Amateur Women World Champs Spotlight

Nov. 25, 2015

We caught up with a bunch of this year’s amateur division women’s XTERRA World Champions and asked them questions like when they took the lead, how their day unfolded, and what the win meant to them.  Here is what they had to say…

Wendy Minor, 70-74, from Kamuela, Hawaii

Wendy Minor is a record-setter.  She won her first XTERRA World Championship in 1997, just a year after the sport was born, and won her 8th World Title at the 20th edition of XTERRA Worlds earlier this month.  She’s the first woman to 8, and also the first woman to win a World Title in the newly minted 70-74 division.  When asked how important that was to her, she said…

“The most important part of my racing day was in finding out that Charlotte Mahan had made the bike cut-off. That was the first thing I asked when I crossed the finish line. It was so important to me that there were TWO of us breaking in the 70-74 age group for women. In my opinion we both came in be able to complete this brutal race at our age is simply a WIN. That is why I shared my first place spot on the podium with Charlotte,” said Minor.

Indeed Charlotte did make the cut-off, and finished the race, a remarkably accomplishment for both.

“I trained hard for this race, as I do for all races, because I wanted to have my A game going. I love this course, and to be able to relax half-way thru' the bike and just enjoy the ride was a plus for all the training I had done,” said Minor.  “My thought had been to call this one my last race, as this is really tough at my age, but I'll be back next year since I had such a good time out on the course, and I love the XTERRA family. So, I'll see you next year!”

Cindi Toepel, 60-64, from Littleton, Colorado

Cindi Toepel is a 64-year-old superstar.  This was her 12th time in Maui and the sixth time she won an XTERRA World Championship.  Her first title came in 2005, which started a string of three straight, then she won in 2011 and again last year.

This year she had the unenviable task of going head-to-head against Hawaii great Lorenn Walker who has raced in Maui 15 times and won five times.

“We’ve been racing together for years and we are friend, but she is tough!” said Toepel.

Walker had the better swim but Toepel reeled her in on the big bike climb just before Razor Ridge and never looked back.

“I dug deep at the start of the bike and just didn’t let up till the finish line!”

Cindi said this year’s XTERRA Warrior award winner – cancer survivor David Desantis – served as her raceday inspiration, “and he came into the finish line right in front of me!”

Toepel celebrated with a glass of champagne, talked about the funny comments she got from the men she passed out on the trail “when they see my age group” and wanted to thank all the “brilliant volunteers” who make it happen.

Carol Rasmussen, 50-54, from Karlslunde, Denmark

In her second Maui attempt Carol Rasmussen took home her second Maui title.

“I did the double in 2012, and that year had to be evacuated from the hotel because of the Tsunami warning.  I slept on the backseat of our rental car the night before XTERRA Worlds.  I was pretty shaken up, and so thankful that I still was able to finish first back in 2012.  That year I shared the top step with Benoit Lalevee, same as this year,” said Rasmussen.

A teacher by trade, Rasmussen had an incredible season in 2015, two times European Champion in the OL- distance triathlon, a win in Alpe D' Huez Triathlon in the age group +40 category, winner of XTERRA Møns Klint and 6th place at XTERRA Tisvilde.

In Maui she took the lead a few miles into the bike and never looked back.

“We are used to riding a lot of switchbacks with roots in Denmark, and I am known to be a climber, so I loved the MTB course. I felt I was passing other triathletes left and right all the time, so I actually had fun on my full suspension bike. I had a big lead before going out on the run, which was a lot slower this year with 58min compared to 53 in 2012, but it was also a lot hotter this year. I wasn't running fast, but still passing so many who had to walk in the heat. As the course went downhill I enjoyed running the trails and passing the obstacles on the way. I had a bigger lead this year with 16min to the runner-up and was so happy about my wonderful day in Maui.  I really love to be a part of the XTERRA family and enjoy spending time with athletes from all over the world with the same passion for the sport.”

Libby Harrow, 65-69, from Fruita, Colorado

Libby stared racing XTERRA in 2001 and has competed in the World Championship 13 times. On November 1 she caught Kathy Frank at about mile two of the bike to take the lead and held it through the finish to pick up her 2nd World Title.

“XTERRA is family to me, especially, since I don’t have my own. Every time I compete in a race, I see my friends, and meet new ones. The venues are beautiful and the races are very well organized.  It has been an amazing experience watching the series grow worldwide and of course my dream would be to travel the world and race XTERRAS everywhere along the way!”

