Andy Lewis is at the top of his game, if there is such a thing in the slackline world. He has four world titles under his belt, but you probably remember him better as the dude in the toga at Madonna’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. Because of that performance, he’s the most well known athlete in the slackline world, but a handful of up-and-comers are the ones advancing new tricks and funky styles. Lewis squared off against them this weekend at the Teva Mountain Games, where he lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champ (and 14-year-old prodigy) Alex Mason. We caught up with him en route to Vail.
The Slackline tricking competition is the only new sporting event at the Teva Mountain Games this year. What we want to know is: How is the sport even judged? You’re judged heavily on style, so how clean you look when you’re slackening is a huge factor. There are a lot of new tricks coming up lately and we'll see how people string them together. Judges need to know the difference between someone with the same five tricks, and someone with a lot of diversity in their repertoire. It’s hard to find good judges because the people who know slacklining the best want to compete, but Teva will have some avid slackliners on the panel.
Each competitor will get two minutes on the line. If you fall off, your time stops and the other guy goes, until he falls and you're back up. It's kind of like chess. You have to position yourself to be out front early with solid tricks, then go for the stupid fun stuff to amp up the crowd.
How important is it to impress the crowd? A lot is based on the crowd. The crowd doesn’t always know what the best or hardest tricks are, so you need to go big for them. Spins and flips are the best crowd-pleasing tricks because they’re familiar and most people know how hard they are. Other tricks like bouncing off your butt or back straight into a flip are called “nasty” tricks. When you get the crowd excited, that helps sway the judges.
What’s the hardest combo or transition from one position to another? I’d have to say that combos of movements with blind rotations are the hardest. So is going from a chest bounce to a back bounce where you can’t see the line. And of course, any inverted rotation above the line takes the biggest commitment.
Has anyone landed the double back flip on a line yet? The double back flip hasn’t been landed yet but I’m sure it will, probably by a gymnast.
Do you think that’s more likely to happen in a competition or in someone’s backyard? The cool thing about competitions is that they actually push athletes to be more fearless and committing. I’ve been competing for four years now and I have four overall world championship titles and I can definitely tell you that you get pumped up by the crowd. The energy makes you want to push it a little harder than you’re used to. It can also be dangerous. The first time I tried a double backflip was in competition at ISPO 2010 in Germany. I landed on my knees and almost knocked myself out. It was totally worth it.
Are there standard specs or tensions for the line? The line at Teva will probably be 3.5-4 feet high, 50 to 60 feet long with probably 4,000 pounds of tension. Tension gives you the ability to jump high but takes away the control you have outside your center of gravity, which helps you land tricks. Unfortunately there are no separate classes with different tensions. But there will eventually have to be weight classes. If I'm 6'2", 185 pounds going against Alex Mason, who's like 5'2" and 100 pounds, the ideal tension for one will not be optimal for the other. It's not really fair yet and bigger competitors like Mike Payton and I are getting shafted because we can't get all the power we're used to. It’s not ideal for sure.
Slacklining has such a fun and playful element to it, especially when guys like you do it naked or in costume (like your superbowl halftime dress). How it this element of slacklining brought into competitions like this? The fun can get lost in competitions if they’re taken too seriously. For slackening, it’s not about winning as much as having a good time and promoting the sport. It can become really daunting with all the people and sponsors watching you, but the fun is always there. You can play with the crowd and mess with other competitors and that’s when you end up winning, when you're not worried.
Slackline tricking is still relatively new. Where do you see slacklining going in the next few years? I only see the skill level increasing. We haven’t even gotten into multiple inverted rotations and corks yet. But with a lot of other sports, you need huge ramps and the resources to build them. In slackening, all you need is a slackline, which is why it’s growing so quickly. It’s so accessible to the public and that’s really going to drive the sport.
