Of all the places in the world XTERRA travels few dish out a challenge against Mother Nature as tough as the Mountain Championship at Beaver Creek Resort in the town of Avon, Colorado.
Consider this, in a state that is home to the U.S. Olympic Complex - the flagship training center for the U.S. Olympic Committee – and 15 other member organizations, as well as two international sports federations and a wealth of the country’s greatest endurance athletes and events…XTERRA stands out.
“Of the plethora of endurance events on this state's summer sports calendar, perhaps none screams "Colorado" as much as the XTERRA Mountain Championship triathlon,” wrote Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post after last year’s race. “You know, just a quick dip in a mountain lake, a mountain bike ride up a ski hill — with 3,600 feet of climbing — and nearly six miles of running on dirt trails through aspen and pine trees.”
The challenge attracts a rare breed of athlete, one unafraid to push the limits of their physical capabilities in the most primal of settings. They also seem to have a unique quality of character – humble, helpful, persistent, dedicated - all those traits that exemplify the XTERRA spirit of “Live More”.
Here we’ll meet a couple of the classy characters racing, and supporting, tomorrow’s race in the Rocky Mountains…
Tamara Donelson (36-year-old first-year pro from Edwards, CO) – Long before racing XTERRA the Aussie transplant spent a dozen years without a summer, rotating back-and-forth as a ski instructor in Europe, Canada, Colorado and her home country. Ten years ago during this stretch of perpetual winters Tamara met Brett Donelson, 32, a level 3 CSCF Certified Ski Race coach that was doing just about the same thing.
The two eventually tired of the routine “we hate winter now” and settled in to Edwards, Colorado – a bedroom community in Vail Valley. It didn’t take long for the uber-athletic and self-driven tandem to dig into the mountain sports and excel in their professions as personal trainers. In recent years Tamara has transformed from fledgling triathlete in 2008 to XTERRA’s overall amateur world championship in 2011 to one of the elite women racing in the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series. Her proudest accomplishment, however, is founding a local bike team dubbed the “Ells Angels” alongside her husband Brett.
The Ells Angels, formed in 2010, is a collection of 10 local girls between the age of 13 and 16 who had never taken part in competitive mountain biking before. In collaboration with the Youth Foundation, Amanda Precourt, and Ellsworth Bike Company, the Donelson’s put together a collection of top line mountain bikes from Ellsworth, racing kits, a training and racing schedule, and a mission to empower young women.
“It’s about learning how to crash and get back-up,” explained Tamara. “It’s about being part of a community, and the power of exercise and a healthy, active lifestyle. It’s giving them the opportunity to discover the strength they have inside of themselves, and a chance for them to hear others say ‘Hey, you’re really good at this.”
The program is changing lives for the better. See for yourself in this video featuring the Ells Angels.
John Klish (30-year-old first-year pro from Eagle, Colorado) – The local racing community, XTERRA Tribe, and millions more who have watched the 2011 XTERRA World Championship show know all about John Klish and his inspiring story of overcoming deafness and cancer, but it keeps getting better. Klish, founder of DEAFlete.org, is now a pro. He won the XTERRA Moab off-road tri last month and has done a few mountain bike and cyclocross races as a pro, but this will be his first major test against the sports elites.
“I am so stoked for this race,” said Klish. “My coaches have done a great job of prepping me so far with a great plan this season and I feel fantastic. Two years ago when I first started doing tri I came in 25th overall, then last year I came in 16th overall, so this year I am gunning to break the top 10 here in Beaver Creek.”
Given his history of breaking down barriers it’d be hard to bet against him, especially considering there is a purpose behind his racing that goes far beyond personal achievement.
“I hope to turn some heads and inspire others thru the DEAFlete organization,” said Klish, who will be at the XTERRA expo and XTERRA University spreading the good word about DEAFlete, an organization providing opportunities and support for those who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and interested in living active lifestyles.
The Volunteers – Doing great things isn’t limited to just racers. Last night a couple dozen of the weekend’s volunteers gathered around some appetizers at the Dusty Boot in Beaver Creek Village to go over specific duties and enjoy the company of one another. The room was filled with those dedicated to performing selfless acts of service. There’s Kyle, a 23-year-old from Maine who arrived in Vail three days ago to start a new life adventure. We met Al, a retired oil executive, who said he’d rather be outside doing some good than sitting around the house. There’s a church group that’s more than 20 members strong, Beaver Creek Resort and Town of Avon employees, past racers, friends of racers, local business owners, and outdoor enthusiasts from every walk of life. Leader among them is Jim Buckner, who got wrangled into volunteering by Mike Kloser, the former race director and one of the greatest multisport athletes of all-time (AND one of the original racers from the inaugural 1996 XTERRA World Championship).
“I told Mike I’d help but he needed to find me something where I could use my brain,” said Buckner. “So, he put me in charge of all the volunteers.”
That was back in 2008 and Buckner recalled that first year was “the most challenging, tiresome gig I’ve ever done.”
This coming from a racer himself, who on Sunday – after a solid 12+ hour day as the volunteer coordinator on Saturday – will get up at the crack of dawn and ride in the “Triple Bypass” – a 120-mile ride that gains 10,000 feet in elevation from Avon to Evergreen.
Events like this couldn’t happen without volunteers, and we thank them and salute their efforts.