Outdoors

2015 Adventurers of Year range from Mount Rainier trail runners to record-setting hopscotchers

Seattle resident Andrew Malinak spreads sun block on his body with the help of fellow marathon swimmer Elaine Howley at Jack Hyde Park in Tacoma on Saturday, June 6, 2015. Malinak was attempting an 18.8-mile swim from Tacoma to West Seattle's Lincoln Park. Malinak dubbed his effort "The Return of Bert Thomas Swim" in honor of the notable long-distance swimmer from Tacoma.
Seattle resident Andrew Malinak spreads sun block on his body with the help of fellow marathon swimmer Elaine Howley at Jack Hyde Park in Tacoma on Saturday, June 6, 2015. Malinak was attempting an 18.8-mile swim from Tacoma to West Seattle's Lincoln Park. Malinak dubbed his effort "The Return of Bert Thomas Swim" in honor of the notable long-distance swimmer from Tacoma. drew.perine@thenewstribune.com

South Sound residents know how to have a good time outdoors.

In 2015, the area played a role in some pretty impressive accomplishments. A Tacoma woman finished in the top five in two triathlon world championships. Two University of Puget Sound women rowed the Columbia River. A Puyallup cyclists bagged the 100 toughest climbs in America.

The South Sound also served as venue and inspiration for impressive feats: Record trail runs at Mount Rainier and an epic summer of swimming.

Here’s a look at some of the year’s most noteworthy outdoor athletes:

ALYCIA HILL

Triathlete

In a 44-day stretch in late summer, Tacoma triathlete Alycia Hill posted top-five finishes in the national triathlon championships and two world championships. And she did it all while starting graduate school at the University of Utah.

On Sept. 19, the 26-year-old finished second at the Age Group Standard World Championships in Chicago. At this event, Hill swam 0.93 miles, biked 25 miles and ran 6.2 miles. On Aug. 8, she finished fourth in her age group at the national championships in Milwaukee.

Adversity makes you stronger and more determined to do the best you can. That’s how an athlete needs to look at it, rather than ‘Oh, crap.’ How you deal with adversity is what makes or breaks an athlete.

Alycia Hill, triathlete

Hill finished fifth in the Ironman 70.3 world championships on Aug. 30 in Austria, where racers swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles and finished with a 13.1-mile run. She was also the fastest American amateur female in the race.

She dropped her bike chain while competing in the Ironman 70.3 world championships, but refused to say whether or not the bad luck hurt her time.

“Adversity comes with the sport,” she said in September. “Adversity makes you stronger and more determined to do the best you can. That’s how an athlete needs to look at it, rather than ‘Oh, crap.’ How you deal with adversity is what makes or breaks an athlete.”

ANDREW MALINAK

Long-distance swimmer

A Tacoma legend inspired an epic summer of swimming for Seattle’s Andrew Malinak. Shortly after moving from New York, Malinak started reading about the exploits of Tacoma’s Bert Thomas. In 1956 Thomas swam from Seattle to Tacoma. A year earlier, Thomas became the first person to swim across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Malinak concocted what he called the “Summer of Bert” to pay tribute to the legend and to challenge himself. In June, he swam from Tacoma to Seattle. In August he swam 26.5 miles around Bainbridge Island. And on Sept. 7, the 28-year-old became the eighth known person to swim unassisted across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

What does unassisted mean? No drafting off of a boat. No grabbing onto a float. No wetsuit to assist with speed, buoyancy and warmth. Malinak did all three swims in a pink, briefs-style swim suit.

Andrew Malinak’s “Summer of Bert” included unassisted swims from Tacoma to Seattle, around Bainbridge Island and across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

He swam more than 300 training miles in 2015 alone, but also needed to acclimate his body to water temperatures that was as cold as 48 degrees on the Strait of Juan de Fuca crossing. The Tacoma-to-Seattle swim meant spending 8 hours, 43 minutes in the frigid water. The lap around Bainbridge took 12 1/2 hours and the strait crossing took less than seven hours.

“My first time jumping into the Sound was a struggle, to say the least,” Malinak said. “Everybody’s body does react somewhat similarly when you first jump in. You hyperventilate. It takes a minute to catch your breath and calm down. … Like anybody who does an extreme sport, the more you practice it, the more comfortable you get, the more natural it becomes.”

RACHAEL MALLON and LEAH SHAMLIAN

Adventure rowers

Rachael Mallon and Leah Shamlian, recent University of Puget Sound graduates, launched their 17-foot Jersey Skiff five miles north of the Washington–Canadian border on Sept. 23. On Nov. 3, they were rowing under the Astoria Bridge. They battled wind and rain, navigated 11 dams and shared camp with a black bear during their 730-mile trip.