There aren’t many big names in XC mountain biking, but if anyone deserves some recognition it’s Heather Irmiger. The 33-year-old Boulder-ite has been crushing the pro scene since joining the Subaru-Trek team six years ago. Currently, she is sitting on the bubble to race at the 2012 Olympics in August. We caught up with her in Winter Park where she and her husband, pro mountain biker Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, have been “torturing themselves at 9,000 feet” in between World Cup races.
Where does Teva fit in on your race calendar? Is this just a training race for you in between everything else? Teva is so awesome. It’s definitely a fun race and, actually, the field is sometimes even bigger than a national series race because the prize money is so huge. You don’t find that in other mountain bike races very often. You’ll win a national series race and be lucky if you get $150. The event in general is super fun, and it’s always on my calendar, but the race itself is getting pretty serious.
How’s the course? It’s actually tough for a lot of people because of the altitude. It’s technical. It’s good mountain biking the way that it should be. We get a lot of pretty weird stuff at the World Cups where they’ve manufactured a lot of the technical aspects, which can be pretty scary in a bad way. They’ll take a boulder and cut into the slope at a 20 degree angle and you’re just shooting down a mountain like “Oh, my God!” Riding at Vail, you’re going over natural features, river crossings, Aspen tree roots, etc. It’s just fun mountain biking. But between the competition and the altitude it can definitely be tough.
Did you grow up riding like that? Mostly, yeah. There’s a race series in Winter Park that I grew up doing, and all the trails in Winter Park are all natural, high-altitude single track. I’m from Boulder so when I went mountain biking with my family we would come up to Vail or Winter Park or Moab. It’s been an adjustment, learning to race on manufactured courses. Even though I’ve been doing it for six years now, some of those World Cup race courses are very different.
I think I know the answer to this, but have you always been riding mostly with guys? Yeah. I worked in a bike shop when I was in high school and always rode with the boys. I also rode with my mom a lot when I was younger. She’s a really good mountain biker and was definitely my main female influence, but mostly I just didn’t want to get dropped by the boys.
There was a goofy but interesting article on PinkBike recently about the ratio of men to women in this particular sport. 2:1. Do you notice the gender divide? The number of people on teams is usually even, but there probably is a divide in salary. I don’t know exact numbers but if you’re an entry level pro female versus an entry level pro male you might be making a similar amount of money. But if you move up in your career, I think men get paid quite a bit more. And a lot of times prize money isn’t equal. That’s been an ongoing battle. People sometimes assume that if there aren’t many women, they shouldn’t get paid as much. That said, there are a few promoters that have stepped up to create equal prize purses recently. Teva is like that, which is really awesome.
I’ve heard people say that particularly with mountain biking, the process of getting sponsorship and moving up towards pro can be almost as grueling as the training itself. I’d say that’s true, mostly because there aren’t many opportunities to make it as a pro. There are probably five or six women on salary and six to eight men. At the next level people usually have a career that they’re trying to balance with their training. They’ll probably have some product sponsorship, and maybe a small travel stipend. Maybe they’ll get $3,000 and then they’ll have to figure out how to make that last all season. Which is hard. We’ve all been there. I worked at the University of Colorado, where I went to school, and used my vacation days to go to national races. And I’d get up at six in the morning to train. Honestly, I don’t know how I did it. I used to not sleep and train all the time. I made it, though. I broke through. But it was a huge challenge, because even if you’re good enough, there are not a lot of spots. Just because you’re winning, if all those spots are taken up, you just sort of have to wait your turn.
I saw some pictures of you getting tattooed at a brewery in Durango. What’s that all about ? [Laughs] Do you know much about the single speed culture? Biking generally creates some pretty distinct subcultures and single speed tends to be pretty anti-establishment. Anyway, I ended up winning the 2009 Single Speed World Championships and apparently the prize is a tattoo. I found this out about an hour after I won the race. But it was pretty cool, because they always use a local artist from wherever the race is held. Mine was done at Ska Brewery with about a thousand people around drinking beer and watching. There are also a lot of costumes in single speed, which is why I’m wearing that wig in the photo. I went to New Zealand the following year to try and defend my title, but honestly, I’m kinda glad I didn’t win. I wasn’t sure I wanted to explain to my future grandkids why I had eight SSWC tattoos.
