IF OBSTACLE RACING has a breakout star, it’s Amelia Boone. The 30-year-old Portland, Oregon, native has won, or scored a podium spot in, each of the 14 races she’s entered, and she’s done it while working 80-hour weeks as a corporate bankruptcy attorney for one of the world’s largest law firms. At last year’s World’s Toughest Mudder, a 24-hour championship race in Englishtown, New Jersey, Boone traversed 90 miles and more than 300 obstacles to take first place among women. She also finished second overall and a full ten miles ahead of the guy in third. As an encore, this summer at the eight-mile Spartan Super Championship, she got lost and was forced to run an extra mile—and still won the women’s division.
THE ASCENSION: In 2011, Boone, who was a high school soccer star but gave it up in college, registered for her first obstacle race, a Tough Mudder event in Wisconsin, along with three colleagues. “Within five minutes,” she says, “I ditched my coworkers and floored it up the mountain.”
PROUD WARRIOR: Boone’s office is littered with racing paraphernalia—the orange Tough Mudder headband, liability waivers, a faux skull from one of the three Spartan Death Races she finished. “My bosses are a little scared,” she says, “but they’re always very interested in what I’m doing.”
FEAR OF FRYING: “I’m petrified of electricity now,” she says. “I crawled through the Electric Eel nine times at World’s Toughest Mudder last year. One time I got blasted so hard I nearly blacked out. I fell and hit my head and started crawling in the wrong direction.”
CALL IT A HOBBY: For the moment, there’s no such thing as a professional obstacle racer. That could change soon, though, as the fledgling sport gains sponsors and a TV audience; September’s Spartan World Championships, with a $250,000 prize purse, was filmed for the NBC Sports Network. It’s easy to see how Boone could make a career of it—if she had any desire to. “I’m not sure I’d want to do it full-time,” she says. “I like using my brain too much.”
UP NEXT: Boone defends her World’s Toughest Mudder title on November 16, then heads to England in January to tackle her first Tough Guy, a nine-mile, 40-plus-obstacle event held in the dead of winter. “I have a feeling it will be an entirely different level of suffering,” she says. “I hate the cold.”
A new breed of jocks are taking over at Marin County’s Sir Francis Drake High School—endurance geeks who think spandex is cool, love getting dirty, and want to make mountain biking America’s favorite extracurricular activity.
IF THERE’S A SINGLE indicator of how far things have come since Fritzinger launched the Berkeley High bike club, it’s the start of a freshman boys’ race at a NorCal event. At Boggs, 130 sweaty, jittery kids queue up, digging at the dirt like bulls. To the side, teammates and family shout names and clang cowbells. “These boys are ready to go!” a race announcer bellows over the PA. “Three, two, one—” There’s a chorus of cleats clicking into pedals, a cloud of dust, and they’re off.
Several fall almost immediately, having chosen the wrong gear for an uphill start. One boy’s chain comes off as he tries to shift. Mechanical problems are a regular occurrence at races, and riders are equipped to deal with basic problems. For larger issues they can get help, but it will cost them a five-minute penalty. Throughout the day, I see racers with bikes on their shoulders frantically charging into their pit zones. At a race earlier in the year, Sterling Guy was in the middle of a lap when his chain broke. Unaware that he was allowed to ask for trailside help and uncomfortable running in his clunky bike shoes, he hoofed six miles back to the start barefoot.
As the temperature at Boggs climbs toward a high of 85, kids come off the course in varying physical and emotional states. Nikki Lax, a Pirates junior, is ecstatic, having taken fourth in the JV division. “I’m so happy!” she says, her white teeth standing out in her dirt-smeared face. Her classmate Allie Jo Stanley never found her legs and finishes 14th. Returning to the campsite looking ashen, she brushes off Chourre but later cracks a smile when he and her brother sandwich her in a hug. I see a heavyset boy from another school give up at the start of his third lap. “I’m done,” he says, pushing his bike toward a coach, his face puffy and crimson.
