Reaching pinnacle of outdoor pursuits

Reaching pinnacle of outdoor pursuits

Everest Awards spotlight high-adrenaline athletes
By Scott Willoughby and Jason Blevins

Denver Post Staff Writers

Ultrarunner and Everest Award recipient Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah, won six 100-mile races last year. Meltzer has 40 victories in 79 starts in ultradistance events. . (AP / Brett Butterstein)Vail – There is no official source of records in the mountaineering community. For the most part, summits are recorded without proof, taken at their word for the challenges overcome.

That certainly doesn’t diminish the achievements, however. Whether or not Sir Edmund Hillary got to the top of Mount Everest before George Mallory, Hillary’s conquest of the world’s tallest peak remains. Still, sometimes it’s nice to be recognized.

The same holds true for other aspects of the outdoors world. Be they skiers, mountain bikers, trail runners, kayakers or climbers, every outdoor athlete has his or her Everest, a personal quest to achieve whether anyone else is watching or not. Some achievements, however, are simply too grand to overlook.

Such is the case among the winners of the third annual Everest Awards, the so-called Oscars of the outdoors, honoring the accomplishments of adventure sports athletes. They were awarded Friday night in Vail. The ultradistance world stood up and took notice when Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah, notched six 100-mile running victories last year alone. Likewise, paddlers knelt down before wizened guru Erik Jackson when he racked up his fourth freestyle kayaking World Championship title at the normally overripe age of 42. Aspenite Chris Davenport’s feat of skiing all 54 Colorado fourteeners in one year isn’t likely to be matched anytime soon.

Frankly, restricting the achievements of these and future award winners to the earthbound confines of Everest doesn’t do them justice. They span beyond limits, to pinnacles as yet undiscovered, journeys undefined by destination. Here’s what some of them had to say about their personal apexes:

MELANIE McQUAID | multisport award

McQuaid is the only person to win the Xterra Triathlon World Championship three times. The 12-year pro from British Columbia has found dozens of podiums with consistently strong performances in off-road

Tanya Faux, competing in pro freestyle kayaking during the Teva Mountain Games in Vail last week, is the Everest Awards’ female paddler of the year. (Getty Images / Doug Pensinger)triathlons and mountain bike races. In the past five years she has finished first or second at every race of the Xterra USA Championship tour, earning the title of offroad triathlete of the year in 2005 and 2006.
Greatest accomplishment?

"My best accomplishment was defending my 2005 (Xterra) world title with my 2006 win and beating all the guys to a third world title. It’s always good to look ahead and I’m still gunning for the guys."

What’s next?

"Before I retire (from Xterra), I’d like to make an entirely new level for myself and push it and make it a permanent level for other women."

Do you think women have a special skill at ignoring suffering?

"I think women are good at going within themselves and pushing the limits of what they can do."

Essential gear? "A little black dress."

DARCY AFRICA | trail running

Africa, of Boulder, can run forever. Not the sleepy shuffling of sleep-deprived endurance runners, but long-stride trotting over every inch of a 100-mile race. Last year the 32-year-old with a master’s degree in counseling psychology didn’t just finish the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning – four 100-mile endurance runs in Squaw Valley, Calif., Vermont, Leadville and Utah’s Wasatch Range – she finished with the fastest time of any other racer.

Greatest accomplishment?

"Finishing the Grand Slam and having the fastest time overall

Outdoor Extremes Blog

Post reporter Jason Blevins posts entries on this blog devoted to adventure sports. Visit it here.
male and female. That’s my No. 1 for sure."
What’s next?

"Maybe it is family, I don’t know. Maybe that’s my next Everest. Professionally, I’m really not too sure."

Essential gear?

"My shoes. That’s really the only piece of gear I have. Go Lite’s Sun Dragon."

KARL MELTZER | trail running

Aside from Ann Trason, no one has won as many 100-mile running races as Meltzer. And not even seven-time USATF ultrarunner of the year winner Trason has won six of the uber-slogs in one year. That record is Meltzer’s alone, one he already has his sights on breaking. The "Wasatch Speedgoat," as he is known in trail running circles, has 40 wins in 79 ultradistance starts, including the record at three of the toughest 100-milers: the Hardrock (looping from Silverton to Telluride), Hawaii’s H.U.R.T. 100 and the Wasatch 100.

The philosophy that pushes him over the top? Go out hard, and when it hurts, speed up.

What has been your biggest challenge?

"I don’t really look at things as challenges. I’m not very methodical about training or anything; I just have fun and go run. But maybe between miles 30-60, I call them the ‘dead miles.’ … Running on roads is brutal because I get so bored."

What are you most proud of professionally?

"My biggest win was the 2001 Hardrock when I ran 26:39. The record still holds there. It’s not so much about how fast I ran, but CNN and Sports Illustrated were there and the day before the race I said, ‘This would be a good day to bust one out,’ and I did. It doesn’t always happen that way."

And the future?

"I really don’t train for one specific event. My ultimate goal is to win as many 100s as I possibly can."

Favorite gear?

"Probably my Montrail Vitesse shoes. I’ve been running in those since 1999 and they pretty much haven’t left my feet since."

TANYA FAUX | kayking

Faux is one of the world’s best kayakers. The 34- year-old from Australia can spin and loop to victory in a freestyle contest one day and explore a remote, unknown river the next. She can find the podium in just about any river contest and, as she showed at the Teva Mountain Games when she won the 5K fun run, she can win just about anything she enters.

