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
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,”
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 Cranksport.com 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
“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 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
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.