Seventeen-year-old Mary Cain was already a top runner when she began working with legendary marathon coach Alberto Salazar last -October. Since then she’s set more than half a dozen high school records, won a U.S. senior title, and taken her place as one of the best prep runners since, well, ever.
SKILLS: Cain covered the final 400 meters of the mile run at February’s USA Indoor Championships in an astonishing 58 seconds—world-class finishing speed that has insiders gawking. “She’s as talented as pretty much anyone in the world,” says former track star Weldon Johnson, who cofounded and covers running for the website LetsRun.com.
PRIORITIES: Cain is a self-described Harry Potter nerd, and her parents are working overtime to make sure school is her top concern. In early June, the day after becoming the first high school girl to break two minutes in the 800 meters at the Prefontaine Classic, she flew across the country to take her final exams.
ASCENSION: Three weeks later, Cain shocked a field of international professionals with a second-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the U.S. Track and Field Championships, running a 4:28.76.
NEXT UP: Starting August 10, Cain will take on the best at the World Championships in Moscow. If she does well, some think she could pull down a seven-figure deal, a big payday in a sport where a few pairs of shoes can count as sponsorship. And while plenty of high school stars haven’t transitioned well into successful pro careers, Cain won’t need to improve much to win at the sport’s highest levels. “She’s already got all the tools she needs,” says Johnson.
THE TOOLS: Nikon D800, 24–70mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 400, f/4, 1/4,000 second
Last September, when 92 BASE jumpers gathered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the annual KL Tower International, Rogers made sure he was among them. “I wanted the access,” says the Moab, Utah, shooter, who signed up to jump. While other photographers had to be tethered to a 1,100-foot platform near the top of the skyscraper, Rogers was able to move about freely. Shortly after getting this shot of barrel-rolling New Zealander Malachi Templeton, Rogers him-self launched off the platform. “I didn’t try anything quite so elaborate,” he says. “Just a six-second fall.”
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At the bottom of the biggest underwater cave in the world, diving deeper than almost anyone had ever gone, Dave Shaw found the body of a young man who had disappeared ten years earlier. What happened after Shaw promised to go back is nearly unbelievable—unless you believe in ghosts…
Shaw turned immediately, unspooling cave line as he went. Up close, he could see that Deon’s tanks and dive harness, snugged around a black-and-tan wetsuit, appeared to be intact. Deon’s head and hands, exposed to the water, were skeletonized, but his mask was eerily in place on the skull. Thinking he should try to bring Deon back to the surface, Shaw wrapped his arms around the corpse and tried to lift. It didn’t move. Shaw knelt down and heaved again. Nothing. Deon’s air tanks and the battery pack for his light appeared to be firmly embedded in the mud underneath him, and Shaw was starting to pant from exertion.
This isn’t wise, he chastised himself. I’m at 270 meters and working too hard. He was also already a minute over his planned bottom time. Shaw quickly tied the cave reel to Deon’s tanks, so the body could be found again, and returned to the shot line to start his ascent.
Approaching 400 feet, almost an hour into the dive, Shaw met up with his close friend Don Shirley, a 48-year-old British expat who runs a technical-diving school in Badplaas, South Africa. After Shirley checked that Shaw was OK and retrieved some spare gas cylinders hanging on the shot line below, Shaw showed him an underwater slate on which he had written 270m, found body. Shirley’s eyebrows shot up inside his mask, and he reached out to shake his friend’s hand.
With the release of the new documentary, Blackfish, Seaworld, and the practice of orca capture, has come under intense fire. Tim Zimmerman, associate producer on the film, actually led the charge back in 2010 with his powerful Outside piece, The Killer in the Pool, which tells the story of the orca Tilikum, a 27-year marine park captive who couldn’t take anymore.