What are you most proud of professionally?

"For years I’ve been wanting to explore a remote region of Australia known as the Kimberleys. It has phenomenal rainfall and mean cyclones … and after four years of research I decided I’d fork out money and get together a team of kayakers and just go explore one of the most remote rivers up there. We did it in March on the King Edward River. It was 310 kilometers and we had to deal with saltwater crocodiles and big waterfalls and getting caught in a Class 3 cyclone, rising water levels and an undescript riverbed. It was a phenomenal trip and it will be in my memory forever. … In terms of the athletic side of kayaking, I’d probably say being nominated for Australian female athlete of the year was just humbling because there are so many good female athletes that come out of Australia."

What’s next?

"When you look at yourself personally and your athletic career and wonder if you’ve reached your mountain’s peak yet, I know there is still something wild inside of me that hasn’t yet been fulfilled."

One piece of gear you never leave home without?

"I’d have to say it’s my crochet hook. There’s nothing like being on a road trip for six hours bored out of your skull and knowing how to crochet a beanie."

ANGIE PAYNE | climbing

Payne climbs like an ant and scales overhanging walls with ease, making her one of the world’s top bouldering climbers. The 22-year-old from Boulder has won dozens of contests, including the Professional Climbers Association Championships twice and has forged new ground for female climbers.

What are you most proud of?

"My Everest is probably doing first female ascents of boulder problems. There is a couple I am most proud of, certainly the first few V11s I’ve done in Colorado. I think that just kind of opened the door to women climbing on those problems. We talk about in bouldering how a problem gets opened up and it becomes more reachable than it was before. I like doing that for women and showing women that they can climb on these problems, too."

What’s next?

"I want to push it further and do first female ascents of some V12s. I’m working on it but it’s hard, it’s hard to open that door for female boulderers."

There are a lot of sports in which the difference in performances by men and women is obvious. Do you think that difference is less obvious in climbing?

"When you don’t have as much power you have to compensate a lot, so I think women are better at learning to move their body to compensate for what power they may not have."

Favorite piece of gear?

"Probably my favorite pair of jeans. They’re Prana jeans and they’re stretchy and I can climb in them and wear them to work and wear them to school."

PUA SAWICKI | mountain biking

If you blinked anytime since 2005, you probably missed your chance to catch Sawicki. In only her second season of racing and first in the pro ranks, the 27-year-old Hawaiian native won the 2005 National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) marathon series title and the 24-hour national championship (she was third in the first organized race she entered, a NORBA marathon in 2004). By 2006, she had four endurance race records under her belt, including the Endurance 100 in Park City, Utah, where she beat all but two men despite being hospitalized after a brutal crash only two months earlier. Add two more records and three more victories in marathon and 12-hour races this season, and you’re beginning to see the picture.

What has been your biggest challenge?

"Last year I had a really bad crash at a World Cup marathon race in Quebec in June. I was in the hospital and had surgery on my face, fractured ribs and my back wasn’t broken, but pretty screwed up. The doctors said it would be at least eight weeks before I could do anything, but I was like, ‘No way, I have a race in two weeks.’I went out and I did it, but I was in so much pain. But I just pushed myself and didn’t let it get to me."

What are you most proud of, professionally?

"One thing that was really cool that made me happy to see something good come out of that crash was after the story came out in Mountain Bike magazine. Because of that I got to inspire and touch a lot of people. I would get e-mails and calls from people who would tell me about a race they were doing that was awful or hard, but ‘I thought of you and I kept going."’

The gear you can’t be without?

"I love my bike, the whole setup. I wouldn’t want to ride another bike. … But the Ergon grips are the most amazing part. You’d think a grip, how big of a difference can it make? But especially with my endurance racing, I used to get numbness and pain in my arms and hands, but that’s all gone with these."


Professional kayakers Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt were exploring Africa’s Blue and White Nile river in 2004 when they dreamed up the ultimate road trip. They would travel from Alaska to Argentina, paddling unknown rapids and staying one step ahead of winter for an entire year. Even better, they would enlist sponsors and promote sustainability by driving a veggie- oil powered Japanese fire truck.

Somewhere in Mexico, the trip changed as the pair became ambassadors to sustainable living. Yes, they kayaked. But they found their calling speaking to thousands of students and politicians in Central and South America, preaching the virtue of using the oil in the farming scraps to power their vehicles.

What’s next?

"World domination, baby. Green power and sustainable living for everyone on the planet," Warren said.

Most essential piece of gear?

"I’m one of those guys who doesn’t need things," Warren said. "I don’t like to need and there’s no one thing I can’t live without."

And the winners are …
Recipients of the annual Everest Awards:

(Name | Category)

Karl Meltzer Male trail runner of the year

Darcy Africa Female trail runner of the year

Chris Eatough Male mountain biker of the year

Pua Sawicki Female mountain biker of the year

Eric Jackson Male paddler of the year

Tanya Faux Female paddler of the year

Chris Sharma Male climber of the year

Angie Payne Female climber of the year

Michael Tobin Male multisport athlete of year

Melanie McQuaid Female multisport athlete of year

Chris Davenport Expedition of the year (tie)

Kit DesLauriers Expedition of the year (tie)

Tobias Blanck Lifetime achievement

Seth Warren and Tyler Bradt Advocates Award

Staff writer Scott Willoughby can be reached at 303-954-1993 or

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