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About Utah: When it comes to obstacles, she's a real pro

Published: Monday, June 23 2014 12:05 a.m. MDT

With Mount Olympus as a backdrop, obstacle racing pro Margaret Schlachter poses with her With Mount Olympus as a backdrop, obstacle racing pro Margaret Schlachter poses with her "Dirt in Your Skirt" van. (Lee Benson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Like most of us, when she was growing up, Margaret Schlachter heard all the cautions that no matter how carefully she planned her life’s course, obstacles would arise that she would have to negotiate.

Little did she know her obstacles would turn out to be actual obstacles.

And that they’d be so much fun.

And that she’d be so good at negotiating them that she’d put everything else on hold and just do that.

Meet the world’s first professional women’s obstacle racer.

She was 27 years old in May 2010 and riding high on what you might call the conventional fast track. She’d graduated from college with a degree in strategic management and entrepreneurship. She was almost finished with her master’s degree at the University of Vermont in education leadership. And she already had a great job as the admissions director at a top-rate boarding school.

Obstacle racing pro Margaret Schlachter trains at Ute Crossfit in Holladay. (Lee Benson) Obstacle racing pro Margaret Schlachter trains at Ute Crossfit in Holladay. (Lee Benson)

Then one night she happened to click onto Facebook, where a friend listed as one of her “likes” a thing called a Spartan race.

Curious, Margaret did some investigating as to what exactly a Spartan race was. She loved sports. She was a ski racer. At Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, she’d been a varsity athlete on both the ski team and the lacrosse team. After college, she coached both sports.

She discovered that a Spartan series race involved not just running, but a combination of other maneuvers such as running through mud, jumping over walls, maneuvering under barbed wire fences, hopping logs, climbing ropes, dodging gladiators, and so forth.

Obstacle racing, in other words.

Hmmm, she thought, I’m going to give that a try.

So she did. She was a contestant, as it turned out, in the first-ever Spartan series race held in May 2010 in Burlington, Vermont.

She finished tenth. Not just in her age category. Tenth out of all the hundreds of women entered.

Wow, she thought, what if I actually trained?

Better yet, she loved the experience. She’d always considered running a necessary evil to get ready for ski season and lacrosse season, but the obstacles broke up the running and made it all somehow — how to describe it — fun.

She entered more obstacle races and began blogging about them. She called her blog “Dirt in Your Skirt” (dirtinyourskirt.com).

She had this habit of finishing at or near the top of every single obstacle race she entered. She kept writing about it. Other publications just catching onto this new-fangled racing wave reached out to her: write something for us and we’ll pay you.

Companies offered to pay her to wear their shoes and workout gear.

People wanted to pay her to train them.

What the heck. She was only 28. Why not? In July of 2011 she gave the boarding school her two-week notice. She called her parents, said, guess what, I’m a professional obstacle racer.

They said, “A professional what?”

It took awhile for people to stop calling her crazy, whacked, going through a phase, and, at least once, just plain stupid.

Then they started to realize this obstacle thing was catching on. The most popular events were attracting 15,000 entrants on a weekend.

In 2012 — the same year she entered 26 obstacle races, wound up ranked No. 5 in the world, and saw Dirtinyourskirt.com win “best sports blog” at the 2012 Bloggies — Margaret published her book, “Obstacle Race Training — How to Beat Any Course, Compete Like a Champion, and Change Your Life.”

The sport had its first female star.

Margaret moved to Utah 18 months ago, but not for our mountains or our mud. Her boyfriend, Forest Call, is Hobie Call’s brother. Hobie is the Salt Lake resident who grew up in Star Valley, Wyoming, and became one of obstacle racing’s first male stars.

Forest was helping crew for his brother at a race in Vermont when he met Margaret. They conducted a long-distance relationship for a while, but it soon became apparent it was time for one of them to move to where the other lived.

That’s how Margaret, an Eastern girl, wound up in Salt Lake City, a Western city.

She’s become a fixture in the obstacle racing community here. She trains and coaches at Ute Crossfit in Holladay and travels most weekends to obstacle races.

This Saturday she won’t have to travel far. She’ll be front and center at Utah’s premier obstacle event, the Spartan Beast Race at Soldier Hollow.

Organizers expect the usual throng to show up, some 5,000 people paying for the privilege of crawling through the mud, negotiating the fire jump and trying to calm down enough to fire rifles at the Olympic biathlon range.

Despite the crowd, Margaret should be easy to spot. Just look for the Dirt in Your Skirt Honda van and the fit woman driving it into the parking lot — who looks, talks and smiles like a pro.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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