The women were rowing for OAR Northwest, an adventure education organization, and had more than the journey in mind when they signed on.

“I think that environmental education is really important, for not just getting kids engaged in their local environment but also in helping them see what’s out there and understand the different ways they can explore,” Shamlian told the newspaper during a midtrip interview. “OAR Northwest does a really cool thing in that it combines human-powered exploration with the environmental aspect.”

Mallon and Shamlian, both former UPS rowers, spoke at several schools along the way and spent the first two days after the trip speaking at Portland schools.

“We want people to see the river differently,” Mallon said.

LEON MATZ

Cyclist

Puyallup’s Leon Matz bikes farther most years than most people drive. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American drives 13,476 per year. A quick look at Leon Matz’ online workout log shows he’s on pace to pedal more than 15,000 miles this year.

But Matz, a counselor at Orting High, doesn’t just enjoy cycling. He revels in the challenge of biking uphill. Matz spent seven years attempting to pedal up the 100 toughest road bike climbs in the United States.

He found the list in the 2007 book “The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)” by John Summerson. Matz started chipping away at the list with a ride up Mount Spokane in 2008.

The final climb was supposed to come on May 22, when he bagged Whiteface Mountain in New York. But before Matz could finish the list, Summerson changed it.

465,778 Vertical feet Puyallup’s Leon Matz climbed over 3,363 miles to bag the 101 toughest road climbs in the United States.

Summerson published a second edition of the book that added Colorado’s daunting Pikes Peak. The long road to 14,110 feet was previously closed to cyclists. Summerson ranked Pikes Peak as the second-toughest climb behind New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.

Undeterred by the change, Matz flew to Colorado, and on Aug. 23 he bagged Pikes Peak, too.

Matz is believed to be the second cyclist (Summerson being the other) to complete the list. In total, the 101 climbs covered nearly 3,400 miles and more than 465,000 vertical feet.

GARY ROBBINS and JENN SHELTON

Endurance runners

The 100th anniversary of Mount Rainier’s Wonderland Trail saw records fall.

Ultrarunners Gary Robbins and Jenn Shelton established fastest-known times on the famously undulating 93-mile trail. Robbins shattered the fastest-known time for a supported runner on July 1 and 2. The British Columbia resident finished in 18 hours, 52 minutes, more than two hours faster than the previous record set by The Evergreen State College graduate Kyle Skaggs in 2006.

“It was quite the emotional high,” Robbins said. “I was walking like a 95-year-old man for five days afterward, but it was very special.”

Shelton, who lists Colorado as home on her Twitter account, but spends much of her time living out of her van according to media reports, shaved nearly 18 minutes off the record for fastest-known time for a supported woman. On Aug. 30 and 31 she covered the trail that climbs 25,000 vertical feet in 22:04:07. The previous record was set by Darcy Africa and Krissy Moehl in 2013.

Their record runs included interesting dining experiences. Robbins gobbled down avocado sushi rolls during his short rest breaks. Shelton celebrated her record by finishing the Bigfoot Challenge at Enumclaw’s Charlie’s Cafe. The challenge include an 8-ounce fried steak smothered in gravy, four eggs, hash browns, toast and a pancake. Finish in 30 minutes or less and you score a free shirt and your picture on the wall of fame.

DON STEVENSON

Cross-country walker

Don Stevenson spent most of the four months before his 80th birthday walking 3,000 miles from his home in Auburn, Washington, to Maryland.

Stevenson, a Bonney Lake Nazarene pastor known as the Pacing Parson, walked 25 to 30 miles per day to raise money for the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. He raised $10,000 and walked in honor of a parishioner, Betty Mayfield, who died of the disease.

As he walks, Stevenson told the Puyallup Herald, “I pray, sing, think of new sermons. It’s a good time to solve a lot of your problems.” Stevenson’s wife, Loretta, piloted the support vehicle (their family car) during the trip.

Stevenson has completed 20 long walks to raise money and awareness for charities. His 2015 walk wasn’t his longest. In 1998, after retiring from a 28-year career with Darigold, Stevenson walked from Seattle to Portland, Maine, to raise money to combat Alzheimer’s, a disease that killed Loretta’s father.

3,000 Miles Don Stevenson walked from Auburn to Maryland.

“It’s the most rewarding feeling,” Stevenson told the Herald. “To be able to serve others with compassion and sincerity. Peaceful people are those who think of others. Those who think of themselves are the most miserable.”

Adventurer of the week

Want to nominate somebody for Adventurer of the Week? Send nominations to craig.hill@thenewstribune.com.

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