TRUE XTERRA SPIRIT: XTERRA Athlete Sacrifices All to Stay With Injured Competitor
By Justin Broglio
It was supposed to be her last XTERRA before retirement. It was supposed to go smoothly and maybe even result in a personal best for her record book. It was supposed to be a normal day.
When four-year XTERRA veteran Lara Usinowicz came out of the water in Lake Tahoe on Oct. 1 with a time of under 38 minutes things were looking good. She made a smooth run to the transition, tossed aside her wetsuit and jumped on her bike for the 2,500-foot climb up Tunnel Creek road.
She started the climb just as she had the previous four years and everything was going as planned.
“I was having a really good race,” said the 36-year-old Usinowicz. “I think I might have even been first in my age group at that point.”
That point was a technical rock crossing at the start of the descent on the Tahoe bike course, a place where riders have to avoid dropping off the single track, stumbling in the loose dirt or crashing into surrounding competitors.
While attempting to cross, Usinowicz lost her balance and started to go over the handlebars.
“I don’t even know what happened,” she remembers. “When I think about that section it wasn’t even really that tough as far as mountain bike courses go and I just remember all of a sudden I was going over the bars and then I stopped my endo by hitting my head on a tree.”
“I was really scared,” she said. “I was afraid to move and didn’t really know what to do until Lisa stopped.”
When fellow XTERRA athlete and friend Lisa Lieb came upon the scene she immediately dumped her bike and came to Lara’s rescue.
“I remember seeing her lying there and yelling Lara, then I was holding her – the rest is a blur,” said Lieb, who stayed with Usinowicz for nearly 30 minutes while local rescue officials rushed to reach the remote crash site.
Liebe knew immediately that she had to keep Lara warm and talking.
“Her neck position was making me really nervous and I just kept asking her questions,” she said. “When she started getting cold I made another rider (later identified as Annette MacNiven) stop and take off her long-sleeve jersey so I could cover Lara with it.”
After emergency officials reached Usinowicz and loaded her into a helicopter which carried her to nearby Washoe Medical Center in Reno, Lieb got back on her bike and finished the race.
“It was really tough to come into the transition after that,” said Lieb. “I was very emotional, I even started crying during the run, but I knew I had to finish because of what had happened to Lara.”
After the race Lieb was awarded the XTERRA Spirit Award by six-time U.S. Champion age grouper Barbara Peterson.
The award is given to XTERRA athletes that overcome a challenge during the race or exemplify true XTERRA spirit by helping one of their own.
Peterson, who also witnessed the crash scene that day, said the family atmosphere and friendship that exists between XTERRA athletes is one of the reasons she keeps coming back.
“There’s no elitism here,” she said. “There are no pros and amateurs at the finish – just friends.”
“When I saw Lisa holding Lara on the side of the course I knew she wasn’t going to let go until she was safe. There was no consideration for anything else except making sure her fellow racer and friend was going to be OK. That’s the XTERRA Spirit.”
After being released from the hospital and cleared with only a few bruises Usinowicz said she can’t say enough to thank Lieb and her XTERRA family for all their concerns.
As for Lieb, who had only done three triathlons before this – her first year in XTERRA.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “Who knows what would have happened if I finished, maybe I would have won, maybe not.”
“The people involved in XTERRA have been so welcoming and caring I’m simply amazed. And to receive an award like this for doing something that anyone of us would have done is great. We’re all competitive racers, but we’re all still human.”
As a result of her heroine act at the U.S. Championships Lisa Lieb has been officially invited to compete in the Nissan Xterra World Championship later this month. Usinowicz, on the other hand, will take some time off to hike the Inca Trail in Peru.
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