I have had the fortune of getting to meet some elite athletes. As a recreational athlete, it is a really great experience. One of these athletes is Ella Kociuba, a Spartan elite racer who has already placed 1st in her age group in five races this year. She won 1st place in the Arizona and Carolina Spartan Sprints, and in the Spartan Beasts (which took me 4.5 hours), she finished in sub 3 hours. What. A. Badass.
When I read Ella’s story, I was taken aback at what she had been through. At the age of 12, she was training for a long-distance endurance race with her horse and was thrown off and broke her back in two places. Doctors said she would never be able to ride horses or play sports again, but after months of therapy, medications, braces, and doctors, she went in for an experimental surgery. A few metal rods and screws later, she pushed through the pain of recovery to start being physically active, running, and riding again. That type of adversity “develops mental toughness that [you] can’t create.”
I met Ella at an obstacle course training camp in September of 2012. There were a few companies there to teach skills that could be used during OCR and it had been advertised that “Spartan Elite Racers” Ella Kociuba and Isaiah Vidal would be attending. These people were OCR badasses that had competed in the notorious Spartan Death Race the previous year. Needless to say, I was slightly intimated when Ella and I were placed in the same group. She was really down to earth and joked around but when it came time to learn, she was engaged and focused.
I admire her devotion and intensity. She ran in the Spartan Death Race, the most physically and mentally challenging obstacle course race on the planet. The intensity of this thing is crazy… they play mind games, have you chopping wood and lifting rocks for hours, make you memorize lines and run up a mountain and if you don’t recite it perfectly at the top you have to do it all over again. You are pushed to your limit and the worst part is, you DON’T KNOW WHEN IT ENDS. Due to a fracture in her tibia, she was forced to drop out after 16 hours and months later, the disappointment was palpable. We ran a little 1.5 mile race at the end of the training sessions both days and on the second day a huge rain storm soaked the entire course. In the mildly cold pouring down rain, she was the first one in line to run.
There’s not an ounce of quit in this girl.
Before the May 2013 Texas Spartan Sprint, an injury prevented Ella from racing. Naturally, she was upset at the inability to participate in a sport she loves. Even though she was not going to be running, she went out that weekend to support the other racers and give finish line hugs.
Ella inspires me to work hard in the weight room when I see her posting pics and her smiling face. Her grace and openness is genuine and all athletes who have worked their way to the top should take a lesson from this elite, but humble star.
She is not only someone I would want to watch in a race, but to also befriend — All the easier to cheer her on. If anyone has had an excuse to feel sorry for herself and their situation, it’s Ella. Instead, she has used these obstacles to strengthen her resolve, fuel her drive, and push her through trials and tribulations.
I have just a (little) girl crush…
Read more about Ella in a blog from The Athletic Build here.