Ninja season is over), so I don't know tons of OCR runners who race regularly. But being on the CTG team is incredible because then I already have a second family to be with at races and we all support and encourage each other!

How did you get started with obstacle course racing?

I lived overseas in Kazakhstan for 5 years, and soon after I came back, I was visiting some friends, and did an obstacle course race with them, and loved it! A little later I ran a Warrior Dash with some friends and was out in front in my heat, but ended up being a couple of seconds slower than a lady in another heat. Then I ran a Tough Mudder with some friends I worked with at Texas Roadhouse and heard about the 24 Hour World's Toughest Mudder from there. I didn't train a ton of distance for that, which I regret, but absolutely loved that experience, even though it destroyed my body and I couldn't run for about 6 months after it (my knees were shot!). When I realized I could do decently well without much training, I wanted to start doing more races but also started doing American Ninja Warrior then. So I focused on Ninja and ran OCR races for a couple of months in the off-season of Ninja.

What has been the toughest obstacle you've faced in a race and how did you overcome it? 

The hardest obstacle I faced is probably the one that injured me, haha! I had never been unable to complete an obstacle before and had done smooth criminal in a previous CTG race, but this time the obstacle had been newly painted, it was raining and slick, and I've discovered my shoes have no traction on wood. I was in first place for the ladies, feeling great, and then failed the obstacle on the final jump. Almost everyone else was failing too, and the obstacle quickly got very clogged. I tried multiple times, each time banging my legs up a bit. But the final time at the final jump, the side of my calf hit the edge of the wood really hard and knocked me flat. I couldn't get up for about 10 minutes and knew I physically could not even attempt to jump anymore, so I had to be willing to give up my belt (which shows you've completed every obstacle), something I've never done, nor ever planned to do. It was hard mentally and physically, accepting that I could not will myself to complete the obstacle anymore, my body was literally unable to. I tried to run but was unable, so I painfully walked the rest of the race and completed every other obstacle (no others needed two legs, haha!). My dad was amazing and walked beside me for much of the race, while I cried and also enjoyed talking to and cheering for those running past me. It was a good, humbling experience, as I had just come off getting 3rd at the North American Championships, and was a solid reminder that anything can happen, and to appreciate all aspects of racing, no matter what happens.

How does that experience compare to an obstacle you've faced off the course?

That experience was a solid reminder that some things in life are completely out of your control and will absolutely knock you flat, and maybe even make you unable to finish a certain challenge you want to finish in your life. But keeping your mind focused on the bigger picture, and that failing at one obstacle doesn't define you. Even if you need to walk or stop, it's important to give yourself grace when certain things don't go your way and cherish and learn from every aspect of life!

What is the number one reason you compete as a Pro OCR athlete?

I love a challenge, so I always want to push myself to be the best I can be. I love competing against other incredible athletes and know it makes me better. I'd rather work really hard to try to even get on the podium than be in an easier race where I can likely win.

How do you stay motivated?

I generally tailor my training to my upcoming competition schedule. When I know what goals I have in the future, I know what I need to focus on in my training. If it's during the off-season, I think it's important to get some rest and time away from training and competing, and then just be active and have fun while doing it. I always want to be healthy, even if I'm not competing. If it's the offseason and I haven't been active for a little bit, my body craves it and I make time to move and challenge my body.

What do you train for?

I generally train for competitions. So if there's a Ninja competition, OCR race, and road race coming up, I focus on training for that. If not, I'll do things that are fun, whether it's taking a walk, going on a run, lifting some weights, climbing, or doing something like disc golf or paddleboarding with my husband!

Who has been your inspiration?

I'm pretty self-motivated, but when you're focused on an upcoming competition, you know those you are going against are working hard, so that encourages me to make sure I make the time to get training in. Others who have full-time jobs and families and still get workouts in are always encouraging because it's always a balancing act trying to fit everything in!

What does fitness mean to you?

Fitness to me means helping your body work at optimal capacity. Never being limited in what you can do because of your body. There are some things out of our control, like disabilities or illnesses, so fitness in those cases still means making the most of your own personal body.

What advice would you give to a young female athlete who is pursuing professional athletics?

Work hard, find friends to encourage you or train with you, be gracious, and support others. And make sure to get solid sleep, drink lots of water, and eat well! :) As you get older, you will have more to balance in your life and align things based on that. Things won't always go your way, but celebrate others' victories as well, and learn from your own failures. Also, there are different definitions of being a professional athlete. For some, it will mean all of your income comes from competing or sponsorships, for some it will mean some side income, and for others, it'll be a hobby where you also get to compete at the highest level! Whatever it may look like, be thankful for it and enjoy each chance where you get to compete!

Is there anything else you would like to share with the HYLETE community?

I'm so thankful to be a part of such amazing communities, and am loving the Hylete products! Thankful to be on the Conquer the Gauntlet Pro Team, thankful for our gym in Columbus, Ohio called MLab Ohio. Thankful for all of the experiences I've been blessed to have, and hope to be an encouragement to others.

Follow Michelle @michellewarnky@mlabohio, on Facebook: Michelle Warnky, Movement Lab Ohio and check out her website: mlabohio.com.

