Snub fu­els McCoy’s love for F.I.T. Chal­lenge 5K

Cum­ber­land ob­sta­cle course among best in coun­try

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By JON BAKER jbaker@paw­tuck­et­times.com

NORTH ATTLEBORO – Robb McCoy sat at a Route 1 cof­fee shop try­ing to ex­plain how he re­cently be­came one of the most renowned ob­sta­cle course race di­rec­tors in the na­tion.

As it turned out, it all stemmed from a just-plain-rot­ten week­end in early 2013.

“I don’t know,” laughed the 38-yearold North Attleboro res­i­dent, who when not or­ga­niz­ing the award-win­ning F.I.T. Chal­lenge, a mind- and body-test­ing, five-kilo­me­ter event now held ev­ery April and Novem­ber at Cum­ber­land’s Di­a­mond Hill State Park, is a his­tory teacher at Nor­ton (Mass.) High School.

He hes­i­tated, then be­gan his fas­ci­nat­ing story.

“Here’s how it hap­pened: I wanted to be­come the next Attleboro High var­sity foot­ball coach,” he stated. “I spent the 2012 sea­son with (head coach) Kevin Desch­enes, and he told me he was re­tir­ing, so I fig­ured I’d ap­ply for the job. I knew Kevin was back­ing me be­cause of my ex­pe­ri­ence.”

McCoy had served as an as­sis­tant or head coach at a va­ri­ety of schools, in­clud­ing his alma maters, Bishop Fee­han and As­sump­tion Col­lege (he ex­celled as an ath­lete at both), not to men­tion Dur­fee High, Norwich Univer­sity and Curry Col­lege, so fig­ured he had as a good a re­sume as any to win the Blue Bom­bardiers’ job.

“I re­mem­ber it was a Fri­day night, at about 5 p.m. on Jan. 24,” he re­called vivdly. “I re­ceived a phone call from the Attleboro ath­letic di­rec­tor, Mark Houle. He told me I wouldn’t be hired, that it all came down to wins and losses; to me, it meant he was say­ing I wasn’t a win­ner. I found that mind-bog­gling, as I was the head coach that brought Fee­han a Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship. I’ve got three rings from there.

“At Nor­ton, I took over a team that went 2-9, and – three years later – we went to the Di­vi­sion 4 Su­per Bowl at Gil­lette Sta­dium (be­fore los­ing to Ar­ling­ton Catholic).

“The next day, Satur­day, (Jan. 25), I was go­ing to do the Bl­iz­zard Blast OCR in Low­ell, so I drove up, but I was still pretty (miffed),” he added. “I was hav­ing a pity party; I was re­ally hurt. Any­way, I fin­ished the race and re­ally en­joyed it, so I sought out the OCR di­rec­tor to ask him ques­tions about how he or­ga­nized it.

“He blew me off, which up­set me more. As I drove back down, that’s when I de­cided I’d do my own OCR. I had done a lot of other races be­fore. I fig­ured I could or­ga­nize one if I had some help.”

He con­tacted Cum­ber­land Park & Recre­ation Di­rec­tor Mike Craw­ley, and also met with Rick Val­liant, who’s in charge of the an­nual Haunted Hill fete at Di­a­mond Hill Park ev­ery Hal­loween.

“I had done a race there called the Re­viver Chal­lenge, and I knew Mike was in­volved, so I reached out to him; he’s one of the nicest peo­ple you’d ever want to meet,” he said. “I told Mike about my idea, and he said, ‘Awe­some.’ He thought it would be a great way to fea­ture the park and help Cum­ber­land pro­mote more events there.

“The three of us be­came close, so we de­cided to put it in mo­tion.”

On Dec. 27, af­ter McCoy had par­tic­i­pated in a yoga class, he checked his cell­phone, as was the norm, and dis­cov­ered he had dozens of texts con­grat­u­lat­ing him.

“I didn’t know what they were for, un­til I kept read­ing,” he grinned.

His F.I.T. (an acro­nym for For­ti­tude, In­tegrity and Tough­ness) Chal­lenge had been se­lected in a na­tional poll un­der the aus­pices of At­lanta-based Mud Run Guide, the lead­ing OCR in­dus­try’s me­dia/pub­lic re­la­tions out­let in the United States, as a win­ner in four sep­a­rate cat­e­gories.

Among them: The Best Small OCR Se­ries; and run­ners-up in the Best North Amer­i­can Se­ries, Best New Ob­sta­cle (ap­pro­pri­ately en­ti­tled “De­stroyer 2.0”) and Best Race Di­rec­tor.

“The peo­ple at Mud Run Guide take nom­i­na­tions from any­body – competitors, race di­rec­tors, fans – around the coun­try,” he men­tioned. “They put to­gether a bal­lot, and any­body can vote.