I knew my fourth try was going to be brutal. It was 105 degrees, I had a touch of the flu, and I was sure people were talking about me the way I had talked about Twietmeyer. The world was filled with guys like Ricklefs. I had been a guy like that. Maybe the past year someone had been holed up in a basement apartment on the outskirts of Seattle, emerging at night only to run Mount Si, back to back to back to back. Maybe that guy was faster than me, stronger. Maybe he was a better athlete.
If I thought biology was destiny, I would have given up a long time ago. I’ve got scoliosis, my left foot toes out, I had high blood pressure in elementary school, and my marathon time of 2:38 is nothing special. My height is a mixed blessing—good for stride length, bad for heat and technical trails—which makes my brain that much more important.
In a sprint, if you don’t have perfect form, you’re doomed. The ultra distance forgives injury, fatigue, bad form, and illness. A bear with determination will defeat a dreamy gazelle every time. I can’t count the number of times people have said, “I can’t believe he beat me.” Distance strips you bare.
So what if other bodies might be stronger? I would use my mind. Bushido.
“I want to make everyone work hard,” I told a reporter before the race. “I want to make them hurt.”
I loved ultrarunning and I loved ultrarunners, but even a super-polite vegan could be a dick during competition, sometimes even to a friend.
Dave Terry, the world-class projectile vomiter, was running on my shoulder by mile 15 of the Western States. Three years had passed since I’d first rolled to the finish line, and Dave and I had become pals. I had grown to admire his work ethic and the way he went out of the way to show kindness to everyone he met. Dave was a solid runner, often in the top three, but seldom a winner. He never let his frustration boil into anything like rudeness. What was most striking was the way he seemed to understand someone’s sadness before it was even mentioned. Dave always had a few wise words of encouragement to share—especially, it seemed, to those who needed them most.
“Hey, Scott,” Dave said as he pulled alongside. Such a sweet guy. I smiled.
“Hey, Dave!” I said in the same tone of voice I might have used if we had been sharing a beer at his kitchen table or discussing plans for a Saturday night movie.
And then, before he could answer, I said, “What are you doing up here? You must really want to hurt today.”
Then I took off.
No one called me flatlander anymore. No one opined (at least in my presence) that I was going out too fast or that Twietmeyer—or anyone else—was going to reel me in. When I wasn’t leading, I reeled others in.
It wasn’t just competitors who were treating me differently. People came into the store just to ask me questions—about what I ate, how I trained, and what shoes I liked. I had sponsorship deals from various footwear, clothing, and energy bar manufacturers, but that only covered travel expenses (not necessarily lodging or food).
It was all because I could run far, fast. And I could do that, I was convinced, because of what I was eating. I stopped the raw diet right after my 2001 Western States victory—the extra time involved in chewing was too much. I’m serious. That, combined with my concern about getting enough calories, drew me back to cooking. But I kept a lot of what I had learned: the smoothies, a large salad for lunch, paying attention to ingredients and preparation. Eating raw was like getting a Ph.D. in a plant-based diet—hard work, but worth it.
At the same time, due to losing a food sponsor, I started making my own gels. I mixed brown rice syrup with blueberries or cocoa powder and made it in bulk. I also experimented with kalamata olives and hummus on whole wheat tortillas for long runs.
My blood pressure and triglyceride levels dropped to all-time lows; my HDL, “good” cholesterol, shot up to an all-time high. I had virtually no joint inflammation, even after miles of pounding trails and roads, and on the rare occasions I sprained an ankle or fell and whacked my elbow or knee, the soreness left faster than it ever had before.
