Behind every World Championship competitor lies the story that led them to the starting line. This series serves to share the stories, messages, and motivations of those set to compete in the biggest race of them all when the XTERRA World Championship returns to the Dolomite mountains in Trentino, Italy this September.
Sarah Kuindersma, a tenacious XTERRA athlete from Canada, is gearing up for the World Championship in Molveno, Italy this September. Her journey to this moment has been nothing short of remarkable, overcoming personal struggles and unforeseen setbacks with unwavering determination.
“In the midst of the tumultuous year that was 2020, I found myself facing not only the challenges that the world was enduring but also my own personal struggles. In September, I underwent a major jaw surgery that brought along a cascade of health issues. Including an incurable autoimmune disease, I was feeling defeated and disheartened, until a serendipitous moment on Instagram changed everything.”
Health issues and uncertainties had her feeling at her lowest, but sometimes, a single spark of inspiration is all it takes to ignite a fire.
“One day in June 2021, while scrolling through my Instagram feed, an ad caught my eye—a captivating reel of the XTERRA race in Vouliagmeni, Greece. Something about it spoke to me, it ignited a spark. It had been over a decade since I last swam or ran. Yet, the allure of this event, my decision was made. I was going to dive headfirst into XTERRA racing.”
Against all odds, she saw a glimmer of hope in the form of an ad. The challenge of XTERRA racing beckoned her, calling her to rediscover herself through the thrill of competition.
“There was no time wasted, I enrolled in swimming classes and began training diligently. Zwift was my virtual training ground for the bike, and Garmin faithfully tracked my running progress. It was a journey of rediscovering forgotten skills and building endurance and strength back up from scratch.”
With determination, Sarah set out on her journey. Every stroke, every pedal, every step was a testament to her resilience and willpower.
"It was a journey of rediscovering forgotten skills and building endurance and strength back up from scratch.”
“Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, laying brick by brick down of training sessions and before I knew it April 2022 was here. With a sense of disbelief, I boarded a plane eastbound headed to Athens, Greece. I was filled with jittery excitement and nerves to partake in my very first XTERRA event, but fate had other plans. Day 2 in Greece, I woke up not feeling myself, I knew it wasn't just the jet lag I was feeling. I headed to the local pharmacy and the news hit me hard as I had tested positive for COVID-19. Over 9 months of training, 9 months of telling my friends and family I had to train instead of going on ski trips or fun outings, the sacrifices made to reach this goal, just to end up being told I was going to have to stay inside and isolate and watch the race from afar. Needless to say, I was devastated.”
The universe seemed to conspire against Sarah, but she refused to be defeated. A global pandemic threw a wrench in her plans, but she held on to hope and determination.
“The XTERRA race organisers exhibited an exceptional level of compassion and understanding. Without hesitation, they offered to transfer my race entry to the following year, allowing me another chance to compete in this amazing event. With the setback behind me, I set my sights on XTERRA Greece 2023. What athlete doesn't wish for more time to train for an event, right? I had the advantage of now knowing the course and more of an idea of what to expect.”
She was given a lifeline, and she grabbed it with both hands. Her resolve was unshaken, and she eagerly awaited her next shot at XTERRA glory.
“But my story doesn't end there. Inspired by my unwavering pursuit of this monumental challenge, my Father, Aunt, and Uncle all decided to embark on their own XTERRA journey. Training together was another source of joy and a testament to the strength of familial support.”
Sarah's unwavering spirit rubbed off on her family, and together, they ventured into the world of XTERRA racing, a bond strengthened by sweat, hard work, and shared aspirations.
"Training together was another source of joy and a testament to the strength of familial support.”
“April 2023 arrived, along with it a mixture of nerves and anticipation. Fearing a repeat of the previous year's misfortune, I took extra precautions. I made sure to arrive 8 days before the race and isolate to ensure a healthy taper leading up to the event. My only goal at this moment in time was not to have another DNS next to my name.”
Anticipation and anxiety filled the air as the day of redemption approached. Sarah was determined to make her mark, but she also knew she had to be cautious.
“As I stood on the beach at the start line, I took a deep breath, I made it. I remember telling myself how proud I was of myself. I was knocked down, first with my car accident in 2014 which led to needing the Jaw surgery in 2020, then learning how to live with a very painful autoimmune condition, then again with COVID in 2022, and here I am, standing on a beach, in Greece, almost 6,000 miles away from home, and now I just get to enjoy being here.”
Her journey to the start line was filled with hurdles and setbacks, but she stood tall and defiant, a testament to her indomitable spirit.
“Bang! The starting horn goes off, and all the triathletes submerge into the water.
The race itself was a whirlwind - an exhilarating, heart-pounding adventure. Every stroke, pedal, and step I took carried a sense of accomplishment. The course was challenging, but the panoramic views from the hills made the climbs so worth it.”
