Fitness or torture? You decide. Illustration and Photo: Christine Wang. Video: Joshua Fry.
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I can’t feel my body when I’m with you

Upon returning to Ottawa for the winter holiday, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to some obstacle course gym called OCR Academy. I went onto their website, saw the bright and happy colours, (somehow those always get me) a couple pictures of the obstacles, and enthusiastically agreed—thinking it would be a light Funhaven-esque activity. I signed the two of us up for a class.

Fast forward a week later. I found myself lying on my back, every single muscle fibre of my body so exhausted I was unable to get up.

How did I get there?

The morning of our scheduled workout, I took a bus to the gym from downtown with my friend, Brielle. Though it was a bit far, it was pretty accessible with the second bus dropping us off at the door of the gym.

Photo: Christine Wang.

The staff greeted us warmly and showed us the way to the lockers and change rooms. The gym was packed with ropes to climb, walls to scale, nets to jump from, and exercise equipment. It was like a children’s playground on steroids.

It turns out we had chosen one of the hardest workouts. It consisted of a “12 Days of Christmas” challenge, where we did  the first exercise (scaling three walls) once, the second exercise (walking around the gym with 20-pound weights) twice, followed by the first exercise again. We continued, climbing a rope three times, doing the second exercise twice, and the first one once. All the way up to 12.

By the end of the third round, I was sweating completely through my clothes. By the fifth, my arms and legs started to feel like lead. By the seventh, I had lost feeling in all my limbs. But I was determined to finish. Although I wasn’t done the workout by the end of the hour, I was allowed to stay the extra half-hour it took for me complete it.

Brielle tried to drop out 45 minutes in. In reaction, Joshua Fry, the owner and our trainer, followed her around the gym, lightly shoving her along until she made it.

By the end of the workout, I could no longer feel or move my entire body.

Fry started out working for the Spartan Race for five years, touring Canada coast-to-coast building obstacle courses. Talking to the athletes after the race, he said he found most of them really enjoyed it, but wished they had a way to train for the race.

Originally, he wanted to open a Greco Fitness branch but after that fell through, he drew inspiration from  a book called The Purple Cow.

“When you’re driving down a farmland and you’re looking for eggs and milk, why would you stop at one particular farm? Chances are, you either know the owner, heard good things, or there is something that pops out at you,” Fry said.

“You’ve seen a black and white cow, you’ve seen a brown and white cow, but you’ve never seen a purple cow.”

“You stop at that park. They’ve got stuff, but it’s not any different from any other farm. It’s free- range, it’s organic, it’s grass-fed. No different than any other farm but you stopped at that farm because of the purple cow. This is my purple cow.”

Enter Fry’s brain-child: the OCR Academy. He took what he knew from building the Spartan race and his knowledge of functional fitness and amalgamated the two. The result was a brutal but thorough workout that combined playground activities and intensive exercise.

Fry said any interested newcomers should look at the website beforehand, and check what the workout will be.

“If they like CrossFit, the obstacle fit class is definitely a good choice for them. If they like more HIIT style, the bootcamp is a good option. If they just want to come and play, open gym,” Fry said.

OCR Academy has an Obstacle 101 course on the first Saturday of every month from 6:30-8:30 p.m. They show you how to do each obstacle, explain terminology, and instruct athletes on exercises. Check out their website for more details.