XTERRA Worlds: The Journey That Brought Us Here

From the 750+ athletes, aged 17-79 and representing 41 countries around the globe, these are just a few of the stories that have helped make 2022 the most diverse and far-reaching XTERRA World Championship yet.

Written by
Trey Garman
·
14
min read
Summary
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Point 1

It’s Thursday afternoon in Molveno and the melting pot of XTERRA is in full swing as racers from all over the world shuttle through the village to pick up their race packets, then hop on their mountain bikes or slip into their trail runners to hit the practice course. 

Some speak Italian, of course, but also French, Spanish, English, Arabic, Afrikaans, Mandarin, and more. They’re tall and short; fair and dark; giddy and nervous, range in age from 17 to 79, and come from 41 countries across the globe.

The diversity amongst this field of competitors is inspiring, and so too is their ability to come together as one incredibly supportive XTERRA Family. 

All in, more than 750 of the fittest off-road triathletes in the world will line up on the shores of Lake Molveno in Trentino, Italy to compete in the 2022 XTERRA World Championship. Here, we meet just a few of the amazing, adventurous souls who will be racing on Saturday.

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Point 2

The Student - Georgia Grobler 🇿🇦

Distance Traveled: 8,889 Kilometers

Last summer Georgia Grobler, 24, embarked on a journey from her home in Cape Town, South Africa to Europe in pursuit of a master's degree in Health Food Innovation Management from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. After an amazing first year living abroad, she has learned a whole lot about food science, and even more about adventure!

“I have met people from all over the world and learnt so much about different cultures and ways of life,” she exclaimed. “I have had the opportunity to travel all over Europe. I’ve done a mountain bike race in Belgium, a half-marathon in Germany, a trail run in France, and XTERRA’s in Italy, Czech, the Netherlands, and Belgium. And I’m excited to keep building up the exploration list!”

Georgia got bit by the XTERRA bug at an early age, when her parents took her to Grabouw to discover and race at the biggest off-road triathlon in Africa.

“There is a famous XTERRA in South Africa, that actually just reopened which I'm super happy about, and when I was 11-years-old I did the sprint race as part of a team. I was the delegated biker, and used my dad's bike which was miles too big for me so I kept on falling off but I always came back. When I was 16, I did the sprint by myself, and there was no looking back. When I got to Europe, I knew XTERRA would be a good way to explore because the venues are beautiful and the people are always friendly.” 

“I love training and the people you get to meet when you train and race."

Grobler said she can’t wait to see the legend, Conrad the “Caveman” Stoltz, in Trentino.

“I am super excited Conrad is coming and to be representing the same country as him! South Africans tend to stick together, so I'm very pleased to have a familiar face in the same race as me!”

Her master's program is two years long, and Georgia said she plans to take full advantage of the residence permit and the freedom to travel that comes with it.

“I love training and the people you get to meet when you train and race. Everyone has a story and I find that I relate more to people who enjoy adventuring and nature as much as I do. It’s just easier to make a connection,” she said. “XTERRA has such an incredible and inclusive community, and I think that’s one of the main reasons I keep coming back. I think one of the secrets to life is to surround yourself with people who make you happy!”

Having raced at XTERRA Trentino last year, Georgia has two good tips for first-timers.

“Try the tomatoes and fresh pasta at the grocery stores, the quality is amazing! And after the race hike or run up the Dolomites! The scale of those mountains is like nothing I have ever seen before and it’s an experience of a lifetime. But do it AFTER the race, because I could not walk the next day after we climbed 2000m in like 20km.”

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Point 3

The Boat Captain - Genelin Bonilla 🇩🇴

Distance Traveled: 7,731 Kilometers

Genelin Bonilla grew up in a sleepy fishing village on the northeast tip of the Samana province, a tropical paradise in the Greater Antilles archipelago.

He spends his working hours in the beautiful turquoise waters of the Caribbean as a boat captain for a diving school, and in his free time loves to play soccer and volleyball.

Last year, on a whim, the 28-year-old did his first-ever triathlon at the XTERRA Dominican Republic off-road triathlon not far from where he lives.

“When XTERRA came to my town last year I wanted to try it, just to compete and see how I could do in a triathlon, and it turned out quite well,” he said.

Indeed, it did! Genelin won his division, earned a qualifying spot into the XTERRA World Championship, and sparked a dream.

“I felt proud, and many people in my village were encouraging me to keep training and racing and go to Worlds because they said if I could do this good in my first try, who knows,” he said. “But there was no way I could afford to travel to Italy, so I didn’t think much of it, but then the people in the community started to raise money to cover the costs, and now, I am coming!”

“I’m humbled by all the support, and I am determined to do well as a way to thank all the people who helped me with their generosity."

