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Shelter Islander competes in world’s hardest endurance race

On August 5,  at age 42, I finished the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon and XTri World Championship in a time of 17:13:42.

Considered one of the hardest Ironman-distance endurance races in the world, the race takes place in the cold and highly variable weather of southern Norway. With the 2023 edition marking the 20th anniversary of the now world-famous, bucket-list race, to date, only 3,417 people have ever finished Norseman.

Starting at 5 a.m., I leapt 15-feet off a car ferry into the cold, dark waters of the Hardangerfjord to start a 2.4-mile swim by moonlight to the town of Eidfjord.

Jumping on my bike, I struggled up a massive, hours-long, continuous climb past waterfalls and through steep mountain tunnels to reach the Hardangervidda, Europe’s largest mountain plateau. This initial ascent was a mere 4,000 out of 11,000-plus total feet of climbing during the Norseman bike leg. It was also the first of five major mountain climbs, four of which occur on exhausted legs in the last half of the 112-mile bike course.

Caught in a rain storm while descending at high speed from the fourth climb, I suffered severe hypothermia from exposure to the windchill while completely soaked. Race marshals allowed me to continue only after being rescued by my support crew of Adam Bundy and Trent Firestine, who wrapped me in layers of their coats. (Each Norseman competitor brings their own support team and vehicle for the unsupported race.)

After a grueling final climb and descent from the mountains, I transitioned to the run, where I felt incredibly strong during a sunny run around Lake Tinnsjøen. But after 14 miles, having reached the valley of the run course’s infamous climb, Zombie Hill, a massive thunderstorm again drenched me in cold rain.

High on the mountain above, multiple lightning strikes around the finish line forced race organizers to scramble and move the finish line down to the top of Zombie Hill, fearing for the safety of the athletes and support crews.

With hypothermia returning, I added layers of clothing, then started the agonizing climb of more than 2,000 feet up Zombie Hill, aptly named for the effect on competitors from its continuous 7-12% grade. Adam and Trent alternated turns of driving and charging up the hill with me, providing the pivotal moral support for the final push to the finish line.

Repeating a mantra of “jeg er sterk,” (Norwegian for “I am strong”) helped me up the final 1,000 feet, I said, but what truly made the difference between quitting and finishing was the continuous stream of Facebook messages read to me by Adam, the vast majority coming from supporters on Shelter Island, who live-tracked my journey online and through Adam’s posts.

Asked about this, I said, “You know who you are, and I can’t thank you enough. I felt that you were there taking every step with me. Hearing your words honestly brought me to tears.”

After being awake for 35 hours, burning 9,500 calories, and completing over 134 miles of swimming, biking and running, I can  report I had the best sleep of my life.

But not before giving blood. I volunteered before the race to be part of a medical study of Norseman athletes to better understand the effects of ultra-endurance racing.

Considering my belief in endurance sports as “the ultimate source of knowledge on the inner workings of the human mind and body,” I was thrilled to take part.