“Crossing the finish line was an incredible feeling, and then crossing it again when my Dad finished is a memory I will forever cherish.”
The race was an epic battle, a rollercoaster of emotions and physical endurance. Sarah conquered the course, not just for herself but for her family and everyone who believed in her.
“What came next was beyond what I was expecting. After the race, I made friends with a few of the other racers, and we all decided to go and cheer on the winners at the award ceremony. As the results were announced I was stunned when they called my name for first place, in the female 35-39 category. Not only did I complete the race but qualified for the XTERRA World Championship in Italy! The enormity of this achievement was a mixture of disbelief and gratitude.”
In the face of adversity, she soared to heights she never imagined. Triumph and recognition were hers to claim, a testament to her resilience and determination.
“XTERRA to me has been so much more than just a race, it's been a beacon of light in the midst of physical and emotional turmoil. The health issues I continue to face leaves me in a constant state of pain and fatigue. XTERRA gave me purpose, something to focus on and look forward to that revitalised my spirit. It brought me back to a more positive headspace, reminding me of my strength and resilience that resides within me. It also brought me closer to my family.”
Beyond the thrill of the race, XTERRA became a symbol of hope and healing for Sarah. It gave her the strength to fight her battles and the support of her loved ones to lean on. But now she looks forward to the race that lies ahead.
“I am preparing myself mentally and physically to embrace the XTERRA World Championship with open arms, ready to give my best effort and cherish the memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. And prepared to pinch myself that I get to do my 3 favourite things; swim, bike and run in the breathtaking dolomites of Italy. Never thought I'd be preparing for such an epic adventure.”
Her anticipation is palpable. She is eager to seize the moment, embracing the journey that awaits her.
“The message I would like to share: Embrace the power of small steps. It's not the giant leaps, rather the persistent steady strides that lead you to mountaintops.”
Sarah's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, taking one step at a time, she conquered mountains.
"Embrace the power of small steps. It's not the giant leaps, rather the persistent steady strides that lead you to mountaintops.”
“Everyone holds the power to chart a path uniquely to them. Find something that you find exciting, and work a plan backwards to your current starting point and take small steps forward to reach your goal.”
Her message echoes far beyond the realm of racing. It is a call to everyone to find their own path and take steps towards their dreams.
Meet Oscar Arias Madriz, a 56-year-old agronomist from Costa Rica. By day, he advises farmers on producing organic, pesticide-free food, but when the crack of dawn hits or dusk settles, he trains with a force to be reckoned with to compete and conquer the world of XTERRA triathlons.
Oscar's victory in XTERRA Puerto Rico showcased his ability to clinch the top spot in his group, proving that age is no obstacle when it comes to chasing dreams. “Because XTERRA Puerto Rico is important to me...it was my first triumph of a triathlon! At 56 years old, I won my first event, I was first place.”
Oscar's journey to the XTERRA World Championship in Molveno, Italy, has been riddled with challenges. In 2021, just days before his first World Championship race, he was struck down by a tropical disease transmitted by mosquitoes – Dengue. Did that stop him? Not a chance. He may not have competed at his best, but he finished the race fueled by sheer determination. Now it’s time for redemption.
“It was very hard mentally because I knew I could ride the bike faster if I was healthy, I knew I could run faster, but I had to see how people passed me and I kept my goal, regardless of my time.”
“XTERRA for us is a lifestyle,” he adds. The thrill of competing in different countries puts him in touch with nature and like-minded athletes who care for the world they live in. Oscar's ultimate goal is simple – to inspire others, young and old, to never give up on their dreams. “It's not winning... it's participating and being part of the XTERRA family worldwide.”
“XTERRA for us is a lifestyle. It's not winning... it's participating and being part of the XTERRA family worldwide.”
With the XTERRA World Championships just around the corner, Oscar faces another challenge – financing his journey. This eco-warrior, swamped with fieldwork, is doing everything he can to stand on that starting line.
Oscar's story is a powerful reminder that age is just a number. His passion for XTERRA racing fuels his fire, and he's not slowing down anytime soon. No excuses, no holding back – just pure willpower and redemption that drives him forward.
“Achieving my third qualification to the XTERRA World Championship on September 23, 2023, in Molveno. Going back to Italy....it's a great joy......I've been training for 4 months and we're 60 days away from the event.”
From Costa Rica to Trentino, Italy, Oscar will make the journey to compete in the M55-59 division, inspiring those who know him to follow in his muddy footsteps.
XTERRA Worlds: A Celebration of the Human Spirit is an ongoing series, with part #1 and #2, and #3 here, and more stories still to come from those currently preparing for the XTERRA World Championship.
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