Lisa Nondorf

Lisa is a full-time gymnastics coach for a highly competitive program in Madison, WI and currently lives in Gautier, MS. "I spend 2 weeks a month away from home. But I absolutely love the kids I work with and have made this work! I currently coach/influence over 100 kids. But I have been a coach for over 25 years so I feel like I have MANY children even though I do not actually have any kids!"

What does being a part of the CTG Pro Team mean to you?

Being a part of the CTG Pro Team means family to me. This is a group of people that have become my second family. It is having a group of athletes that understand what you are going through, both at times of celebration and the other times when you need to be reminded that everyone has “bad” days. It is a group of athletes that are incredibly unique in our skillset yet help each other grow as athletes. I have grown to not only respect and appreciate all of my teammates, but they have helped me become a better athlete!

How did you get started with obstacle course racing?

I have a unique start to my OCR career. At the age of 38, I was very immersed in owning my own business and worked a lot. So much that I lost track of my physical fitness. I made the promise to myself that by the age of 40 I would be back to the “best shape of my life”. Well, at least my adult life. I was a division 1 diver and professional high diver so not sure I’d ever reach that fitness level again, but I wanted to be close! I started working out again and finding my love for new sports (running, kickboxing, cross-fit, etc.) I tried my first 10k race (had never run that far in my life) at 39, which is where I met one of my now closest friends. Andi convinced me that I was strong enough to try an OCR and I trusted her because, well, she was the workout coordinator for Spartan Race. So I ran my first OCR and hit a podium! That secured my love for the sport. I raced only 4 races prior to my 40th birthday (where I became a “masters athlete”). So I let everyone know, it is never too late!

What has been the toughest obstacle you've face in a race and how did you overcome it? How does that experience compare to an obstacle you've faced off the course?

For me, the hardest obstacle I have to face in a race is my brain. I do not have a background in running. Growing up, I was a gymnast and diver so I never ran more than a mile and that would be a long run! So it is the amount of running I have had to find comfort in. For me, the obstacles are the “easy” part and the part I love to do. I always stress when it comes to the foot race part of OCR. I have a lot of negative self-talk that I have had to work on. Facing this on the course has helped me be a better coach and it has also helped me learn how to deal with self-doubt. It has helped me learn a lot about inner strength which I now work with my gymnasts on!

What is the number one reason you compete as a Pro OCR athlete?

I compete as a pro-athlete because I love to challenge myself. I love the day to day training and the friendships you build with your competitors. OCR is a highly competitive sport, but I feel that it is one sport where you see competitors cheering each other on! The comradery is unreal, and I love being a part of that!

How do you stay motivated?

Motivation for me is easy. I have so many people around me that daily push me to be better. Whether it is my boyfriend, who is also on the CTG Pro Team, my best friends, my competitors, my athletes I train, or my workout partners! It is not hard for me to stay motivated which is one reason I always say I owe my success to everyone around me. They help lift me up when I need it and they are always there to challenge me to be a better version of myself!

What do you train for?

It sounds so cliché, but I train for life. I cross-train into a lot of sports. I like being versatile and just being able to stay active in life. I tend to have a lot of energy and like to vacation and stay active. I train so I can continue to love the life I live!

Who has been your inspiration?

This is the hardest question for me to answer. I find inspiration in almost everyone. Whether it is someone fighting with a disability to live day to day or a record-breaking Olympic athlete. It can be one of the kids I coach or a family member that I admire. That being said, I have found the most inspiration in people who are set up to fail and yet find ways to overcome life’s challenges and find success!

What does fitness mean to you?

Fitness is my release. It is ingrained as a part of who I am. Not only to help my self-confidence but also to remind me of how “strong” I am. My workouts are times when I get to be with myself and not think about the day to day tasks that need to get done. It is my time to challenge myself and push to new limits!

What advice would you give to a young female athlete who is pursuing professional athletics?

Professional athletics is hard. There will be times you want to give up. NEVER give in to that negativity. Find others that you can talk to and find others that challenge you. Being a professional athlete may have its struggles, but the risk is worth the reward. It feels good to cross a finish line knowing that you gave it everything you could. It feels good to train for months and years and push your body to achieve more than you ever thought manageable and then once you cross the finish line, you know it was worth the sacrifice. You get to become a role model to so many and that is an amazing feeling, knowing that you are influencing others to be better versions of themselves!

Is there anything else you would like to share with the HYLETE community?

It was just 2 short years ago that I had an injury during a Ninja competition. I completely tore my distal bicep tendon and a partial tear in my rotator cuff. I had surgery to repair it but that surgery failed. My doctor told me I would never be able to compete on the elite level again. I did not accept this. I found a physical therapist that disagreed with my doctor and he helped me “recover.” It was a year of intensive PT and a lot of setbacks, but because of the support I had around me, I never lost hope. I had days of fear and my support system of amazing people would lift me up and remind me that I can do anything I want. I would have days of severe pain and my support system would be there to remind me that it would be worth it! I have been back to racing for a year now. In many ways, I am stronger than I was before. I have battled mental demons that I never knew existed. I am completely missing a bicep and I could have given in and “retired” but I choose to fight for what I love. My comeback has been my greatest accomplishment and something that reminds me every day to never give up. When you are told you can’t… find a way!

Follow Lisa @lisa_nondorf_ and at facebook.com/lisa.nondorf.1.

Learn more about the CTG Pro Team at https://www.ctgproteam.com


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