Fort McMurray firefighter pushes out of his comfort zone in Canada's Ultimate Challenge

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A Fort McMurray firefighter hopes to inspire people across Canada as he competes on a CBC show that turns the country into a nation-wide obstacle course. Christian Oberegger, 37, said in an interview that he enjoyed every minute of the gruelling and challenging experience.

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“If I can inspire people to make change for the good and bring the nation together by laughing at my expense, that’s something that’s cool,” said Oberegger, who is one of 24 competitors on the CBC show Canada’s Ultimate Challenge. “My mission was to spread joy and inspire at least one person to better themselves.”

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Oberegger has been with the Fort McMurray Fire Department since April 2016 and has been a firefighter since 2014. The show features 24 people divided into six teams that are assigned a professional athlete to be coach. Oberegger’s team had Gilmore Junio, a three-time Olympic speedskater. Other coaches included Olympians Donovan Bailey, Waneek Horn-Miller, Clara Hughes, Jen Kish, and Super Bowl champion Luke Willson.

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The tagline of the eight-episode series is that it “turns the entire country into a giant obstacle course.” The six teams are thrown through a gauntlet of physically demanding challenges from coast-to-coast. This includes everything from rafting on the Athabasca River to creating a bridge over a canyon in Whitehorse.

As a former football player who attended a training camp with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Oberegger’s biggest hurdles weren’t physical. Planning for a football game can last days and by his own admission, he is a routine-oriented person. This tournament made Oberegger improvise and think on his feet. Teamwork was critical to make it to the end of the day.

“The whole dynamic is not knowing what you’re doing,” he said. “A lot of the challenges were out of my wheelhouse.”

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Oberegger joined the show after he was contacted by Kwame Osei, a former physical education teacher at Holy Trinity High School. Osei also played football with Obregger at St. Francis Xavier University and competed on The Amazing Race Canada during 2019 season. Producers asked Osei if he knew anyone who would be a good fit for the show and he mentioned Oberegger.

At first, Oberegger hesitated because he was not interested in being in the spotlight. But when he read the show is heavy on teamwork and showing leadership, Oberegger sent an audition tape. His mother was going through health issues when he was interviewed by producers, but after the interview one producer told Oberegger to call his mom and tell her he would be on the show.

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Many of the challenges involved heights and were unnerving. He describes himself as a “wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve kind of guy” and had a passionate outlook on the event. At times he was allowed to give pep-talks to the rest of the team.

But he also saw Canada’s beauty as a competitor. Challenges in the Yukon and Squamish, B.C. were favourites, he said. Quebec City was just as beautiful as he remembered when he last visited as a child. Oberegger cannot give any spoilers, but says the experience was incredible. He has nothing but praise for the other competitors, who he says became like a family at the end.

“On a personal level, I was very proud of how I competed,” said Oberegger. “I was very blessed with the team that was given to me.”

Canada’s Ultimate Challenge airs Thursdays on CBC and CBC Gem.

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