Youth minister. Father of four. World-class obstacle course athlete.
Those all describe McMinnville resident Brandon Eckel, who has rocketed to stardom during the six months he’s competed in the blossoming sport of obstacle course racing. Despite only getting started in the sport earlier this year, Eckel is currently the 14th ranked OCR athlete in the world.
“It’s really hard to believe this could be happening to a guy from McMinnville,” said Eckel, who owns and operates Carbide Crossfit with his wife, Cassie. “Because of my recent success, I know my ranking will be going up next month. The funny thing is, I just happened to stumble on these races almost by accident. And now I’m in talks with a multi-billion dollar company about a possible sponsorship for next year so I’m really excited about where all this may go.”
Eckel’s ascent to obstacle course racing success began when he and Cassie were looking for a physical activity their family could enjoy. Cassie heard about the Warrior Dash in Manchester and they registered for that event. When it was canceled, the family ended up traveling to Atlanta to a Warrior Dash there.
“My intention was just to run with my family but my wife insisted that I run it by myself competitively,” said Eckel, 33.
He posted such a strong time, he was encouraged to compete in an Air Force-sponsored savage race the following weekend, also in Atlanta. Competing in just his second race against 866 athletes, Eckel finished third.
“I really had no idea what I was doing,” said Eckel. “But my physical conditioning was carrying me through.”
By virtue of his third-place finish, Eckel qualified for the OCR World Championship in Oregona, Ohio. In his third race and facing a field of 1,600, Eckel finished 68th. The following weekend at a Reebok-sponsored race in Nashville, he captured second.
Much like military obstacle courses, ORC races involve a variety of challenges. There are walls to scale, ropes to climb, mud to trudge through, barbed wire to crawl under, and many other climbs and jumps to navigate. All this fits right into Eckel’s training as a member of military Special Forces.
Continuing his string of strong finishes, Eckel claimed first place at an autumn race in Dalton, Ga. That was followed by a Navy Seal Battlefrog Extreme Race that was a full marathon in length with many grueling obstacles in the way.
“There were 155 athletes in that race and only six finished the course,” said Eckel. “I was third. I’ve been doing special ops in the military for 15 years and this was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. It was eight hours of pure torture.”
Next up on Eckel’s calendar is the Navy Seals Battlefrog Championship on Dec. 12 in Miami, Fla. There, he will compete against 900 athletes.
“I don’t really have a lot of time to devote to training,” admitted Eckel. “Prior to doing the marathon, the farthest I’d ever run in my life was six miles. I just rely on my general crossfit training. Crossfit doesn’t get you great at any one thing, but it gets you really good at a lot of things.”
Eckel currently operates Carbide Crossfit gyms in McMinnville and Smithville. His wife’s parents own Paris Café and the Christian bookstore and he helps with both those endeavors. He's youth minister at Smartt Assembly and he also works for November Group, an elite dignitary protection agency.
He said anyone who is interested in giving crossfit a try is welcome to stop by his gym and they can work out for one month for free.
“I want to make a difference more than I want to make a living,” said Eckel. “Sure, we have to keep the lights on, but I don’t want something to stand in the way of someone improving their quality of life. People have the misconception you have to be in great shape in order to do crossfit, but I work with people of all different levels. I work with people who are 100 pounds overweight. I work with people who have multiple sclerosis and arthritis. This is something that can change lives.”