By Cristina Kumka
BENSON — Kaleb LaRock doesn’t look any different than anyone else on the obstacle course — he wears the same clothes, does the same stunts and keeps up with the rest of the pack.
He’s just half everyone’s age (or more) and twice as capable (as some.)
LaRock is the 18-year-old phenom of Shale Hill Adventure Obstacle Race Training Center in Benson, Vt.
It’s been called the toughest fixed obstacle course on the East Coast but to Kaleb LaRock, a wrestler and advanced placement student at Fair Haven Union High School, it’s home.
“I loved watching American Ninja Warrior on TV and then three summers ago, I saw something being built down the road,” he said. “Now I can’t take a break from it, because I start losing stuff.”
By stuff he means endurance, grip strength or the technique needed to get over an 11-foot wall, climb a more than a 20-foot rope or pull his body over an inverted obstacle simply called “Cliffhanger.”
Shale Hill provides a 3-mile and 6-mile course on more than 100 acres of private land with obstacles harder than at a typical Spartan race. The course features obstacles from Navy SEAL training school and attracts ex-military, fitness groups and elite Spartan athletes to test their skill and gear.
Shale Hill Creator Rob Butler sees LaRock’s passion in himself and he hopes his course grooms the young Benson athlete to keep excelling up the ranks of the growing sport of obstacle course racing.
“He has gone from a kid who can barely get around an obstacle course, to a young man who can now conquer every obstacle easily virtually every time,” said Butler. “He is gaining power and his running capacity is increasing. But mostly, LaRock’s potential comes from his mindset and willingness to work hard at it. In the beginning, he would slack a bit, but now he goes above and beyond with his training. We are pushing his running quite a bit now. He needs to gain ground speed in order to be more competitive. There are not too many men his age that can keep up with him in the obstacles,” Butler said.
Before the popularity of obstacle racing, ultra athletes like Rob Butler and Joe Desena (the creator of the Spartan races) saw the sport as something that would rip people off their couches because it made exercise not only fun, but collaborative, social and empowering.
“Some people do it to feel alive, others to prove a point to themselves and some do it to prove a point to others. Obstacle racing is a “put up or shut up” sport There is no hiding on the sidelines,” Butler said.
“There are many benefits to obstacle training… A couple of them are not so obvious,” he said. “Camaraderie is huge, keeping the excitement after a few months is also a big plus. Gyms get boring, but obstacle training always changes.”
“On the mechanical level, obstacle training covers all muscle groups. With weight training (in the gym), you tend to focus on a specific muscle group. With obstacle training, all muscles are utilized for balance, power and speed and you often use them all simultaneously,” explained Butler.
For Kaleb, Shale Hill’s “family” course has given him “more confidence in school.”
“I’m more outgoing and have more friends. I was shy but I’m not anymore,” he said.
In preparation for his first Spartan Beast race this Saturday, LaRock said he’s focused on three things: “I gotta make sure my nutrition and salt and my homework is good,” he said.
For more information on Kaleb LaRock’s progress and Shale Hill Adventure Center, go to www.shalehilladventure.com or follow “ORTC at Shale Hill Adventure” on Facebook.
Cristina Kumka is a freelance correspondent for The Mountain Times, firstname.lastname@example.org.