A gym set with swings and a slide is commonplace in family backyards. An obstacle course, not so much.
But when Emily Rachal’s physical training kicked into high gear, her husband, Richard Rachal, saw it as an opportunity for a home project.
“He’s the mastermind behind the whole obstacle course,” said Rachal, 33, of Prairieville.
The stay-at-home mom of four is putting her backyard-honed fitness to the test as one of eight female competitors on “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge” Sunday night on CMT. In the series, the contestants are pared down via three challenges designed to test their strength, stamina and endurance, with the one remaining competitor taking a shot at the grueling “Skullbuster” course and the $10,000 prize.
“He (Richard) loves to build things, and we were doing our first obstacle course, and he’s like, ‘I’m going to build a wall,’” Rachal explained of the course’s initial 8-foot-high climbing wall. “It just took off from there. He gets a little intense.”
The course now has monkey bars and “all kinds of things,” Rachal said. “So it’s been a kind of slow journey, as we keep adding extra stuff.”
Rachal said she also approached her interest in training and competition gradually.
Although she ran track in high school, she said it wasn’t until she gave birth to her first son, Luke, now 7, that she really got into running.
“It was something I could do at home. I didn’t have to leave and go to a gym, and so it all began from there, and after each child I got a little bit more into fitness,” she said.
The family also includes Laila, 6; Sam, 4; and Silas, 2.
Now she work outs at Ascension Fitness Company, where she takes a high-intensity kettle bell class. She also runs three or four times a week, alternating lengthy runs with short, intense runs, and, of course, works on the obstacle course at home.
Rachal’s obstacle course racing began two years ago when she and her husband, a commercial real estate appraiser with Cook Moore & Associates, competed in a Spartan Race in Austin, Texas.
“He has done all the races with me, and we’ve actually started a group called Louisiana Obstacle Course Racers. We do quarterly training where we have people come over to our house for group workout sessions,” she said.
But could all this prepare her for the “Skull Challenge”?
“You’re in the middle of a dry, hot desert,” Rachal said of the show, which taped in June at Hall of Fame professional wrestler Austin’s Broken Skull Ranch in Tilden, Texas. “I feel like I’m used to the heat here in Louisiana, but it’s nothing compared to that arid, desert climate over there.”
It was a quiet ride as a van took the contestants to the site.
“You can’t talk to others,” she said. “Tension is very high. They take your phones, like you’re on lockdown.”
Next to arrive was Austin, who pulled up in his Bronco.
“I’m not a huge wrestling fan, but once you meet him, he’s kind of larger than life, big personality,” Rachal said.
Although unable to discuss the episode’s outcome, Rachal described the first, head-to-head challenge of the day.
“It’s called ‘Summit.’ It’s a 50-foot-long dirt hill. It was 11 a.m., and the sun was beating down, about 100 degrees,” she said. “The whole point of the ‘Summit’ is to race to the top of the hill and ring the bell before your opponent does. But there’s one catch, it’s that you can impede your opponent’s journey up the hill, so there can be wrestling, tackling, anything you can do to stop them from ringing the bell first.”
Austin is their cheering squad of one.
“He’s a big motivator. He wants to see us succeed, and so while you’re doing the challenge you’ll hear him call out your name, like ‘Go Emily! Go Emily!’, and then you’ll hear someone else, so he’s rooting for both of you, but it makes you feel really good when he’s cheering for you, so that was a cool experience.”
At this point, there was still no chatting allowed among the eight women.
“It’s game face, game on, the whole time,” she said.