(Posted - 17 Sep 2012)
It was a hot topic in the sailing world when 16 year old Abby Sunderland set forth from sailing solo around the world and had to be rescued. There was also our own solo adventure sailor Jessica Watson (just under 17) and Dutch girl Laura Dekker (a shade over 16) who was originally stopped by the courts before becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world.
There was also Jordan Romeo who, at 13 years of age, set out to climb the world's highest mountains, including a successful summit of Mount Everest at the age of 13 years and ten months.
Each of these adventures sparked heated debate in the media and amongst parents and guardians as to the wisdom of our youth attempting inherently risky adventures, and where responsibility lies.
Now, following news of a group of 14-16 year olds (see article below) out to attempt the Surf Coast Century ultra, the spotlight has been thrown on ultra running. It's extreme sport in anyone's estimation that involves runnig distances further than a marathon - often, as in the case for Rapid Ascent's Surf Coast Century, a distance of 100km.
For those who have not attempted 100km, it is not the same as running two times fifty kilometres (a feat unto itself), or a marathon, and any experienced ultra runner will advise newcomers as to the seriousness and dangers of the undertaking as the body (and mind) are put through the rigours of endurance.
A discussion thread on Trail Run Mag's Facebook site (www.facebook.com/trailrunmag ) proffers opinions pro and con on the wisdom of allowing young girls to take on the 100km course, with points made fairly on both sides of the risk mitigation fence.
What's your view?
The original Q&A article below sets out that these girls are well prepared and will have the supervision of an experienced adult along with close monitoring by race officials for the length of the event (which unlike many trail ultras is accessible for the length of the route).
The girls will race this weekend, but not without commentary.
Here, Rapid Ascent Director, John Jacoby, offers his perspective as the man responsible for the event and the decision to let the girls on course.
"Rapid Ascent’s policy has always been to have no minimum age for competitors competing in any of our events. This was borne out of the fact that when I (John Jacoby) entered my first kayak race, aged 15 I was not allowed to enter. So I did what any determined kid would do, I went paddled the race unofficially anyway.
We believe that people should not be restricted from tackling an objective simply because of their age and that they should be given the opportunity to test themselves and give it a go in a safe, controlled environment.
During the 7yrs Rapid Ascent has been in operation we have had many young competitors compete in MTB races, running events and adventure races etc. and I cannot recall once an occasion when a competitor who was deemed to be “too young" to compete failed to achieve what they set out to do, or created an undue risk to themselves or others.
Young people should be encouraged to explore risk taking and extend themselves, especially in an event like the SCC where the perception of a hard demanding event is there but the reality is that there are a lot of controls and safety strategies in place. If events like these are so ‘dangerous’ then why does society permit hundreds of other individual mature adults to enter the race when we do not know their physical capabilities either? Everyone deserves the right to test themselves as long as there are sufficient safeguards in place.
Surf Coast Century safeguards include mobile medical teams monitoring competitors at each CP, a course that allows for easy access to competitors along its entire length, mobile phone reception along the entire course, considerable race food and hydration provided free of charge around the course, supervision by race officials and support crews (plus parents), cut offs to limit those who are struggling to stop them before they bonk, and in this case – having an experienced adult teacher and their own peers with them every step of the way. We believe these measures make it safer to test yourself in an event environment than by yourself.
As the race director, does allowing a 14 y.o. girl to compete pose a greater risk than an 18 y.o. male or an overweight 50 y.o. who may not have done enough training? I do not believe so. As a bit of a generalization, I would say that a young person who is seriously in the “hurt locker" and potentially at a stage where they could cause permanent damage to themselves are far more likely to stop and “call it quits" then a pig headed older competitor who just keeps on going and suffers heat stroke, hypothermia, severe dehydration etc. It’s called ego. 14 y.o. girls have a lot less of it than 40 y.o. men.
I think it is inspiring, motivating and courageous that the girls are having a shot at a significant challenge and I think whether they make it or not (and I firmly believe they will) that this challenge may shape their lives and attitudes for years into the future. As the article states, the girls have a race plan and they plan on walking a lot of the course. I fail to see how this will have a negative impact on their bodies. Humans are designed to walk and run. It’s just that most people in modern society have forgotten that fact.
Rapid Ascent organises events that we hope will have a significant impact on competitors lives, their training, their lifestyle, their self-belief and confidence. This is another great case of young people getting out and having a crack and we are confident we have the safeguards in place to make this a safe challenge for them. Go girls!"