The 2005 Kiehl's Badwater Ultramarathon Webcast
If there was a theme among this year's most accomplished (and most buoyant) athletes, it was that they had amazing crews. Perhaps most visible were the crews that included runners' family members, who watched their wife, husband, mother or father suffer unimaginable pain, lose their sense of reality, come back into themselves and, for most, experience some eventual triumph.
Perhaps most striking among these family crews was Mike Sweeney's (#50). Mike's family remained enthusiastic even through his roughest spots. We ran into him at the Darwin time station, at which point he was hyponatremic, hobbling, and, well, slightly out of it. Nevertheless, his family stayed at his side, his son Josh—aged 15—sitting across from his dad and holding his gaze. Mike picked up again and left Darwin just as Ferg Hawke and Scott Jurek zoomed by, stealing his first place position, but Mike's crew was undeterred, focused only on getting him through the race safely.
So Mike made it back down the road, to finish twelfth overall. At the finish line, I saw him embrace his family and address his son, who videotaped the celebration. But only at the Award Ceremony did I finally began to understood what it means for a family to share the joy and pain of the person they love—even when that person is an athlete near collapse.
About seven miles before he hit Whitney Portal, Mike's pacer told Josh to walk right behind his dad, mirroring his every step on his way up the mountain—this way, Josh could feel the pressure building and the pain rising as his dad approached the finish line. Up they went, like an athlete and his shadow. Josh was close enough to his father's feet to trip him, step by step through the darkness, slowly—aiming seven miles up a mountain, where he could finally throw his arms around his dad, where it would all finally be over.