Sharon McDowell-Larsen, 55-59, from Colorado Springs, CO

Sharon McDowell-Larsen talks the talk and walks the walk. In her role as a leadership development executive with a PhD in exercise physiology she educates 3 and 4-star generals and admirals on how to be fitter and eat better.

Her performance at XTERRA Worlds this year proves she practices what she preaches – not just with words, but with her actions.

While 2015 was just her second year racing XTERRA, Sharon seemed destined for the sport…

“Back in the day I, like 30 years ago, I was pretty serious about doing road triathlons.  Then I moved to Colorado and discovered mountain biking so I focused on that for about 10 years.  I was also dabbling in trail running and adventure racing off and on.  Then I think I watched the XTERRA World Champs on TV and thought it looked like fun so I got back in the pool (that was painful) and qualified for and went to Maui in 2012 and placed 2nd.  Then I took off a year from competing to support my husband and his bid to do the Leadville 100 run, then decided to give the LV100 run a try myself the next year but it didn’t go so well (broke an ankle and just didn’t come back from that in time for the run).  So this year I decided to get back into XTERRA which I really love as I enjoy training for three things.  Luckily I hadn’t completely stopped swimming, so that wasn’t nearly as painful to get back to.  I’ve really had a good season and am very pleased with my results.  I think doing well also adds to the enjoyment!”

XTERRA: When did you take the lead?

McDowell-Larsen: I knew as soon as I got out of the water as no other bikes were out yet.  I am a pretty strong swimmer and was pretty confident that I would be in the lead out of the water.  I figured I had about a two-minute gap, which turned out to be the case. 

Did you know who your main competition would be?

I knew of most of the American women and knew that, given a good race (i.e. no flat tires or mechanicals or physical breakdowns) that I could beat them.  There were a couple women from NZ and Australia that I wasn’t sure about. 

How cool was it to race against people from all over the world who were in your age group?

Very cool.  Given how hard it can be to qualify, you know that even if the field is small (as it was in my case) that you are still racing against some of the best in the world.  It was a real honor. 

Did you ever have to really dig deep?

During the run for sure.  The run is always my weakest leg.  I am a former pro mountain biker and a good swimmer, but even though I do hard training for the run, it is hard for me to not lose time on the run.  And this run was particularly hard.  I think the heat really got to me.  I was starting to feel light headed and a bit nauseous.  My brain was telling my legs to push harder, but the message wasn’t getting through. It was like my brain and body weren’t connected.   Mostly my brain was telling me to stop and curl up in the fetal position by the side of the trail. 

I instinctively knew that if anyone in my age group passed me, I probably wouldn’t be able to respond.  So I broke the run up into segments, make it to the lake, make it to the road, make it to the tunnel and finally make it to the beach.  I kept telling myself to just go on autopilot, just do what I’ve done in training and to relax and not stress about how bad I was feeling.  That helped.  I also didn’t know what my gap was so I was running scared.  As it turned out it was bigger than I thought, even though I did lose some time on the run.  I was happy to have won, but I feel like I didn’t do a run that I was capable of….  So I think I have some unfinished business and will have to come back.  Next time I will do more run heat training.  I didn’t expect the heat to affect me like it did.  Lesson learned.  Frankly, I prefer altitude to heat and humidity.

Who or what was your inspiration?

I had just read the book Iron War about the Mark Allen and Dave Scott duel in Kona 1989.  That was inspiring to me.  It, the book, also talks a lot about the brain and how important it is to push your limits both in training and competition.  I think I am mentally pretty strong, but not like those guys. 

How did you celebrate?

Hugged my hubby… he knew how badly I wanted this.  It actually took a while to sink in that I had won.  I felt nauseous and light headed for about 30-40 minutes so I was mostly trying to get over that.  But then I was just really, really happy!

Susi Pawel, 30-34, from Dresden, Germany

Susie Pawel is a 30-year-old galvanizer from Germany racing in just her 2nd XTERRA ever.  In her first XTERRA she won the 30-34 title in her home country to qualify for Maui, as did her husband Torsten.

“It was cool to race against people from all over the world,” exclaimed Pawel.  “In my age group were people from New Zealand, USA (Maryland, California, Alaska and Washington), Sweden, France, Spain, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Australia and Guam…very international!”

While Pawel took the lead on the bike, she didn’t know it.  “I didn’t know anybody in my division and wasn’t sure if I was ever in the lead.  The craziest thing was, I had such a good run and caught so many men.  It was very funny when I learned I won my age group!”

She celebrated with her husband at the awards dinner, woke up early to watch the sunrise atop Haleakala, and had a champion’s barbeque back home two weeks later with all their friends and family who helped them with the travel and support to Maui.