XTERRA has long been known for its easy going and incredibly supportive community, filled with inspirational and humble characters all around – from the first finisher to the last.
It is this established collection of role models, more interested in the “Live More” lifestyle and thrill of adventure than anything else, that perpetually attracts like-minded souls into the sport.
At the XTERRA West Championship on Saturday – amidst a sea of regulars who’ve raced off-road for more than a decade – are a few first timers. Although they may be new to XTERRA, their stories ring a familiar bell – of passion and dedication – and we’d like to welcome them to the Tribe…
Sam Cila – “Snoble’s fault, I blame him,” said Sam Cila on how he ended up on the start list for Saturday’s XTERRA West Championship.
Cila is referring to fellow New Yorker Anthony Snoble, a long-time XTERRA racer and ambassador and last year’s Double Champ having posted the best combined time at the Hawaii Ironman and XTERRA World Championship races.
Snoble met Cila through a friend of a friend at a pivotal time in his life.
“He was in a dark place for some pretty obvious reasons. Was having a ton of trouble with his hand, and just depressed,” explained Snoble.
Cila, an Army Sergeant, was more than half-way through a year-long combat tour in Iraq when on July 4, 2005, he was wounded in an IED blast while on patrol just outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad.
The sever blast wounds Cila sustained left him with limited left arm mobility and no use of his left hand, which eventually had to be amputated in December of 2008.
“I tracked down Willie Stewart’s number and hooked those two up,” said Snoble. Snoble knew Stewart, an inspirational above-the-elbow amputee, from the XTERRA races. “Whatever Willie said to him got him going, got him stoked. Doing triathlon pulled him out of a whole.”
Cila has since become a source of inspiration for all of those lucky enough to hear him talk, and see him compete. He’s key player in Operation Rebound, a program run by the Challenged Athletes Foundation which helps wounded vets and first responders get back on their feet by participating in athletic competitions that may seem otherwise impossible.
Cila has competed in numerous triathlons, cycled the Pacific Coast Highway and finished the Ironman World Championship in 2010. On Saturday, he’ll be doing his first XTERRA, just a couple miles away from where his Dad lives here at Lake Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I am fired up to race my first XTERRA,” said Cila. “What really excites me is the guys racing, great guys with killer mindsets! Craig and I know each other and Jamie and I have a bunch of mutual friends. Looking forward to meeting Michael as well. Competition is steep here, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Indeed, the PC division is stacked with Cila, Craig Vogtsberger, Jamie Brown, and Michael Stone all racing on Saturday.
“He’s an inspiration to everyone,” said Snoble of Cila. “He swims in my swim class, and just blows people away, and is the coolest guy. He may be missing a hand, but he doesn’t miss a beat.”
For his part, Cila feels the same way about Snoble and Stewart.
“I love Willie and Anthony. Those guys are awesome, and big contributors in me getting back on my feet.”
Jamie Brown – Jamie is another PC athlete taking on XTERRA for the first time. He’s also a member of the Challenged Athletes Foundation Elite Paratriathlon Team that focuses on the development of top performing U.S. paratriathletes in anticipation of the inaugural inclusion of paratriathlon in the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.
We share his story here, courtesy of the Challenged Athletes Foundation…
Like many little leaguers Jamie Brown dreamed of growing up to play high school and collegiate baseball. He lived to play the game and was a rising star on his team. And to his teammates Jamie was simply a pitcher, an athlete, a friend. But there was something different about Jamie - Jamie was an amputee.
Born missing his fibula in his right leg and three fingers on his right hand due to a congenital birth defect, at just 11 months Jamie had the surgery that would change the rest of his life. His parents decided to amputate his leg to give him the best change at living a normal and active life just like other young boys. Just two weeks after his surgery he was fit for his first prosthetic, and from that moment he was off and running.
A Natural Athlete
From a young age, Jamie's parents got him involved in as many sports and athletic events as possible to keep him from feeling different than other kids. So you name it, he's played it! While most kids grow up playing one or two sports, Jamie played roller hockey, soccer, football, basketball, skiing, and wakeboarding - but, by far, his favorite sport was baseball.
With much hard work and determination he was a two-time all-league player in arguably the strongest high school baseball league in the nation. He then earned a college scholarship and played at Chapman University. In 2001 Jamie even played in the College Baseball World Series.