Was it the fiber that sped food through my digestive tract, minimizing the impact of toxins? Was it the food I was adding—the vitamins and minerals, the lycopene, lutein, and beta carotene? Almost every day a new micronutrient is discovered in plant foods that offers protective effects against disease. Or was it what I wasn’t eating, the concentrated carcinogens, excess protein, refined carbohydrates, trans fats? Factory-farmed animals are treated with growth hormones and steroids to encourage their rapid transit from birth to slaughterhouse. If we wouldn’t take steroids ourselves—or eat a bowl of transgenic, pesticide-soaked soybeans—why would we eat the flesh of an animal that has?
Or was the sum of a plant-based diet greater than its parts? Vegetarians are likely to have healthy habits outside the kitchen as well as more active lifestyles and less smoking. A major study shows that vegetarians watch less television, smoke less, and sleep more per night than meat-eaters.
I wasn’t sure of the answer, but my diet seemed to be working. So when I came across naysayers—and there were plenty—I weighed my experience against their theories. When I read Eat Right 4 Your Type, by Peter D’Adamo, right before my first Western States and learned that my blood type, O, was the least suited of all types to vegetarianism, I worried a little, but not too much. According to D’Adamo, my ancestral profile made me a “canny, aggressive predator” who preferred baby seal meat to bean burritos. But those burritos had fueled me through that first Western States as well as two others. (I wasn’t the only one who didn’t go along with matching diet to blood type. Dr. Fredrick Stare, founder of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, calls this book “not only one of the most preposterous books on the market, but also one of the most frightening. It contains just enough scientific-sounding nonsense, carefully woven into a complex theory, to actually seem convincing to the uninitiated.”)
I maintained my smoothie habit. I made more friends at farmer’s markets. I soaked beans, baked bread, rolled oats. I entered other races, searched for new training routes. Even though I knew the Western States would be more challenging than ever, I was confident.
Before the race, Dusty had bet an old friend of his in Minnesota, Rod Raymond, one of the standout endurance athletes of Duluth, that I would win a fourth consecutive Western States. Rod took the bet. If Dusty lost, he would have to landscape the Raymonds’ front yard, a job worth $2,000. But if Dusty (and I) won, Rod had to give Dusty his 1984 Suzuki Tempter motorcycle.
The race was tough but not close. The last 20 miles, Dusty ran beside me, repeating over and over: “Vroom, vroom, c’mon, Jurker, gotta get my motorcycle.”
Later, Dusty called Rod and got his voicemail. He yelled into his cell phone. “You owe me a motorcycle, bitch!”
I won a fifth Western States in 2003 in 16:01, another 20 minutes faster, and UltraRunning magazine called it “Performance of the Year.” During that race, Dusty, behind me, screamed something as we were descending a dried creek drainage, headed to the American River, but I didn’t pay attention. It was 72 miles in and I was gliding, effortlessly. “Dude,” he said, “do you realize you just stepped on a rattlesnake back there?”
That was the race when Tonto died. He had been spending the week with Dusty and me, running every day. During the race, Tonto stayed at my friend Shannon Weil’s ranch, which was on the course. I saw Tonto at mile 55 when I passed the ranch. The next morning, after I had won, Shannon called to tell me Tonto was gone. After the awards ceremony, Dusty, Scott McCoubrey, and another friend and runner named Brandon Sybrowsky helped me bury Tonto just outside of Michigan Bluff, right next to the Western States Trail.
I won again the next year, in 2004, and set a new record of 15:36 (9:22 per mile pace), earning another “Ultrarunner of the Year” honor and, more importantly, accomplishing what I had set out to do six years earlier. Brooks Sports hired me that year to work with their design team on a new trail shoe called the Cascadia and to do presentations and store appearances. In 2005 I won a seventh consecutive Western States, something no man had done before (or since). I also trimmed off 14 inches of my hair to donate to Locks of Love, for children with cancer. It was no big ceremony, but it felt better than any other haircut I had ever received.