The trip to Trentino will not only be Genelin’s first time to visit another country, it’ll be the first time he has gone off the island.

“I’m humbled by all the support, and I am determined to do well as a way to thank all the people who helped me with their generosity,” he said. “At our diving school I get to show tourists all the beautiful fish in the ocean, and it is quite satisfying. Now, I get to be the tourist and discover new things. It’s very special.”

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Point 4

The Resilient - Josie Sinclair 🇳🇿

Distance Traveled: 18,670 Kilometers

Josie Sinclair lives quite literally on the opposite end of the earth from Trentino, Italy, and while one might think the distance would be a deterrent, Sinclair is more than happy to spread her wings and fly around the world to race in Europe - and not just once, but twice in two months!

“Perhaps it’s a blessing being a Kiwi, as we are accustomed to traveling long distances to experience what the world has to offer,” said Sinclair, 62, who has been racing triathlon since 1988 and XTERRA since it first arrived in Rotorua, New Zealand in 2003.

“COVID was a very interesting time for us with all the restrictions. It really emphasized how much the love of sport helps keep us sane – and the need to grab any opportunity to travel and compete.”

Just before the first lockdown hit, Sinclair rode the Tour Aotearoa, a 3000km bikepacking trip from the top of New Zealand to the bottom, with another XTERRA all-star, Marty Ralph.

“We finished the tour just four days before the first lockdown, so we went from biking 7-to-8 hours a day to zero, and for the next 2.5 years just about everything was canceled.”

At the end of February this year, “out of desperation,” Sinclair decided to compete with XTERRA elite Lizzie Orchard at the New Zealand mountain bike championships.

“During practice I miscalculated a 3.5m drop and broke my clavicle, elbow, and wrist. Then, after rehabbing, I got back to mountain biking only to be hit by a car at the end of May, sustaining more injuries to my face, knee, and shoulder.”

After a week in the hospital, it was back to the drawing board, and rehab, for Sinclair. To keep her motivated, she put two events on her calendar.

“The XTERRA races in the Czech Republic and Germany in August were just the incentive I needed to get back up again after those two accidents, a spinal fusion in 2021, and no racing since XTERRA Worlds in 2019,” said Sinclair. “It was the perfect cure. The change in scenery helped me gain the confidence to get back on the bike and motorbike again, and those two races were fantastic. Tough bike courses with interesting runs and lots of eager participants.”

While Sinclair would have loved to stay in Europe during the four weeks between XTERRA Germany and Worlds to soak up the warm weather, long days, and holiday atmosphere - work and family beckoned.

“I had to return home to my sports orthopaedic practice and my 20-year-old cat, Paddington,” she explained.

In Trentino, Sinclair will finally have the chance to defend the 60-64 division XTERRA World Championship title she won in 2019, which came 12 tries and 15 years after her first XTERRA World title in 2004.

“I am very excited to race in Italy, and discover the lakes , the mountains, the food and wine,” she said. “The hope is  to perform as well as I can. The focus is always on the podium, but so much can happen on or before the race days and most important is that you know you went as hard as you could and can feel happy with the effort.”

Sinclair, who won ITU Cross Tri World Championship titles in Canada, Denmark, and Spain in successive years from 2017-2019, has been putting up winning efforts for a long time.

"It becomes part of a lifestyle to train and race for 33 years, and it would be difficult to imagine life without XTERRA.” 

“I was fortunate to start racing triathlon in its infancy - 1988 – Avignon. I had been a runner since I was 14 but had a number of significant stress fractures and it was obvious that a sport with cross training was going to be a better option.  I tried duathlon, triathlon, aquathon, and Ironman at World Champs level before my favorite – XTERRA - came along. Since then, I have tried to compete in as many XTERRA Rotorua races as I could but also go overseas and do 1 or 2 other national champs. It becomes part of a lifestyle to train and race for 33 years, and it would be difficult to imagine life without XTERRA.” 

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Point 5

The Doubler - Chien-You Wang 🇹🇼

Distance Traveled: 9,477 Kilometers (to the first stop!)

The “Double” was once a hotly contested and iconic endurance feat that attracted hardcore triathletes to a competition to clock the fastest combined times at the Ironman World Championship in Kona and XTERRA World Championship in Maui.

For many years, the two events were held eight days apart and a 40-minute neighbor island flight away, making it an arduous, yet feasible challenge for the fittest of the fittest.

This year, however, XTERRA Worlds is October 1 in Italy and Ironman Worlds (the women’s race) is October 6 in Hawaii, more than 12,000 kilometers away.  Impossible, right!

Which is what makes Chien-You Wang’s attempt at completing the Double this year a most remarkable goal.

