"When I was born, the devil said, “Oh shit, competition!"
To become the first and only woman to ever finish the Survival Run Nicaragua is quite an accomplishment. To take 2nd place on the 100k ultra less than two days after, and become the first and only woman to ever complete the Devil’s Double challenge is small miracle. But when you dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you. And though this “small miracle” was the result of over a year of hard work, my dance with the Devil’s Double humbled me. I now realize I didn’t fight this holy crusade alone - it took an army of friends and family.
I Believe in Angels Because I have Friends Like You
My epic feat at Fuego Y Agua 2016 happened because people believed in me and supported my dream to conquer the Devil’s Double. For that, I want to thank you all. Many names and faces go through my mind. Whether you were at the events in Nicaragua or cheering from Canada and USA, you were all there with me.
To Josue Stephen, the creator of the hardest and most beautiful and humbling event I have ever seen: Thank you. This is more than a race. This is a real and profound human experience.
To all the volunteers, fans, fellow runners, and media crew members: Whether you handed me watermelon, smiled at me, fixed my blistered feet, listened to my nonsense zombie monologue in the dark night, shared breakfast, washed my calves, gave me a piggyback, cheered me on the road, gave me a block of ice to calm the fire in my quads, told me you were going to be there when I finished, I thank you all.
I also want to give my respect and admiration to five very special men: Paul, Dylan, Johnson, Arian and Curtis. It is an honor to share in the completion of the Survival Run 2016 with strong athletes like you. You have not only strong bodies, but strong minds and big hearts as well. Humility is what made you all successful in this test of the human mind, body, and spirit.
My thanks to all the women who helped me or congratulated me: I could feel how meaningful it was to so many to have a woman complete this almost impossible task. Seeing how supportive you were really touched me. With wild eyes and loud cheers, your exuberance and zeal fueled my passion - making me a woman on fire. Many of these women saw me as an inspiration, but it was quite the opposite. I was humbled. Yet, I felt fulfilled because my mission as an athlete and adventurer is to keep people's hope alive to accomplish their own big dreams.
To Jason Rita: Thank you for being so passionate. I will never forget you running to me in the night at an aid station and saying, “We will all be there for you when you finish.” I can still hear you shouting when I crossed the 100k finish line in tears, “Somebody hug this woman!”
Holding Back the Devil’s Tears
I am someone who gets emotional very easily. But when I finished the Survival Run, I didn’t cry. This race is about constantly being ready for the unknown, so I didn’t allowed myself to lose focus until I was sure 100% I did in fact complete this gigantic task. After I crossed the finish line, I still didn’t believe it.
Nonetheless, over the 24-hours of racing, I chose to hold back the tears and I let others savor the emotion for me:
Christian Griffith, a tough looking guy with a big heart, was everywhere on the course sharing my progression on social media and cheering me on while working the logistics of the race.
Margaret Schlachter, a woman not afraid to get dirty, was all over the course ready to deliver live action reports on social media. I heard her saying she felt bad at times for being so close and witnessing our most vulnerable moments. I told her “you had the best seat for the show and no one could be a better messenger for our loved ones who wish they were here.” So thank you Margaret for playing with me in the dirt.
Seán Meehan, a passionate race director, followed my progression with an unwavering belief that I could be the one to finish. In four years of operating the Fuego Y Agua events, he admitted having shed a tear only twice: Once in 2012 when Ben reached the top of Concepción volcano. The second time was this year when at 4 AM, he sent me out towards the Maderas volcano. With unnerving belief he said: “You can be the first woman to finish the Survival Run. You can do it, but you will have to push it. I’ll see you in the morning at Santo Domingo (the finish).” In the dark night, without saying a word, I held my breath, turned around, and disappeared into the thick jungle.
Another reason why I didn’t cry when I finished the Survival Run is because my mind was set on a bigger goal: to complete the Devil’s Double. I secretly wrapped my head around the idea that finishing the Survival Run was my entry ticket into the 100k two days later. After completing the Survival Run, I knew I still had to hold onto my quiet determination for what would be 25 more grueling hours during the 100k. Only at the end, during the break of dawn, did I allowed myself to become emotional. Passing the last aid-station I told the crew, “My bib number is 111... I don’t need to stop here... Just tell them that I am on my way.” This is where I broke into tears and cried until I reach the finish line. These last moments of running on the beach at sunrise not only stained my cheeks with tears, but also a permanent memory in my mind of Concepción basking the daybreak in front of me and Maderas in the shadows behind.
We Are All Searching For Someone Whose Demons Play Well With Ours
It takes a special kind of crazy to participate in the Survival Run. And it must be contagious, because friends and family who have supported my dream have accepted it with open arms.
