Kociuba prepares for the physical, mental challenges of Death Race

Ella Kociuba, a 2011 graduate of Liberty Hill High School, stays tough at Tough Mudder competition in October 2011 in Paige. (Courtesy Photo)


It would seem hard to revolutionize competitive racing — a sport where it’s one foot, next foot, and over again until you reach the end. Obstacle racing seems to have done just that though, mixing running with a grueling series of obstacles, challenges and mind games.

Participants are asked to not only run, but to climb walls, crawl through mud, do freezing cold water dunks, carry weighty objects, jump through fire, and a host of other challenges.

One Liberty Hill High School alum is hoping to not only make a career for herself, she’s embarking on a series of obstacle races that make her seem downright insane.

Ella Kociuba grew up in a home where everyone excelled athletically. Her two older brothers were stars on the Panther football team. Her mother, Holly Kociuba, is a physical education teacher at Liberty Hill Intermediate School.

But, a horse riding accident at the age of 13 left Ella with a broken back and the feeling that she was a little bit behind everyone else.

“It was hard to see my family so full of strength and power when I was little,” she said. “There were surgeries and physical therapy. It was hard. I just kept telling myself that you can do anything if you give everything.”

Ella eventually recovered from the accident, though in her words, “I wasn’t the best, but I gave my best.”  Though she missed out on her freshman year of sports, starting her sophomore year, she participated in Cross Country, track, and long-distance horse racing.

After graduation in 2011, Ella enrolled at Austin Community College, and she heard the words that changed everything. Tough Mudder.

“When I heard about (the race), I just got this smile on my face. It made sense. I knew immediately I wanted to do it,” she said.

The Tough Mudder, which was held in October 2011, is a 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces. In that race, Ella was the First Woman. She was invited to participate in the World Championship in New Jersey, but school commitments kept her from the challenge. Following the Tough Mudder, Ella ran a few 5ks, but found them less than exciting.

“I was getting bored out of my mind,” she said.

That’s when she heard about the Death Race.

Considered one of the toughest of obstacle races, the Death Race is a nearly 48-hour race that challenges participants mentally and physically. The challenge begins months before, with participants required to write an essay, and find a newspaper willing to share her story.

Miss Kociuba contacted her hometown paper, The Independent. 

  “I was really glad when y’all said yes,” she said, adding that if the newspaper had not found the story to be newsworthy,   Ella would have been required to swim an additional 12 miles on the day before the race.

Though the exact nature of the race obstacles are unknown, part of the events have been wild.

Participants have been asked to crawl through mud under barbed wire, and when they reach the end, they have to memorize a pattern made from LEGOs, crawl back to the other side and recreate the pattern.

They have had to climb a mountain, hear the names of 10 U.S. presidents, climb down and recite them to one of the race staff. They have to carry a large pack with unknown items inside.

For two days, there will be no sleep, no rest and no breaks. The race proudly boasts a 10 percent completion rate, out of nearly 250 participants.

To train, Ella is prepping herself for the worst.

On certain nights she goes to bed by 9 p.m., with an alarm clock set to wake her two hours later. When it rings, she gets up, does 50 pushups, 50 squats and 50 crunches. She then writes out 25 Bible verses and records how she feels in a journal.

“My handwriting starts to get terrible by the end of the night,” she said. She repeats this process every two hours for the entire night.

Also part of her training, she seeks out the roughest terrain she can find, and wears a weighted vest while running through it. She carried around 7-pound boulders. For Ella, all of this is fun.

“I’ve been called many things, like an adrenaline junkie. But you really have to be to get into this,” she said.

Ella said her family has been extremely supportive, and gives special credit to her mother and father, Kevin Kociuba.

“My dad is my biggest fan. He takes me to races, and helps me with my nutrition,” she said.

She has received a sponsorship from GoPro Cameras, the maker of small, compact sports cameras. The sponsorship will help with some of her expenses for the Death Race.

Ella said she hopes to make a career out of obstacle racing. She’ll travel to Pittsfield, Vermont, in June. Race footage will be available after the event at Death Race’s website, www.youmaydie.com.