In high school my gym teacher used to proclaim that I was a left-hander stuck in a right-hander’s body. I played sports – and a lot of them – but I wasn’t exactly all that talented and was more awkward than graceful. I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm but coordination, especially in any activity involving a ball, was not part of my makeup. Being left-handed had its advantages in basketball and my attempts at softball, but my coaches learned that while I had the auspices of being a ringer, my actual skills didn’t match up. It didn’t really matter. I loved sports, loved being a part of a team, and it was a good outlet for me.
Prior to moving west, my concept of sports and competition were limited to what could be played on a court, on a field or around a track. While I was certainly drawn to activities that occurred outside of a gym like hiking, canoeing and skiing, it wasn’t until I moved to Montana that I learned about the extreme end of competition that made me rethink all my notions of athleticism and what the human body can achieve in an alpine environment.
Case in point: as if it isn’t enough to run and finish a marathon, a seemingly impressive endeavor in and of itself, there are ultra-marathons, which take athletes off road and onto trails, often summiting mountains for a punishing amount of miles, pushing well beyond 26.2 with a combined staggering amount of vertical gain. Or, as if skiing and mountaineering weren’t already challenging enough, they are combined into one: ski mountaineering, where the goal is to be the fastest going up a mountain on skis. Not down, as I’ve been trained to do.
Last week my best friend finished the White Mountains 100. It’s an endurance race in Alaska, in the winter. Let me repeat: it’s a running race (although some opt to take what I consider a more sensible option and either Nordic ski or fat bike) for 100 miles in the rugged terrain of interior Alaska, in winter, without stopping. Danni’s run this race before. I followed her progress, thanks to the race’s live tracking system streamed from its website, and couldn’t believe that one person can run through the wilderness for 100 miles. She finished in 34 hours. Danni is not a professional athlete. She has a busy and demanding career, she has a family, and is involved in many community activities. Yet somehow, she can train and complete a grueling (wintry) wilderness endurance race.
Danni’s not the only person I luckily call my friend who is this caliber of an athlete. I’m also married to one. And our happy circle of friends and acquaintances also includes other people who see mountains as a venue for an expression for human power, determination, and endurance. Me? Well, I take a more romantic view of the alpine environment, and my forays tend to be a more leisurely pace with heavy gear and apparel free from spandex. After all, I am still that left-hander trapped in a right-hander’s body, and if I couldn’t hit a volleyball or swing a bat without causing some sort of injury or accident, I am not to be trusted in sports where “ultra” is added.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.