“I knew Mud Run Guide was hav­ing a Face­book Live event that evening (of Dec. 27), but I was do­ing yoga,” he added. “I saw a lot of texts say­ing ‘I can’t be­lieve it!’ and ‘Great job!’ and I was as­ton­ished. I know I never nom­i­nated our se­ries, but ap­par­ently oth­ers had.

“I was most sur­prised with the Best North Amer­i­can Se­ries run­ner-up honor. I mean, we had beaten some of the big boys in the in­dus­try, like Tough Mud­der, the War­rior Dash and the Spar­tan Race; they have those all over the coun­try and the world. Those are the ones ev­ery­body knows about.

“I thought, ‘Here we are, the lit­tle guy from tiny Cum­ber­land, R.I., and we’re ranked at or near the top in a lot of im­pres­sive cat­e­gories!’ I was ec­static.

“It just goes to show you what you can ac­com­plish when you feel some­one doubts what you can do.”

“I was most sur­prised with the Best North Amer­i­can Se­ries run­ner-up honor. I mean, we had beaten some of the big boys in the in­dus­try, like Tough Mud­der, the War­rior Dash and the Spar­tan Race; they have those all over the coun­try and the world. Those are the ones ev­ery­body knows about.”

– North Attleboro’s Robb McCoy

McCoy played foot­ball and ran track and field at Fee­han, grad­u­at­ing in 1997, then be­came a four-year starter at As­sump­tion while ma­jor­ing in his­tory.

He earned his Bach­e­lor’s in 1991, and im­me­di­ately be­came an as­sis­tant at Norwich (in North­field, Vt.) in the spring of 2002. Af­ter that, he chose to re­turn to As­sump­tion to coach, then moved on to teach and coach at Bishop Fee­han.

In 2006, he went to Nor­ton to teach his­tory and men­tor the var­sity grid team, and has been there ever since.

As for his first foray into ob­sta­cle course rac­ing, that came sort of by ac­ci­dent back in 2012.

“I had been a trainer at a fit­ness club in North Attleboro, and a fe­male client wanted me to train her for the War­rior Dash,” McCoy stated. “She told me, ‘If I can reach all of th­ese goals you’ve given me, you’re go­ing to do it with me.’ I just said, ‘You bet.’

“The War­rior Dash was an en­trylevel, five-kilo­me­ter OCR held in Thomp­son, Conn., and I thought it was fun,” he con­tin­ued. “It was a great al­ter­na­tive to just plain ol’ road rac­ing be­cause it was held on trails, and you had to over­come ob­sta­cles.”

Fol­low­ing his bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment from be­ing “blown off” twice, and once he had de­vel­oped and fine-tuned all of the de­tails that go with op­er­at­ing his own OCR, he held his first in Au­gust 2013, then as­sem­bled his ini­tial true test, nam­ing it the “F.I.T. Force Chal­lenge, the fol­low­ing Oc­to­ber.

“It was a 5K with 25 ob­sta­cles, in­clud­ing walls, cargo nets, rope climbs, mon­key bars, things like that,” he said. “We spread them through­out the park, so par­tic­i­pants had to deal with not only those, but the ter­rain as well.

“We drew about 600 peo­ple, then we held the next one in April 2015; that was the F.I.T. Epic OCR,” he added. “I knew right away we had a gem of a venue. I had been com­pet­ing at as­sorted races all over the na­tion, and I just knew this one could pro­vide as chal­leng­ing a short­course OCR that you could find.

“We tweaked the course a lit­tle for the Epic to make it more dif­fi­cult; I didn’t want it to get bor­ing for the competitors. We ended up with over 1,100 folks try that one.”

McCoy has held such OCRs ev­ery April and Novem­ber since 2014, but added more fun and less har­row­ing events ear­lier this year. Among them four trail runs with themes: one for St. Pa­trick’s Day, then three more (ap­pro­pri­ately nick­named the “TrailFecta) for Hal­loween, Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas.

Each took place at the Cum­ber­land Monastery, home of the Cum­ber­land High cross-coun­try squads.

“We had 3,073 competitors at our six events; all told, since we started in Au­gust 2013, we’ve drawn over 9,000,” he said proudly.

In 2014, McCoy and his fel­low or­ga­niz­ers re­ceived the Global Achieve­ment Award by the Joslins Di­a­betes Cen­ter for “lead­er­ship and ded­i­ca­tion to a world with­out di­a­betes.” The rea­son: The April event that year fi­nan­cially and spir­i­tu­ally sup­ported Joslins’ work.

“We’ve also do­nated over $25,000 to nu­mer­ous char­i­ties, and we con­duct a food drive within our Thanks­giv­ing trail race and a toy drive for Home­less Chil­dren’s shel­ters at our Christ­mas race,” he in­di­cated.

Those 2016 Mun Run Guide lau­rels were pre­ceded by a pair the year be­fore, in­clud­ing Best Small Se­ries run­ner-up; and Best New Ob­sta­cle run­ner-up (with the “De­stroyer”).

