Jenny Burden, XTERRA Regional Champ, wasn't expecting to become good friends with her age-group rival, Sara Kraftcheck.
"We raced five times together this season out of the six total, and I only beat her once," said Burden about Kraftcheck. "And that was due to her dropping out, thanks to asthma. She is faster than me at everything but swimming, and we are both super overly-competitive type-A people. By most standards, we should be frenemies at best."
Instead, the two are now good friends, thanks to a bond formed throughout the XTERRA season and cemented at the XTERRA World Championship in October.
"I have to make a specific point to talk about what this sport means for friendship, sportsmanship, and building one's chosen family because, the impact of it will be with me forever because of Sara," said Burden.
"Jenny and I met this spring at the Race Pace Bend cross-country race," said Kraftcheck. "I was wearing my XTERRA Regional Champion jersey, and Jenny asked if I was going to XTERRA Worlds because she was planning on going too. We talked a bit about our upcoming season and found out that we would be competing against each other, since she had moved up an age group this year."
Kraftcheck admitted that she felt a bit intimidated by Burden.
"I was crazy nervous and she was super confident," said Kraftcheck.
Both girls were scoping each other out, knowing that they were in the same age group.
Then at XTERRA Muleshoe in June, Burden was surprised to see Kraftcheck at the top of a hill, just ahead of her.
"I won't lie, I was hoping she had a flat tire or something so I'd have a miniscule chance of beating her, but when I got close, I could hear her gasping for air and knew she was having an asthma attack."
Burden stopped and helped Kraftcheck find her inhaler, which was stuck in the pocket of her jersey.
"I so appreciated that," said Kraftcheck. "You can tell pretty quickly after meeting Jenny that she is a loyal person and would never leave someone in trouble behind. Over this whole summer, we have built a strong friendship, and this was just another stepping stone of that friendship and demonstration of her kindness."
All season, the two girls had joked about crossing finish lines at their Texas races together, so neither one would have to beat the other.
"Then at the XTERRA World freakin' Championship, Sara was standing over me at T2 as I pulled off my soaking wet biking shoes, and we decided we would go ahead and make that happen," said Burden.
The two ran together, even though Kraftcheck could have raced ahead.
"There were many, many times she could have dropped me on the run, but she didn't and wouldn't leave me," said Burden. "She thought she was being annoying, but I was so grateful to have her there, even if her Red Bull smelled terrible."
"I tried to keep her spirits up and made her run the downhills and flats," said Kraftcheck. " We got in sight of the finish line, grabbed each other's hands and ran across. I would not have had it any other way - it was the perfect end to a super fun season of racing together."
Burden marveled that Kraftcheck stuck by her side.
"Even when I sat down at the bottom of a massive hill to take a break. Even when I refused to run down a hill (that would have been fun to run down if I hadn't felt like I was going to die), even when there was a big crowd cheering for us on the beach and she was yelling at me, "Come on, the sooner we're done the sooner we're done!"
Burden told Kraftcheck that if they were interviewed, she would tell them, "Ohana means family, and family means no one is left behind."
"I didn't get to say that at the end because I was trying too hard not to puke on the microphone," said Burden, "But I felt it and I meant it. It is so important to keep in perspective the fun in the sport, the friends you make, and the spirit of lifting each other along when things get really, really tough."
Kraftcheck will be competing in Ironman Texas next April and in XTERRA Cameron Park in June.
"Jenny and I will be riding together at least once a week," said Kraftcheck. "We have created a great friendship."
Jenny also plans on racing in more XTERRA events next year.
"Let's pick a race with fewer climbs next time, Sara?" she asks. "Maybe XTERRA Thailand?"
You can read more about Jenny's adventures on her blog, www.cowgirlstri.blogspot.com.
Photo Courtesy of Enduro Photo