More Than Just a Number

Oct. 25, 2014

Stroll along the sandy shores of D T Fleming Beach on Sunday and you’ll see hundreds upon hundreds of the fittest people on the planet, each with their own unique number tattooed on their arm.

For the pros, the number represents where they finished at last year’s race. The reigning XTERRA World Champion Ruben Ruzafa will don No. 1; and last year’s women’s winner Nicky Samuels will wear No. 101. For the amateurs, their race number is indicative of what age division they're in. For example, No. 201 is Rachel Anders, the youngest in the field at 16-years-old; and No. 962 is Ron Hill, the senior statesman of XTERRA at 77.

For timing purposes, the numbers are identifiers, a way to track how fast No. 781 can swim, bike, and run. Of course, there’s more to No. 781 than her bike split. No. 781 is Rebecca Smith from Pennsylvania, and she’s just happy to be alive.

Smith unknowingly moved into a cottage that had a slow, imperceptible carbon monoxide leak.  She said she started feeling terrible and one day blacked out and went to the emergency room.  They couldn't discover the source and sent her back to the poisonous den, where she stayed for another five weeks.

"My dog wouldn't come inside the house, and I couldn't figure out why," said Smith, who suffered through a series of near-death experiences from seizures to heart attacks as a result of consistently inhaling the toxic gas.

It's been a tough, long road to recovery for Smith and as such, being healthy enough to line up on Sunday to race at the XTERRA World Championship amounts to one awesome celebration of life.

Indeed, behind every number there's a story.  Here are just a few...

No. 539 is Alissa Magrum.  She turned 40 this year and her parents and 9-year-old daughter are in Maui to cheer her on.  “I’m racing for Colin Holst, Averie Owen, Ken Parmerter and Kathryn (Kat) Walker--all who lost their lives to a fatal drowning. All of these drownings were preventable and so I dedicate this race to them - their spirits and their families and friends.” Alissa is an athlete ambassador for Colin’s Hope, a non-profit helping to raise awareness for water safety.

No’s 532 and 694 are Angie and Jason Childre, and they're celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary with their two kids here in Maui. This one is special for another reason as well. “I lost my 47-year-old brother suddenly to a rare cancer last October.  It made everyone in my family realize how short life is and you need to do the things you want to do and not wait for everything to be perfect.  My husband and I decided then that if either one of us qualified to go to World’s this year, we would go.  As it turns out, we both got invitations this year and we are racing this one for my brother Mark! Life is short. We have a whole new outlook on living more since the death of my brother and his sister at such a young age (47 & 52) this past year.  It could happen to us just as easy as it happened to them.  Be happy, do what you want to do, “Live More!”

No. 825 is Daniel Luhman. He’s 52 and couldn’t swim three years ago. “Never let your fears decide your fate,” he advises.

No. 278 is Tory Sigmond from Thailand. She runs for her Mom who has MS and lost her own ability to run. “I run because I can. Never take anything for granted,” she says.\

No. 853 is Kirk Vandeweghe. He keeps his daughters Winnie the poo towel with him in transition.

No. 900 is Kerry Nisbet from Canada. In 1999 Kerry and his wife created the group called Cops for Cancer in honor of Lyle Jorgensen. They’ve risen over $7 million in the battle against cancer. Kerry is inspired to race for those who are sick and continue to fight every day. Kerry has been an inspiration as well, for he has had two heart surgeries and admittedly says that they have slowed him down. However, he will continue to race to raise money for his organization. “Each day is a gift, I enjoy spending a ton of time with family, my three sons and their families,” said Nisbet. His mantra…“There will come a day when I can no longer do this....but today is not that day"

No. 269 is Caroline Ehlies, she's a military intelligence officer in the Guam Army National Guard and picked up XTERRA after returning from Afghanistan last year. Caroline is dedicating this one to her husband Harry whose quiet strength and humility inspire her to be a better person. Her favorite XTERRA moment was “seeing other competitors stop when someone crashed on the mountain bike course to help them get back up. In the ultra-competitive environment of endurance sport it’s nice to know that in the end we are a community. We are relentless and ferociously disciplined mentally and physically, but ultimately we know our sport is more about pushing beyond barriers and celebrating that struggle with those who chose the hard way than it is about winning. Every breath, every pedal stroke, every step forward is a victory because each movement forward brings us that much closer to our greatest self.”

No. 375 is Blake Gill. Three years ago he cut his left thumb off and now he runs his left sram xo thumb shifter upside down (on top of the bar) and shifts with his fingers.

No. 282 is Debbie Val from Canada. She’s dedicating this one to her Mom and step dad who came from Calgary to cheer her on. She says she used to be fearless, then broke her jaw and got a sense of fear knocked into her. But then she broke her jaw again, and now she's back to fearless!

No. 632 is Todd Tuescher. Two years ago Todd lost 50 pounds to become a better athlete and set an example of the healthy lifestyle for his kids. He’s racing this one in memory of Pete Zucker, a friend who lost his battle to ALS two years ago.

No. 357 is Emily Witman from Ogden, Utah. At XTERRA Moab a guy in front of her stopped while they were out on the slick rock that overlooks a valley. He said, "Sometimes you have to stop and take it all in." “What he says sticks with me at every race. We live in a beautiful world and XTERRA gives me an opportunity to so many fantastic and inspirational places.”