I treasured those races, but just as much I treasured the weeks before the competition. The local press sought out Dusty, and he always had a quote ready. In 2003, the Auburn Journal accidentally ran Dusty on the front page with the caption, “Scott Jurek five-time winner of WS100.” We laughed about it and even had him go up at first to accept my award. The WS board wasn’t happy. But we loved it.
At night, at the campsite Dusty and I had set up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the temperature would drop into the 30s, and before turning in we’d look at the sky. Neither of us talked about the way Dusty had inspired me to run or the success that accrued to me because of that running. We didn’t talk about how being with each other was in many ways an escape for both of us. For Dusty, those weeks took him away from his peripatetic life, his wanderings in Minnesota and Colorado, chasing snowflakes and trying to eke out a living through odd carpentry jobs. For me, it was a refuge from a life of responsibilities I had never anticipated.
Not even 10 years earlier, I had been trudging snowmobile trails, dreaming big and spending big. I had planned on running hard, counted on winning. What I hadn’t anticipated were sponsorships with Brooks, Pro-Tec, and Clif Bar, delivering presentations, and attending trade shows in between races. But, as I had discovered, those were flags on the path of ultrarunning, markers on the path Hippie Dan had urged me to find. Or were they warning signs? I didn’t know.
I wanted more. I wanted to push myself, to crack myself open and discover something fresh. I wanted a new challenge.
The big concern I hear from people about a plant-based diet is difficulty. It takes too long. It requires too much focus. For those folks I make this dish, which—if you cook the rice beforehand—you can have on the table in less than 20 minutes. The brown rice gives the dish a nutty texture and provides essential amino acids. Tempeh contains three grams of protein for every gram of fat, which makes it one of the leanest, most protein-heavy of the soy products (which was invaluable when I was cranking up my training, looking for more protein). Better, it’s fermented and easily digestible, even for people who have trouble with most soy products.
4 cups uncooked brown rice 2 3⁄4 cups water 1 teaspoon coconut or olive oil 8–12 ounces tempeh, sliced 1⁄8- to 1⁄4-inch thick Juice of 1 lime or lemon 1 tablespoon tamari or shoyu mixed with 1 tablespoon water Red Curry Almond Sauce
Add the brown rice and water to a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the water evaporates and the rice is tender. Fluff with a fork and cool.
Coat a large skillet with the oil and heat over medium-low heat until a drop of water sizzles when it hits the pan. Saute the tempeh for three to five minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Remove from the heat. Squeeze the lime or lemon over the tempeh and sprinkle with the tamari or shoyu.
For each serving, place a cup of brown rice on a plate or in a bowl. Crumble several pieces of tempeh on top and drizzle with one to two tablespoons Red Curry Almond Sauce. Enjoy with a side of Indonesian Cabbage Salad.
Swimming and yoga go hand-in-hand. In fact, getting out of the pool after a serious lap session feels similar to the after-effects of an hour-long yoga class: stretched, strong, and in a state of zen.
The good news: swimming takes the shoulders through a full range of motion so a good baseline of flexibility is inherent to the sport.
The bad news: the constant use of shoulders to propel through the water can result in tightness from overuse.
The goal: develop a good foundation of openness in the shoulders, while keeping length in the core. This is how swimmers maximize their full range of motion and use the entire extension of the body to their advantage. Think of the body as one piece.
First, focus on lengthening in both directions from the navel while swimming. This will bring alignment and length and keep arm exhaustion to a minimum.
Next, practice these four poses, a mix of shoulder openers and core- and back-strengtheners.
Josh Schrei is a yoga teacher at Body in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and an endurance athlete. He placed 9th among 40- to 49-year-old males in the Jemez 50K Trail Race last year. In October, he’s planning to do 3,000 sun salutations around South India’s sacred Arunachala mountain to raise money for Water.org.