Search PLU
Alumni Profiles.  Jeff McCann '93 survives 'worlds's toughest race'

Eco-challenge tests stamina through the jungles of Fiji

By Nisha Ajmani '02

When Jeff McCann took time off to go to the tropics of Fiji, it wasn’t for relaxation. He spent nine-and-a-half days trekking through the jungle, racing toward the finish line of the Eco Challenge, known as the world’s toughest race.

“You were cold, wet and shivering every time you stopped moving,” said McCann ’93. The team figured it would be 80 degrees and sunny, but it rained seven out of 10 days in the jungle.

McCann and his team, WAR/R.W. Smith, won a lottery spot to compete in Eco-Challenge Fiji Islands in October 2002, and raced with the odds against them. Eco-Challenge is an expedition race in which teams race for six to twelve days, 24 hours a day, over a rugged 300 mile course.

The teams must use navigational skills to reach the finish line by “canyoneering” up rivers along vertical rock walls, building primitive rafts to move up and down large rivers, white water kayaking and mountain biking on roads with intense grade covered in deep mud. To finish the race successfully, team members cannot be more than 150 feet away from each other throughout the entire race and must cross the finish line as a complete team.

While most teams spend nine months preparing, McCann’s team only had seven weeks to train and become certified in jungle skills and survival, class IV white water, climbing and rappelling. “We really are a rookie team without much expedition experience,” McCann said. The team’s goal was simply to finish the race.

Competing against top teams from around the world, McCann’s team raced in the hardest Eco-Challenge to date – with the lowest expected finishing rate. Things went as predicted. Out of 81 teams, only 23 finished and McCann’s team tied for 19th place. How did the team manage to pull through when some of the top teams in the world couldn’t make it? “We committed too much in those seven weeks to quit,” McCann said.

Finishing in the top 20 didn’t come easily, according to McCann, a project manager for a family owned development company in Maple Valley, Wash. At one point, the team wasn’t even sure if it would be allowed to finish the race. On about day six, while attempting to ascend a waterfall, bad weather forced race officials to close the course. The teams left behind spent a cold night waiting. Sometime during the wait, officials decided the race was over for the remaining teams – it was too dangerous to go up or around the waterfall. Luckily, the teams were later given the option to continue. Only two teams decided to carry on – McCann’s and from California.

The two teams decided to work together to finish the race and ended up tying for 19th place. “We had worked so well together that we decided to come across (the finish line) hand in hand,” said McCann.

McCann’s racing adventures began at PLU. He gained experience in distance running and endurance activities by working with Brad Moore, associate professor of physical education, and the cross country and track teams. It was at PLU that he met the people who got him interested in climbing, kayaking and mountain biking. In fact, McCann and three PLU friends formed a team to compete in his first race.

“We all keep in touch and train together off and on,” McCann said.

He’s not sure what his next challenge will be, but he will definitely race against the elements again somehow.

“I like to do something different every few years,” said McCann. “I need to know if I can do something and not just guess and say I think I can do it.”

Alumni Class Notes: View class notes by year

Team crosses the river.
Team WAR/R.W. Smith crosses the finish line after more than nine days in the jungle. The rookie team tied for 19th place. From left are McCann '93, Michelle Maislen, Erik Nachtrieb, and Don Wahl.


Photo Credits

Courtesy of: Jeff McCann '93
Jeff McCann helps team member Michelle Maisien cross a river in Fiji as part of the Eco-Challenge, the world's toughest race.


 Back to top  Fall 2003 Scene Copyright 2003 Pacific Lutheran University  Credits ~ Last Updated 09-05-2003 ~ Comments