Merrill the adventurer completes rare feat
BRECKENRIDGE – Monique Merrill knows herself well, that’s for sure. “To commit to one sport,” she says, “it’s always rewarding to see how far you can get in that one sport. But I’ve never been able to do that.”And so she floats from one to the other, to the other, to the other. Diversity is the accomplished Breckenridge endurance athlete’s hallmark, always has been. Still, Merrill’s latest achievement is a novelty even for her.In February, after attending the Winter Olympics in Italy, the 36-year-old healthfood store owner traveled to the small town of Cuneo and completed a rare feat: She competed in a world championship in her third sport over the past five months.
By finishing in the top 10 in a pair of events at the ski mountaineering worlds, high in the southern Italian Alps, Merrill made it a top-10 sweep among the three sports. She previously finished second and third in adventure racing’s two world championships (organizers for both the Raid, in France, and the Southern Traverse, in New Zealand, billed their events as the sport’s global championship), and took ninth among professional women at the Xterra Off-Road Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii.There is obviously nothing easy about withstanding the physical exertion and suffering it takes to do what Merrill has done. But she can’t relive the experiences without inserting some sort of joke to diminish the feat’s impressive rarity.”You just gotta pick the fringe sports because then you do well,” she said this week, laughing. “No one else does ’em.”Merrill points out there’s no guarantee the events will even start on time – “whereas if you do the world championships for, like, GS skiing, they’re gonna start on time,” she says.
It should come as no surprise that Merrill trains up to three times a day, all in the outdoors, all while attacking something strenuous and different. This is how she has earned a reputation as one of the best female endurance athletes in the world.”To Monique’s credit, it’s not ‘training’ for her to go out two or three times a day; that’s her lifestyle,” said Pete Swenson, 38, a part-time Breckenridge resident who was one of four men to represent the U.S. at the ski mountaineering worlds. “That attitude is the key to her longevity and success, I think.”Merrill – who has never even climbed all 54 Colorado Fourteeners (a standard measuring stick for ambition in this state) – concurs: “I like being where people aren’t.”The world championship quest began in September, with the Raid event in the French Alps. Merrill and the other racers covered some 92,000 vertical feet during the competition, a total she calls “pretty crazy.”
She traveled to Hawaii for the Xterra triathlon worlds in October, then headed to New Zealand in November for the Southern Traverse adventure race.During the ski mountaineering, or Randonee, competition in February, she teamed with Bozeman’s Jeannie Wall – a legend in her own right among American endurance racers – to take 10th in the team event. She also finished 10th in the women’s solo uphill race.The root of Merrill’s interest in the Randonee worlds, which incorporated a wealth of courses and ski areas into the multiday competition, was obvious.Symbolic, too.”It’s kind of a neat way to climb mountains,” she said, “because you’re always climbing something different.”
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