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 Sylvia Greer, I am the token female competitor of Team Sundance Kids (#61). I live in a small ski town called Eden, Utah. My occupation is Mother!! As well as the coach and creator of Greer Endurance Coaching, and track coach for the local school in the spring.
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
Nada!! Me, nor anyone on Team Sundance Kids had ever competed in an adventure race prior to Fiji!! We are all endurance athletes, but had never experienced a race of this magnitude!! We are still perplexed as to why we were chosen =)
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
The original team that submitted an application in January was not the team that set out on the course in September. A husband and wife duo who initiated the application dropped out in May, leaving two of the four original team members (Chase McMillan and Aaron Smith) scrambling. They wondered if they would even be able to compete, or wondered if they even wanted to, now that they were short a male and female competitor. Scott Ward was contacted, as a long time friend, and ski buddy that had gone on many adventures with Chase, and agreed to join the team. They were still in need of a female competitor, which proved to be difficult to find. Scott Ward contacted me through a friend of mine who knew that I was an ultra runner and had done multi-day races on the trail. I joined the team in late May, just in time to submit the final roster to the Eco-Challenge: Fiji organizers!
For the next four months we trained together as often as busy parents with jobs, spouses and children allowed!!! We trained on our own, and made it a point to get in some of the skills required, as much as we could. We met weekly on Zoom calls to check off the team spreadsheet and get organized!! It became a part time job prepping all the gear and getting what we needed to fly across the ocean to Fiji!! The gear prep felt just as difficult as the physical preparation that we were doing!
In August, a month before we were scheduled to fly out to Fiji, we entered a 24 hour adventure race in Colorado. It was the first time we had competed together. We were late to the start line, and didn’t know which way to go at the first turn, haha. We knew we had our work cut out for us in Fiji.
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?
Our team was most looking forward to the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture and the jungle that we had heard about and seen so many beautiful pictures of! None of us had ever been to this part of the country and that excited us. It is absolutely opposite of where we live, in the high desert mountains of Utah. The thing that we were most uncomfortable with would be the sailing! We trained in a lakel! You can not mimic ocean sailing in Utah. It was so very foreign to us, and seemed to have the biggest consequences if not done correctly.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
Out of the 5 page gear list, it is hard to choose our favorite piece of gear! I would have to say our Katadyn be-free water filters. We couldn’t have made it without them. Or I should say, we would have been a lot sicker without them!! . Our favorite foods were our Progenex bars, spring energy gels and the gnarly grapefruit electrolyte mix.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
One of our favorite moments of the Eco-Challenge: Fiji was riding through the villages. We were always welcomed with such glee and excitement. In particular we came across a school during the day on our bikes. We were immediately surrounded by singing, clapping, hugging, laughing and total admiration from the Fijian children!! It brought us to tears! They made us feel like the biggest super heros on the planet. All the villages, no matter the time of day, showered us with pure happiness. The generosity and kindness of the Fijian people is truly like nothing we have EVER experienced anywhere in the world!!
Mentally, our team suffered the most during the bili-bili raft section. It was not physically exhausting, but was such a mental head game to finish this section!!. It was slow, tedious and inefficient to paddle with the bamboo sticks that we had. We could not find a way to make paddling the bamboo rafts more efficient, although we tried. Looking over at the banks, we could see that we were “crawling" in the water. It felt like the longest 12 miles of our lives. It took so much determination to not want to quick right there!
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
After a much needed winter's nap, we would!! We would most certainly do another Eco-Challenge again. The things that we gained and experiences that we had during this adventure are one that we will never forget. Given the opportunity to do an Eco-Challenge again, we would jump at it!!
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
Internally you fight with your mind through the physical exhaustion, the physical pain, the mental stamina, and the doubt that you will ever be able to last out on the course!! When we would make it to a base camp we were thrilled that we found our way. But we were also terrified what we would find on our next set of maps. We would call it “Fool’s Christmas”. It felt like Christmas when we made it, but like April Fool’s Day when we got our envelope with the next set of maps! It was hard to imagine that we could keep going, when you had done everything you could to get to the point you were at at that moment. Only to realize that it was not the end, and that there were still hundreds of kilometers left. You have to try to figure out a way to quiet the inner demon/doubt inside that says, you can push this button on the radio and it can all stop and the suffering can end here.
I think it would be impossible to compete in a race of this magnitude without experiencing moments of self-reflection or growth. You are challenged on all levels physically and mentally. When you get through a section that you feel is physically or mentally impossible, you find in yourself a new level of achievement. You can’t help but have growth when accomplishing something that some people only dream about. Coming together as a team to get through some of the world toughest tasks creates in you a feeling of empowerment and capability. It is something that you can pull from for the rest of your life!
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
It was thrilling to be back in civilization and home to see our families and friends again - the people that you think about when you are out there racing. These are the people that pull you through the moments of doubt. The loved ones that you are doing this for. To reconnect with them is joyful!! And, oh the joys of laying on a bed and being able to sleep for a regular amount of time =) Your body and mind can finally quiet itself and reflect at that point. The anxiety is gone and where the ticking clock once was is the reflection of a grand adventure that you never could have imagined!!
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?
Truly, the people that we care most about influencing are our children and nieces and nephews. Life’s unknowns are scary and intimidating!! We want our children to jump in feet first and give it all that they have to accomplish the things that matter to them! No matter what that looks like! This race was truly intimidating to even start! So many unknowns. But we did it because there was a desire to go into the unknown. Because deep down we knew this experience would change us, and would be one of the biggest adventures of our lives. We would have regretted passing something like this up, regardless of how intimidating it was on paper! And regret is something we don't ever want our children or nieces or nephews to live with!! We hope that when they see us suffering, scared and doing hard things, and what can be gained from it, that it will inspire them to do hard things too!!
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
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