“It’s about time,” said just about everyone when Janet Soule and Cliff Millemann were named the 2015 Mrs. and Mr. XTERRA award winners at Friday’s Night of Champions awards dinner in Utah.
“Awesome people and ambassadors for the sport and LIFE in general,” exclaimed XTERRA Pro Suzie Snyder.
The award is given annually to the man or woman, or sometimes both, who best exemplify the spirit of XTERRA and the camaraderie, commitment, challenge, discovery, and style that is the essence of the sport.
Janet and Cliff have exemplified all those traits for more than a decade now. In fact, Millemann has been racing XTERRA for 16 years. In his very first one he got swept down the Columbia River and had to be rescued by the Hood River County Sheriff’s boat.
“I probably should have stopped doing them right then and there,” he joked to the crowd at the awards ceremony.
Undeterred, however, he kept racing and after all those years finally won the uber-competitive 50-54 XTERRA Regional Championship for the first time in 2012. He’s won it every year since, and this year did more races (9) and scored more total points (639) than any racer in the XTERRA America Tour.
“He also recruited a bunch of new people into the sport,” said XTERRA Ambassador program director Raena Cassidy. “He talks up XTERRA everywhere he goes to anyone who will listen. He’s the ultimate ambassador and an awesome person to boot.”
As for Soule her smile says it all, it really does. She’s the most radiant XTERRA racer on the planet, full of life and energy and positive vibes.
Her impact on the sport runs deep. When Jamie Whitmore was diagnosed with Cancer back in 2008 Janet was the one to step forward, organize the “J-Dawg Crew” and set-up an auction at XTERRA Nationals to rally support for her.
Through the years Janet has modeled clothes for XTERRA Gear, wrote stories about her adventures for Triathlete Magazine, encouraged every racer who ever passed her, handed out flyers, put up posters, and stuck around for post-race shenanigans at every stop.
Like Cliff, who she has been married to for more than 20 years (see XTERRA Valentine’s Day video) and done upwards of 200 races with, Janet raced a lot but didn’t win many. That all changed last year when she won her division for the first time at the XTERRA West Championship. She made winning a habit thereafter, and captured her first regional championship last year as well. And this year, just hours after being named Mrs. XTERRA, she won the 50-54 XTERRA National Championship for the first time.
While winning is nice, it’s never been about that for Soule, it’s been about the effort. Never was that more clear than in her reflections from XTERRA Worlds 2014 when she had a world title in her grasp only to have her body break down and her race end in a crawl to the finish line.
“I had no signs things were going horribly awry until they suddenly did!” she explained. “No cramping. No dizziness. It hit me instantly. I suddenly had no quad muscles to break me on the downhill after the pavement hill. Strangest feeling ever. I'd get going fast and just fall forward. I must have fallen/rolled 7 times easily at full speed. Sad thing is there was no doubt in my mind I was going to be a world champ at last. I had it! Until my body stopped. Seriously, the spirit of XTERRA was what got me through that last beach/grass stretch. I knew at that point the only thing I'd win would be the satisfaction of finishing. So proud to have made it across the finish line. May have been the hardest thing I've ever done. It was a tough race for a lot of people. Personally it taught me what my brain is capable of when my body is done and showed me once again the true spirit of XTERRA when people I didn't even know helped me cross the finish line by shouting encouraging words of support.”
Last year Soule came up with the idea for the XTERRA Tribe to dance to the “Happy” song in Maui several months before the race. When she was asked just before the race if it was still an appropriate song she said, “Hell yeah. You're happy. I'm happy. Who the hell isn't happy?”
Janet credits her longevity to her post-race ritual “I love a couple cold beers and some french fries after a race…followed by more beer.”
The first time she ever competed in a full-distance XTERRA was at Worlds in 2001.
“I was pretty apprehensive. My best moment was crossing the finish line and realizing I had completed something I'd never thought possible. Two years prior to that I was sidelined with a knee injury and the surgery I had undergone had only complicated things. I had doctors telling me to sell my house and buy one without stairs, saying I'd never be in sports again, and telling me to find something else to do to fill my time. I was so excited to cross the finish line and know that I had beat the odds!”
By day Janet is an award-winning PR executive, the co-owner of Me Communications, and her personal mantra is “Don’t fall, keep going, don’t fall, keep going (repeat).” She's also a trophy-winning body-builder, something she got involved in recently because "I always wanted to try it."
Janet says her favorite XTERRA athlete is the legendary Anthony Snoble (oh, and husband Cliff too, of course). To her, XTERRA is “a wild adventure that keeps you young and smiling. You’ll meet amazing individuals that will turn into lifelong friends. It’s a healthy lifestyle filled with moments of sheer terror followed by a lasting feeling of complete exhilaration!”
On Sunday, a day after Nationals, Janet and Cliff both raced in the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship half-marathon, like they have many times before. Out on the trail, in the forest with no one around, a race photographer could hear somebody shouting words of encouragement…
“Yeah buddy, way to go!!! You’re running like a rock star, keep it up!”
Of course, it was Soule, cheering on a young guy in the race who had just passed by.
And the legend grows…