Chwalk goes from Single A to Yankee Stadium
In 1995, when Sari Chwalk was a teenager, she sat in the living room of her parents home in Rhode Island and stared a hole through the only TV in the house. Captivating her attention was a novelty: the inaugural Eco-Challenge, held in the Utah backcountry and documented step by step for viewers worldwide.I thought, Wow, that would be really cool to do someday, Chwalk said. And my dad laughed at me.Chwalk didnt share in the comedy. She really did think competing in a major-league adventure race would be cool.Fast-forward a decade. Chwalk, now 27 and an Eagle-Vail resident, is suddenly one of two official female team members on arguably the top adventure racing team in the world, Team Nike (formerly Nike ACG-Balance Bar, among other past names). She and Breckenridge resident Monique Merrill will alternate this season as the lone woman competing alongside core team members Mike Kloser, Ian Adamson and Michael Tobin, as well as new addition Richard Ussher of New Zealand.While there is no traditional path to earn a spot on teams like Nike, Chwalks route is unto herself.She spent her childhood playing soccer and hockey on a boys high school team and then enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder. At 19, she decided shed rather live in the mountains than continue college in an urban area, so she moved to Vail. She became a badass telemark skier, picked up mountain biking and eventually turned pro, and was a regular at local Nordic skiing, trail running and cycling races.Still, while she built her high-altitude lung power and oxygen-deprived toughness over those eight years, she did not make multisport racing a big part of her regimen. That would change.Last spring, after Silverthorne resident and Team Nike stalwart Danelle Ballengee decided to part ways with Nike, Kloser and his teammates began scouring the globe for a possible replacement. Google scouting, Kloser called it, and it included poring over sports magazines, race results and Internet sites, looking for both single- and multisport racers anyone who might keep Nike on top of the sport.Kloser had watched Chwalk for years at local race series he frequented as well. But she always seemed to be in the shadows of a lot of the other racers, he said. On a whim, he invited her to train with Nike in Moab, Utah, in May. She accepted the invitation, hiding her doubt that she would be able to keep up.A few weeks before that session took place, Kloser called Chwalk and urged her to enter the Imperial Challenge, a famous bike-climb-ski sufferfest held at Breckenridges Peak 8. Secretly, Kloser hoped Ballengee (the defending champ) and Merrill (a six-time winner) would be there and he would get to see how Chwalk stacked up against some of the worlds best.Merrill and Ballengee did show up, but Chwalk never game them a chance. She jumped out front on the opening leg and won by an astonishing four minutes, setting a new course record. Nobody saw it coming, least of all Chwalk.That was when I started to think, Maybe I do have a shot, Chwalk said.In the time since then, she has more than held her own in pro races with Team Nike. Heads have turned. Kloser said he has fielded multiple inquiries from other elite-level teams about Chwalk (who is getting married next week and will be known as Sari Anderson after that).One team jokingly (sort of) threatened to buy her out with a better offer. Another teams leader seriously inquired as to her status with Nike because he wanted to see if she was available.Klosers answer: Absolutely not. We found her and were keeping her.On a lighter note, Kloser added, The good thing is we dont have to be recognized as the stronghand or the New York Yankees of the adventure racing world, who goes out and buys the talent.Chwalk fits well with the intensely competitive core team members she has joined. She said she cant get through an afternoon bike ride with her fiance before her instincts take over and she turns the ride into a race.She said she enjoys the suffering that defines the multiday races. She is humble, too: While others rave about her Class V kayaking skills, she downplays it, saying she has paddled only one Class V river and does not want people to get the wrong idea.Of course, if you have just made the jump from Single A to Yankee Stadium, you probably want to maintain a low profile.Merrill, for one, does not share in the surprise that followed Chwalks inclusion on Team Nike this year. We all live in the mountains, you know. Theres a reason were going to be better adventure racers than someone in Florida, said Merrill, an accomplished and respected competitor who is entering her fourth season on the elite circuit.Yet Chwalk, who admits she still feels plenty of butterflies before a race, has not taken the unexpected turn of events for granted. Im feeling extremely lucky, she said. its been a great way to get into it. Im super-spoiled, really, to be able to come into it like this without having to spend years and years trying to find the right teammates and working my way up.According to Adamson a three-time Eco-Challenge winner and one of the racers Chwalk was watching on TV so many years ago Chwalk has it all. Shes selfless, strong, mature, balanced, and emotionally shes got it together, he said.Chwalk makes her living as the office manager of C&C Plumbing and Mechanical in Avon. She never returned to CU to get her degree. Its the way she wanted it to be.As for her dad? Hes not laughing anymore.Now hes like, Well, even if you didnt finish college, at least youre doing something youve always wanted to do, Chwalk said.Devon ONeil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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