Last year, Lewis Ryan traveled to the XTERRA Pan Am Championship in Utah from his hometown of Rotorua, New Zealand. As the 15-19 age group winner, Ryan is still very young, but he uses his youth to his advantage and fearlessly takes on the trails.
We caught up with Ryan and learned about his poker prowess, his penchant for "lollies," and his pre-race warm up in a "wagon."
Q. What do you remember from last year's Pan Am Championship in Snowbasin?
A. I was blown away by the amazing landscape as soon as I arrived, a few days before the race. Snowbasin is such an iconic location, and that course has to be one of the hardest in the world.
I can vividly remember looking up after every switchback on that brutal mountain bike climb just thinking, "We can't be going any higher!" But somehow that mountain kept growing taller, the closer I got to the summit.
Then, as if you haven't battled hard enough, the wall to start the run course is soul crushing. It's the kind of soul crushing you learn to love in XTERRA though, because it's an extra special feeling of accomplishment when you do cross the finish line.
Q. How did you prepare for the race?
A. I definitely had a new pre-race warmup, that's for sure. As a Kiwi, we are normally pretty underground and don't usually have the most ideal equipment. So on a freezing cold Utah morning, it was a bit classic to find myself relaxing inside seven-time and reigning XTERRA Age Group World Champ, Barb Peterson's kitted out "sportsmobile." She had the furnace cranking! It's the type of wagon you only find in the US, and it was a pretty cool way to get ready for the race.
Q. When did you take the lead?
A. After a solid swim, I knew I wasn't going to be far behind the overall amateur leader. I pushed the first part of the bike particularly hard. I think I took the lead on the lower slopes of the first climb, and fortunately, I managed to hold onto it.
Q. What was the hardest part of the race?
A. More than anything, Snowbasin really challenges you mentally. There were so many times when I had elements of doubt sneak into my mind about what pace I was setting. I raced the course blind, so I had no idea how far along I was. On a course with so much climbing, it's hard to find balance between raw speed and blowing up.
Q. Did anything or anyone inspire you during the race?
A. We had a solid group of Kiwis together in Utah, so if anything inspired me to dig deeper, it was having all the lads out there with me, trying to do the Silver Fern proud.
Q. How did you celebrate your victory?
A. The house we were staying in was massive, and for whatever reason, it had a poker room. So the Kiwi lads and I binged on as many lollies (candy) as the local market could provide and played some low-key poker.
Q. How did you do in poker?
A. It's fair to say, the older boys had their revenge that night. Cam Paul managed to con me out of a dollar.
Q. Who are your heroes?
A. Oh, there are so many great athletes. I can't really put anyone ahead of anyone else. But a few of the greats include fellow Kiwi and 2016 XTERRA Asia-Pacific 70-74 age group champ, Ry Lichtwark, Barb Peterson, and seven-time XTERRA World Champ Conrad Stoltz. Of course, my dad is in there too.
Q. Do you have a strict training diet - besides the lollies?
A. I've recently partnered with Dr. Paul Laursen from Plews & Prof to help transition me to a high-fat, low-carb diet. But I do love breakfast cereal from time to time.
Q. What are your racing plans for 2017?
A. I kicked off my season with XTERRA Rotorua, where I was runner up in the 14-24 age group. I've never raced local, so it was nice to have a genuine crack at it. I'm also going to XTERRA Switzerland this weekend, and then XTERRA France before I head back to North America. I'm excited to get back to Utah for the XTERRA Pan Am Championship. That course is one of my favorites.
Learn more about Lewis Ryan in the following interview:
XTERRA athlete profile by Reyn Okimoto, Shidler College of Business, class of 2017