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News | May 15, 2024

Fort Drum kickboxing instructor takes on ultra challenge


When Emma Ferrin ran her first marathon in 2020, she simply wanted to see if she could finish.

Bitten by the running bug, she completed two more. Ferrin upped her game last month with a 50K ultramarathon – a 31-mile trail race – to further test her capabilities.

Her next goal is to complete a 50-mile trail race.

Ferrin, a recreation assistant and group fitness instructor at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility, said she was in a transitional period in her life when she took up running several years ago.

“I realized I needed a way to spend more time with myself,” she said. “There were a lot of trails where I lived in Maine, and it’s so quiet there. I just went for a run.”

She described it as a cathartic experience.

“I felt so free to just kind of explore and see what’s out there with no pressure to do anything but run,” Ferrin said. “Completely stress-free.”

That first run, maybe two miles tops, opened a world of possibilities.

“It almost felt like that was the best way for me to slow things down and to really have tough conversations with myself,” she said. “Really, it was just being open to wherever my mind wanted to go that day.”

It wasn’t long before she started signing up for short-distance races – 5Ks and 10Ks – as she improved her speed and endurance. That inevitably led to a marathon.

“There was something special about running a race I wasn’t sure I could finish,” Ferrin said. “It’s funny now, but I remember thinking when I got to the start line, ‘I really hope I can run 26 miles.’”

“And I did, but it wasn’t pretty,” she continued. “My time was good, but it wasn’t outrageous or anything.”

It was also special in other ways.

“I learned how supportive the running community is – there are all kinds of different people of all ages, and from all walks of life, but everyone is genuinely there because they like to run, and that's a nice commonality,” Ferrin said. “Even though I was looking at my watch and mad because I wasn’t meeting my goal and I’m tired, there were people saying, ‘You’re really doing good.’ I'm thinking, ‘Well, I think you're lying, but I appreciate it.’”

She knew immediately afterward this was not a one-and-done effort.

“I had so much fun training for that first marathon, I was afraid I would hate running the event and not want to do it ever again,” Ferrin said. “But basically, the first thing I said to my mom after crossing the finish line was ‘I want to do that again!’

Ferrin became more competitive the more she ran. At the Eagleton Trail Challenge, a 50K ultra in Pennsylvania on April 6, she finished first in her age group and sixth among all female runners with a time of 6:07:37.

“My husband has a video of me coming across the finish line, and I looked happy,” Ferrin said. “And then you see me ask him what place I came in, and as soon as he said I finished sixth, I looked disappointed. But that’s just because I’m competitive.”

She scouted previous finishing times at the race to set her goal for under six hours.

“I didn’t finish too far off the mark,” Ferrin said. “But that included tripping and rolling down the mountain part of the way, getting lost on the trail for a few minutes, and I had to stop once to lace my shoe tight enough to keep it in place.”

That, and she fumbled her bag of gummy bears.

“They went in the mud, and I had to pick them out,” Ferrin said. “But I still ate them.”

These minor setbacks could have derailed her run, as distance running can require even more mental resilience than physical. Professional runners can attest to hitting the infamous “wall.”

“It can be a weird, dark place where you’re saying to yourself, ‘I can just quit right now,’” Ferrin said. “Your body is in pain, and your mind is tired or lonely or whatever. But you just have to put a plan in place for when you hit that wall. I didn’t experience that in my last race, so I’m still working on that.”

Ferrin scouted all the local trails for her training program, going as far as Winona State Forest to run on different terrain.

“I ran a lot of miles on the trails around Fort Drum,” she said. “Sometimes I'll start from home and run off post and into Watertown and back. During the winter, I had to get creative with cross training. Some might run on the treadmill, but that’s not good for my knees. So, a lot of the cardio I got was on the elliptical, swimming, rowing, lifting, indoor cycling – anything I could do to build endurance.”

That’s when Ferrin signed up for her first spin class with Ranisa Young, a Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation fitness instructor and Atkins Functional Fitness Facility manager.

“Emma attended many of my spin classes, and she always brought a positive attitude when she entered the class and stayed motivated throughout,” Young said.

Ferrin said Young encouraged her to apply for a recreation assistant position, which she started in January. Now, she is teaching her first kickboxing class at Atkins.

“Emma embodies fitness and wellness in her everyday life,” Young said. “She has a passion for fitness and loves to be around people. Her upbeat spirit engages people, and this is why she makes a great fitness instructor.”

Ferrin practiced kickboxing and jiu jitsu and had even trained for a mixed martial arts event before moving to Fort Drum.

“When I got my kickboxing certification, it was so I could teach everybody,” she said. “But I especially wanted more women to try it because I know it did a lot of good for me.”

Ferrin said her class is tailored for people of all fitness levels.

“I like to think it is a fun and inviting class, so I hope no one will be intimidated to try it,” she said. “I’m really excited to help people learn kickboxing, get a good workout and have a good time.”

Ferrin also wants to pursue certification as a personal trainer while she is stationed at Fort Drum.

“The way my life has changed as a result of changing my relationship with fitness and health, I think it is really important as a way to give back to help others,” she said. “If I could help even one person make that change in their life, that would be meaningful to me because I know how much a struggle it can be.”

Young said that the three personal trainers currently on staff also got their start as recreation assistants.

“FMWR is about the community but also personal growth within,” she said. “FMWR offers continuing education after getting certified so trainers can stay on top of the cutting edge of fitness.”

Young said that patrons frequently ask for the service of a personal trainer to help with specific goals, and that Ferrin would be a welcomed addition to that team.

“Emma’s knowledge and personality will take her far,” Young said. “We already have a couple of people who want to train with her and are willing to wait until she completes her certification. I think Emma is where she should be, and she will continue to inspire fitness and wellness wherever she goes.”

The kickboxing class meets at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Mondays at Atkins Functional Fitness Facility. For more information about FMWR fitness classes, call (315) 772-663 or visit To schedule a personal trainer, call (315) 772-0475 or email