On Saturday night in Ogden, Utah, Kristen Wade was named the 2018 Ms. XTERRA award winner. The perpetual honor is given annually to recognize a member of the XTERRA Tribe who exemplifies the spirit of XTERRA – the challenge, commitment and camaraderie that is the essence of our sport.
Deanna McCurdy, the 2017 Ms. XTERRA award winner, passed the baton to Kristen, which was natural given that the two aren’t just competitors but that they are also friends.
“We are like best buddies,” said Deanna. “She’s from Littleton, Colorado, where I live now, so we visit and play on the trails every year. Kristen is someone who inspires others by example. She conquers her fears one by one whether it’s getting on a mountain bike or running into a burning building.”
Deanna was referring to the fact that Kristen has been a firefighter for years, although technically, Kristen isn’t just a firefighter. She is the battalion chief of the Sugar Grove Fire Protection District in Illinois, where Kristen has been described as “the biggest boss on duty.” A natural coach, Kristen motivates and inspires her team to show up and be their best each and every day, whether they are fighting fires or working on their own health and fitness goals.
Unlike some athletes, to whom success has come easily, Kristen has worked for her awards and accolades. A successful soccer player for most of her life, triathlon was not a likely choice. Kristen never even rode a mountain bike until her husband Al encouraged her to train for XTERRA Scales Lake in 2012. While Kristen won that race, training for mountain bike courses wasn’t a lot of fun at first. Most of the time, it was pretty scary. In fact, the first time Kristen competed in the XTERRA Pan Am Championship in 2012, she suffered in the altitude and cold and thought she would never get on her mountain bike again.
But Kristen persevered. Her coaches at Braveheart Coaching – Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall – were so impressed that they asked her to join their coaching staff. Not only does she consider herself a coach, but most importantly, Kristen calls herself an “athlete handler,” because she so intimately understands the doubts, fears, and insecurities that can plague athletes at big events and goal races.
One of Kristen’s accomplishments was to write a book entitled, “Endurance Planet’s Guide to Triathlon Spectating,” which serves as a guide for “Spectathletes” on what to expect when watching their loved ones and friends compete in an endurance event from an XTERRA to a marathon.
This as much as anything else, truly shows who Kristen is. While she hopes to have a great race and wants the same for the athletes she coaches, she is also focused on the experiences of friends and family along for the ride. In her book, she details not only how to help athletes but how to entertain kids through long endurance events, when and how to take photographs, what the nuances and idiosyncracies of triathlon actually signify, and what the purpose of spandex is.
While accepting the Ms. XTERRA 2018 award, Kristen seemed surprised, despite the fact that a camera crew was tailing her all week. But this also speaks to how humble Kristen is. She believes that a cameraman is following her to capture a day in the life of an amateur female triathlete before she would assume she is receiving an award.
“You want to know how it felt to be named 2018 Ms. XTERRA?” asked Kristen a few days after the race. “It felt humbling and not in the way you might think. It’s not like when you train hard for something and that something still manages to put you in your place. With the Ms. XTERRA award, I experienced the kind of humility you get when you know deep down it was more than just a sole exploration that brought you to that moment. It was a group effort. It was all of my XTERRA family, my Fire Department Family, my parents, and Al , who have empowered me to ‘Live More.’ For that, I feel grateful.”