When asked how he named his OCR, McCoy chuck­led.

“When I was in high school, our track coach was Bob L’Homme, and he al­ways said we had to live by three words: Char­ac­ter, Courage and Tough­ness,” he said. “What we wanted for a name was some­thing fit­ness-re­lated, but also some­thing that sym­bol­ized what we’re all about it. I thought about what Bob used to say, so came up with some a sim­i­lar phrase.

“We wanted a catchy name; if you no­tice, we don’t have the word ‘race’ in the name be­cause not ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is there to race,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s like a marathon or triathlon; some peo­ple just want to over­come or con­quer their in­di­vid­ual goals and chal­lenges.”

He in­di­cated the big­gest de­mo­graphic for F.I.T. Chal­lenge events are those men and women ages 24-45, but “we’ve also at­tracted a 70-year-old woman, am­putees, mid­dle- and high-school kids, etc. My nine-year-old daugh­ter com­pleted the course two years ago, and my five-year-old son is go­ing to run in April.

“We at­tract peo­ple from all over the coun­try,” he added. “This year, we’ll have three com­ing in from Canada … Peo­ple do it to chal­lenge them­selves, but there’s also great ca­ma­raderie; ev­ery­one there is to achieve some­thing they thought maybe they couldn’t. Ev­ery­one is en­cour­aged to go at their own pace.

“That’s why we of­fer an elite wave, with com­ple­tion of all ob­sta­cles a must; a stan­dard open wave; then a multi-lap op­tion wave, where par­tic­i­pants try to com­plete as many laps as they can in five hours. We also have a des­ig­nated kids’ course, nat­u­rally with age-ap­pro­pri­ate ob­sta­cles. That’s run by our spon­sor, Pur­suEven­tures.”

Last April, McCoy in­tro­duced the “De­stroyer 2.0” to his course. In essence, it’s a 12-foot in­verted (or half-di­a­mond-shaped) wall where chal­lengers must leap up, catch a long, hor­i­zon­tal bar and mus­cle their way up onto a slop­ing “roof.” Once that’s com­pleted, they must ei­ther jump from the op­po­site side or step their way down, much like a rock-climb­ing wall.

“I’m not sur­prised that made the Mud Run Guide poll’s run­ner-up award,” McCoy laughed. “It’s a beast.

“Be­ing named the run­ner-up for Best Race Di­rec­tor feels awe­some,” he added. “A lot has hap­pened over the past three years, and I’d say it’s be­cause of how we de­scribe our chal­lenge: For­ti­tude, In­tegrity, Tough­ness. All I need is some­one to tell me I’m not a win­ner, or not worth the time, and I’ll do some­thing with it.”

As he con­tin­ued, it was easy to see he wasn’t only talk­ing about his work as the cre­ator of “F.I.T. Chal­lenge.

“I know my coach­ing style; I’m tough and de­mand­ing, just like my high school coaches were, guys like Paul O’Boy and Jack Peavy with foot­ball, and Bob L’Homme, Ed Gagnon, Leo Char­ron, Matt Lana­gan.

“I’m a prod­uct of all that I learned from them; they helped me de­velop those traits. That’s how I’ve coached in the past. It’s not a style ev­ery­one likes, but I’m a yeller. I’m in­tense, but we’re go­ing to win, that’s a given.”

He hes­i­tated once more, smiled, then of­fered, “Of course, we don’t op­er­ate th­ese events that way. It’s much more con­ge­nial, all about one over­com­ing fears, or do­ing things they didn’t think they could do. It gives me a lot of sat­is­fac­tion be­cause we’re run­ning this the right way. It helps peo­ple stay healthy, or be­come health­ier, and strive to ac­com­plish new chal­lenges.

“I know our com­mu­nity – peo­ple from Cum­ber­land, Lin­coln, Woonsocket, Paw­tucket, Bur­ril­lville, and oth­ers from far­away places – have em­braced us, and it’s in­cred­i­ble. It’s be­yond my wildest dreams. You know, I re­ceived a text af­ter our April (2016) race from a guy named Don­ald Ben­jamin from West Long Branch, N.J., and it blew me away.

“He wrote, ‘(It’s) pos­si­bly the best OCR I’ve ever done. Ev­ery­thing about it showed you and your staff went the ex­tra mile in all as­pects. If you guys had the re­sources that the big guys have, you’d be the No. 1 OCR in the coun­try, no ques­tion.’

“Let’s put it this way: Crit­i­cism mo­ti­vates me.”

The next F.I.T. Chal­lenge will take place on Satur­day, April 8 at Di­a­mond Hill State Park, be­gin­ning at 8 a.m. Regis­tra­tion fees vary, though are be­tween $69-89. Any­one in­ter­ested in en­ter­ing can do so by vis­it­ing www.fitchal­lenge.org. More in­for­ma­tion is avail­able by e-mail­ing fitchal­lenge­info@ya­hoo.com.

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