Eyewitness accounts and the sheriff’s investigative report make it clear that Brancheau fought hard. She was a strong swimmer, a dedicated workout enthusiast who ran marathons. But she weighed just 123 pounds and was no match for a 12,000-pound killer whale. She managed to break free and swim toward the surface, but Tilikum slammed into her. She tried again. This time he grabbed her. Her water shoes came off and floated to the surface. “He started pushing her with his nose like she was a toy,” said Paula Gillespie, one of the visitors at the underwater window. SeaWorld employees urgently ushered guests away. “Will she be OK?” one asked.
Tilikum kept dragging Brancheau through the water, shaking her violently. Finally—now holding Brancheau by her arm—he was guided onto the medical lift. The floor was quickly raised. Even now, Tilikum refused to give her up. Trainers were forced to pry his jaws open. When they pulled Brancheau free, part of her arm came off in his mouth. Brancheau’s colleagues carried her to the pool deck and cut her wetsuit away. She had no heartbeat. The paramedics went to work, attaching a defibrillator, but it was obvious she was gone. A sheet was pulled over her body. Tilikum, who’d been involved in two marine-park deaths in the past, had killed her.
What happens when you cram 4,000 cyclists of all skill levels into the narrow streets of Los Angeles for an unsanctioned 26-mile free-for-all race of dubious legality?
People get hurt. Badly. So naturally, we sent our own crash test dummy, Matt Skenazy, into the fray to compete in the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race. Along the way he picked up some of the history behind the race and its unsanctioned kin. Read on:
The Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race is a mess of 4,000 commuters, hobbyists, weekend warriors, professional road racers, and, as one bike-shop employee put it, “fatties on fixies.” When the crowds are this thick, no matter the skill level, accidents are bound to happen.
And they do. Riders go down on every turn, straightaway, climb, and downhill. In 2012, people wrapped around light poles. A man went through the rear windshield of an SUV, reportedly requiring 26 stitches. One girl showed up at the finish line with her face covered in blood and missing two front teeth. Hence the name: Crash Race. “It’s mayhem,” a member of the Ritte Women’s Cycling Team told me before the start. “I mean, it’s fun—until you wake up in the hospital.”
Despite the dangers, the race has grown exponentially each year, thanks largely to social media and word of mouth. Two years ago, rumors circulated that the LAPD wanted to shut it down. There were only a few hundred racers at that point, but since it’s unpermitted and uninsured, and the riders blow through stoplights (there are at least three intersections left open to traffic at that hour), the cops had plenty of reason to take action.
For the past 12 years, American women have dominated beach volleyball, thanks to the duo of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who won back-to-back-to-back Olympic gold starting in 2004. But at last year’s London Games, fellow Americans Jen Kessy, 36, and April Ross, 31, took home a surprise silver, giving the U.S. an impressive one-two finish. With May-Treanor now retired, and Kessy and Ross competing on a revamped Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) tour, all eyes will be on the pair.
ASCENDANCY: The two aren’t exactly rookies. They’ve competed together for seven years, and before London, they took gold at the 2009 World Championships. But as the new faces of American volleyball, they are suddenly grappling with the expectation to win consistently. “We’re still getting used to it,” says Ross. “We’re trying to break it down so we can play with nothing to lose, because that’s the best way to play.”
ROSS ON KESSY: “Before matches I’m pretty quiet, and she likes to be social. But she’s very intense, very emotional. She’s a fighter.”
KESSY ON ROSS: “Sometimes she lets me be crazy, and sometimes I let her go off. It’s just like a normal relationship.”
SECRET WEAPON: “Ross’s jump serve is the best in the world,” says Kessy. “She’s won us a bunch of tournaments with it. And she just goes for it. I love that about her.”
FIRST OFF: In July, Kessy and Ross attempt to reclaim their title at the World Championships in Poland.
UP NEXT: The AVP kicks off its first full season in two years this August in Salt Lake City. When the tour culminates at Huntington Beach in October, the Southern California natives hope to hoist the trophy in front of friends and family. “I cannot wait until we can play at home,” says Kessy. Adds Ross, “There’s a lot to uphold, and it’s fallen on our shoulders.