To Dominic and Chantal, from Platinum Rig, my sponsor, friends, and fellow survival runners: Thank you for everything. You stayed up all through the night to catch me at the checkpoint on the beach. Dominic even fell asleep in a pile of tents near the finish to be sure he wouldn’t miss my arrival! I know he’s not one who freely gives compliments, so when he said he was proud of me, it meant a lot.
Big shout to:
Mark Wheeler, a 2015 Devil’s Double finisher, and Benito Despacio, a 2014 Survival Run finisher. Two men who inspired me very much in their own way;
Liz Barney, friend, photographer and partner in my 2015 expedition in Hawaii;
Rock Creek CrossFit in Kensington, MD;
Stop Soldier Suicide organization
All my Adventure Science teammates;
David and Marie-Julie, friends that are like family and have had to put up with my crazy dreams for years.
Clever As the Devil and Twice as Pretty
When I completed the Devil’s Double, I felt what it is to be invincible. To realized that I own this power and strength brings up one name: Tim, my fiancé. He never had a doubt I would succeed. He has never stop believing in me, even in moments I wouldn't allow myself to believe. He is probably the person who has made me live as much in pain as a survival instructor has he has in love as a life partner. It was this tough love that helped me realize my goal of crossing the finish line of the Devil’s Double. When he and I ran 250 miles across Florida last December, he pushed me almost like one of his Soldiers back in Afghanistan. It wasn’t fun for either of us, but he knew it would make me stronger. On the other side of the spectrum, Tim loves me with an unconditional love. He believes in me so much that he made sacrifices in his own life to give me the opportunity to make this trip happen. His words and generous attention made me get up at “o’dark-thirty” to toe up to start line of the 100k. The pain and love drove me every step of the way, until I reached the goal I set for myself - completing the Devil’s Double.
It was Pride that Changed Angels into Devils
I worked hard in 2015 to get where I am today. It is rare for me to say, but I can honestly admit: I am proud of myself. Being the first woman to achieve the Devil’s Double, I realized there is a difference between saying we pushed beyond limits and actually doing it. When someone says they pushed their limits, it is not always true. Often they only worked very hard, felt a lot of discomfort, and then vocalized it. When you truly push your limits, you don’t brag about it. You often don’t say anything. There is only a quiet satisfaction. You become an upgraded version of yourself happy to push the new horizons of pain. You cross the valley of death in an unassuming humility. Living examples of the warriors who throw off the veil of hubris and bare themselves to the quiet pain of greatness are the Survival Run finishers: Paul, Dylan, Johnson, Arian, and Curtis. They are proof the real challenge is with yourself; a place where you have to be willing to pass the point of no return.
No One Expects an Angel to Set the World on Fire
People asked me how do you prepare for the Devil’s Double? It’s all about: Body. Mind. Spirit. First, you must bring your fitness to its highest level addressing endurance, strength, and speed. After that, you must train the mind. Expect to do twice as much training mentally as you did physically. Finally, you must test the spirit. You have rough up your soul and batter your emotions in order to gain the experience and wisdom needed to be 100% responsible for yourself - no matter the circumstances (i.e., dehydration, sleep deprivation, injury, boredom, loneliness, and a lot of imposed constraints). You must accept that local kids might innocently misplace marking and you may get lost. You must accept that your live chicken might be very unhappy at moments. You must accept that being 5’2’ 120lbs will be to your disadvantage when you have to carry a bucket close to your own body weight. You must accept that a strap on your backpack will break only 2 hours into the race. You must accept that rules can change along the course for runner’s safety. You must accept that you’ll lose time for making bad decisions. All are challenges of the body, mind, and spirit, but one must Adapt or die, because If [you] get lost, hurt or die, it’s [your] own damn fault.
I love to share my experiences, so that it can contribute to people finding and achieving goals in their own lives. My mission is to keep hope alive for people to accomplish their dreams. As a speaker, I’d be happy to go visit your enterprise, running groups, or students. I am sherpa of dreams - let me help you conquer yours.
Speak the Truth and Shame the Devil
I love a good challenge. And the truth is, one adventure’s finish line is nothing more than the starting line of the next. So, what is next for me? I will be running the Endurance Society’s Infinitus 888k in May. This is an open invitation for all to join me for one of the six Infinitus distances offered. If you would like to be part of my team as a sponsor, researcher, writer, or videographer, please contact me. It would be amazing to document the progression of this 10-day event of non-stop running! How much food will I ingest? How mad at me will my feet become? Which emotions will I experience?
My love for adventure stems from a need to learn about myself and the world around me. I am working on amazing projects for 2016 to include locations like Oman, Scotland and Hawaii. I am at a point in several of these projects where I would like to create teams of like-minded people to share in the adventure - people who believe in what I believe in. If you believe you are that type of person, enter an epic journey with me. Who knows where can we go or what can we create together.