Foremost, just finishing a full-distance XTERRA race on rocky mountain terrain is quite an accomplishment, let alone having the endurance to finish an Ironman race that combines a 3.8km swim, 180km bike, and 42.2km run.  

Wang, however, not only finished both Ironman Taiwan and XTERRA Taiwan this season, she also won her age group (20-24) at each race to qualify for their respective World Championships.

That was the first step.  Next up, the preparation. Can you imagine the travel logistics - flights, hotels, rental cars, public transport, packing two bikes, course familiarizations, language barriers, and all that could potentially go wrong with each of those.

Then there’s the travel itself - 9,500 kilometers from Taipei to Trentino, then another 12,000+ km from Trentino to Kona. Luckily, she won’t be going alone.

From Trentino to Kona:
12613 kilometers / 7837 miles / 6810 nautical miles

“I will be traveling with a group of friends, including my boyfriend, who also won the slot for XTERRA Taiwan and he will race, too,” said Wang, a full-time triathlon coach by trade. “I’ve traveled to other countries in Europe but haven’t been to Italy, so I’m really looking forward to it!”

Just 24-years-old, Wang is already a seasoned veteran with 12 years of triathlon experience, but is still new to XTERRA.

“I had been following XTERRA in Taiwan for quite a while but hadn’t signed up because I didn’t have a mountain bike. Then in 2021, I participated in an XTERRA trail run race and was determined to do the triathlon this year.”

At XTERRA Taiwan in March, Wang won the women’s amateur title and finished 9th overall. A month later, she won Ironman Taiwan.

“During the past year I’ve been focusing on mountain bike training, and this also enhanced my performance in road cycling,” she said. “My handling skills and muscular endurance have improved a lot.”.

"My goal will be breaking my personal best in Taiwan."

As for her goals on the trip, Wang is quite modest.

“Considering I’ll also be racing IRONMAN and this being my first ever XTERRA Worlds, I just hope to gain experience. My goal will be breaking my personal best in Taiwan, and safety first. Of course, I’m looking forward to enjoying the food and scenery, too, and I hope all my fellow Taiwanese athletes will perform well in the race and enjoy it, leaving all of us with wonderful memories!”

06

Point 6

The Last Man Standing - Steve Fisher 🇺🇸

Distance Traveled: 12,485 Kilometers

And then there was one.

At the first-ever XTERRA race in 1996, which was actually called AquaTerra but that’s a story for another day, there were 114 finishers.  Steve Fisher was one of them.  He placed 64th that day in Wailea, Maui, 9th of 17 in the 35-39 division.

On October 1, 2022, he’ll be on the start line for XTERRA Worlds once again, for the 26th straight time, this year in the 60-64 division and with distinction of being the only racer left with a shot at having finished every XTERRA World Championship ever.

“It will only count if I cross the finish line,” he said, noting that his buddy Gerry Clark, who won an XTERRA World title in 1997, has also done every race so far. But, Gerry won’t be in Trentino for this one.

“Sorry to leave you with just Steve,” laughed Clark, who started mountain biking with Fisher in Maui years before XTERRA came to town. “I will be missing everyone, and really appreciate all the years of fun the XTERRA Family brought to Maui.”

Rest assured the fun will continue in Trentino, and Fisher will be leading the way. He’s historically been easy to spot at Worlds as the man walking, riding, and running around with a parrot on his shoulder.

“Hi’ilani, sadly, won’t be making the trip to Molveno either,” said Fisher. 

Thus, the legacy of Gerry, Hi’ilani the parrot, and all the legends who signed up to discover unknown territory with XTERRA for the first time back in 1996, will have to count on Steve to keep their spirit alive. 

They’re in good hands, because Fisher is as authentic an explorer as you’ll find in the field. In 1997, he sailed an 18-foot sailboard (that he designed and built) from California to Hawaii by following one star.

“Forty-seven days solo, no escort vessel, no GPS, 2,500 nautical miles. Got a Guiness World Record for it and more unique, membership into the Explorers Club of New York, which is basically the Hall of Fame for explorers,” he said.

Fisher once skied at 104 different ski areas in the U.S. and Canada in a single season out of a rental bus he tricked out and dubbed, the “Maui Ski Bus”.  He also sailed in 60 knot winds on Lake Erie, Michigan, snowmobiled at more than 100mph, and proposed to his girlfriend, Lenka, at the finish line of XTERRA Worlds in 2019.  His goal for XTERRA Worlds this year?

“Cherish every second racing on the course, and come across the finish line holding my two-year-old Livia Joelle with super huge smiles.”

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Author Bio

Trey Garman

Trey Garman has been writing about the people, places, and races on the XTERRA Planet since 2002.

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