Welcome to our series of interviews with American adventure racing teams who participated in the World's Toughest Race Eco-Challenge: Fiji! This 11-day adventure race took place in September 2019 and will premiere on Amazon Prime on August 14th, 2020. Check out USARA's dedicated Eco-Challenge: Fiji page for interviews from other teams and additional material concerning the race!
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Melissa Coombes and I race with Team Bend Racing (#46). I live in Spokane, WA, but most of the team is out of Bend, OR. I am a lawyer and a pilot (Washington Army National Guard helicopter (the one Bear flew around during Eco Challenge) and a corporate jet (part-time)).
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
My first race was the fall 2001 Endorphin Fix AR in West Virginia. I have competed all over the US and in many places around the world since 2001, to include many Raid World Series races and Adventure Racing World Series (ARWS) races.
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
Bend Racing, formerly known as Team Yogaslackers, has been around for many years. Jason and I started racing around the same time and (Jason’s wife) Chelsey and Dan joined shortly thereafter (they are both younger than we are!). Jason asked me to join the team in late 2015 to add more depth to the team roster. Previously, Chelsey was the sole female on the team.
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?
I started adventure racing because of the Eco-Challenge. My buddies and I watched all the shows and I always dreamed of competing in it. Unfortunately, I was a little late getting into it and missed the opportunity to compete in an Eco-Challenge race. So I was most looking forward to participating in the race that started it all.
Eight months prior to the race I had to have a C-section to birth my son safely. I wasn’t really sure how (or if) my body would bounce back. So I was most scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the guys and would be a burden on the team.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
This may sound weird, and is probably a jungle specific item, but my favorite piece of gear was the magical acid that Dan brought to kill foot fungus. We used it a lot and it worked on the spot to prevent any fungus growing on or between our toes, which can be extremely painful and debilitating if it migrates up your legs.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
My favorite moment was the ascent up a waterfall. We spent the entire night walking through rivers and arrived at the climb sight at dawn. It was one of the most beautifully picturesque places I have ever been and was absolutely majestic to view at sunrise.
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
Heck yes. Heck yes, if my husband will let me! Endurance races can take their toll on our better halves, especially when they are left behind with two young children!
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
I think that in every adventure race that is over 2 days long I have many moments of self-reflection and personal growth. AR is my time to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and to think. One experience stood out to me as a stark realization – that my energy level was often tied to my mental outlook. When I had a positive mental outlook, I had tons of energy. At one point in time, I got down and experienced a little internal anxiety about an upcoming event, and my brain started shutting down. I immediately got sleepy and was zombie walking, barely keeping my eyes open. Then it dawned on me that the sleepiness might be tied to my anxiety. Once I determined the link, I broke it and wasn’t tired anymore. That was the only time I was tired the entire race and it was very short-lived. Mind over matter, as hard as it is sometimes, is real.
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
The homecoming is often difficult because not many people even know where you have been or what you have done and very few can truly understand what you have been through. This time, strangely, was different because so many people knew I was going overseas to race, and they all wanted to know how it went. Tons of my co-workers and fellow gym members wanted to know how it was and how I survived. I couldn’t say much, but it was just so wonderful to be asked about it so I could at least share the general experience with people.
How would you like fans to interpret your participation in Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you set out to inspire another group of people and do you think you accomplished that?
I wouldn’t say that I necessarily set out to inspire a group of people, but I would be thrilled if one woman sees what is possible to do shortly after having a baby, one young child is motivated to adventure in the woods, or one person is motivated to travel and appreciate Earth’s beauties after watching this show. I think the beauties of Fiji and its people provide most of the inspiration, but maybe we can add a little more to it.
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
A space for AR musings from the USARA team and guest authors. Ready to race? Check out the rest of our resources on the USARA homepage.