The Road Blocks
After college Jamie discovered the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), an organization that helps athletes with physical disabilities so they can play the sports they love. Jamie attended the CAF San Diego Triathlon Challenge and fell in love with the sport of triathlon. But with this new sport he learned he needed new equipment like a running leg and cycling leg, expensive pieces of adaptive equipment his medical insurance wouldn't cover. But fortunately CAF was there to help.
Overcoming Obstacles To Succeed
The Challenged Athletes Foundation provided Jamie with a running leg and coaching at the CAF Dodge Paratriathlon Camp. And just last year he took first place at the USAT Paratriathlon Championship in New York City. This July Jamie will head back to defend his title in New York. While hard work and support from family and friends have helped Jamie in becoming the champion he is today, he wouldn't be at the starting line without his prosthetics and adaptive equipment and proper training to learn how to use it.
When you donate to CAF you help athletes like Jamie get the equipment and tools they need to succeed in sports.
Here at the XTERRA West Championship, Paul Mitchell stylists will cut hair from 10am-2pm on Saturday and 9am-12noon on Sunday at the finish line area and 100% of the proceeds will go to the CAF.
Winter Vinecki – Winter may be the most ambitious person you could ever meet. She also happens to be an extraordinary endurance athlete who will be making her XTERRA debut this weekend.
Winter is only 14, but is already an established name in the sports of triathlon, distance running, and aerial skiing. In keeping with her enterprising year-round schedule, her XTERRA debut will cover two days of competition. Winter will compete in both the XTERRA West Championship off-road triathlon on Saturday, April 13, and the XTERRA Lake Las Vegas Trail Run 21-kilometer race on Sunday, April 14.
“The one great thing about being young is our remarkable ability to recover quickly,” Winter said. “I’ve done numerous triathlons back-to-back, such as youth draft legal or spring tri one day and Olympic distance triathlon the next. I’ve also combined triathlons and running events on the same weekend. I run five days a week for my marathon training and will use the XTERRA Trail Run as training for my next marathon on the Inca Trail in June. I will see how I feel on Sunday and determine at that time how hard I will push the pace on the 21K. This is my very first race with XTERRA so it will be a learning weekend for me.”
It might be a learning weekend for Winter, but everyone could use a lesson from her as well. This XTERRA weekend is the latest in her journey around the world to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
In 2009, Michael Vinecki – Winter’s father – died less than a year after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Shortly after, Winter and her mother started the non-profit Team Winter to bring attention prostate cancer awareness.
“Since I’m racing for a cause, my non-profit Team Winter, I find myself always trying to do my very best and setting big goals and dreams,” she said. “I race not for myself, but in memory of my dad and the 1 in 6 men affected by prostate cancer. My goal this season is to qualify for XTERRA World Championships either through a qualifying race like Vegas or through points. I never look at my age as a barrier.”
Because of her busy schedule, Winter completes her school work online through EPGY (Educational Program for Gifted Youth), run by Stanford University. She is originally from Michigan, but now resides in Park City, Utah, so she can train year-round in her various sports.
Her most ambitious project for 2013 involves “seven marathons on seven continents.” Winter has already completed marathons in North America (Oregon), Africa (Kenya) and Antarctica. Later this year, she plans to run marathons in South America (Peru), Asia (Mongolia), New Zealand and Europe (Greece).
The Antarctica event was just last week, and she became the youngest runner ever to complete a marathon on that continent.
“Running a marathon in Antarctica cannot really be explained,” she said. “It is one of those things you just need to experience first-hand. The marathon to me was not just the day of the race. Ninety percent of the marathon was just traveling to and from Antarctica and all the obstacles you face along the way. The marathon was about falling in love with a continent and the beauty and secrets it holds.”
Winter has been competing in triathlons since she was 5, and is a two-time IronKids National Champion. This weekend, however, will be her first major off-road events, including her first competition on a mountain bike (the XTERRA West Championship triathlon consists of a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 30K mountain bike, and a 10K trail run).
If Winter places first in her age group during Saturday’s triathlon, she will qualify for the 2013 XTERRA World Championship on Maui later this year. It won’t be easy though, as her age division includes the reigning XTERRA amateur world champ, Hannah Rae Finchamp.
“It will give me a chance to gain experience amongst some of the best triathletes in this off-road series,” Winter said. “Achieving my goal of qualifying for Worlds will mean more awareness for prostate cancer and more people knowing my story. I know I have my work cut out for me, but I’m always up for a challenge, and as I always tell others, Never Give In!”