Lokelani McMichael, 26
Why She Rules: It was no big surprise when, at age 18, Lokelani McMichael (whose full name is Lokelanikuu'leimakamae) became the youngest woman to finish the Hawaii Ironman—a record she still holds. After all, she'd grown up watching the legendary triathlon pass by her parents' Kona surf shop and began volunteering as a race-day water patroller when she was seven. The real surprise? That she braved bike crashes, full-body jellyfish stings, and close encounters with tiger sharks to rocket through seven consecutive Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Hawaii—athletic cred she has put toward her latest multisport venture. As co-host of Adventure Challenge, debuting in December on HDNet, a new cable network that films only in high-definition digital format, McMichael offers onscreen instruction from enviable locales: surfing in Huntington Beach, paragliding in San Diego, and scuba diving in the Maldives.
Says Who: "Loke's an undercover athlete," says Adventure Challenge co-host and producer Tom Holm. "If you met her, you wouldn't guess she's such a fierce competitor. But after she kicks your butt, she'll joke around and drink a smoothie with you. She's very grounded."
Meet the Anti-Waif: "I've been told my muscles are too big for fashion magazines," says McMichael, who has modeled for Elle, Self, Shape, Esquire, and Nike's latest ad campaign.
Forward Spin: Her filming schedule is almost as grueling as her training regimen: Next year she'll sea-kayak in the San Juan Islands, climb Mount Rainier, and backcountry-ski in the Tetons. And in the far future? McMichael plans to compete in triathlons until she's 80. World record for the oldest woman to complete the Ironman, anyone?
Rebecca Rusch, 35
Why She Rules: Rebecca Rusch is the quintessential adventure racer—which is to say, she's a sports addict. In 1994, she was a walk-on at the Newport Beach outrigger canoe club; in 2000 she and her eight crewmates won the sport's national championships. Not long after, she was recruited by a women's whitewater rafting team from California—and helped lead them to national championships in 2001 and 2002. Given her hyperactive, hypersuccessful résumé, the itinerant Rusch (she lives out of her Bronco eight months of the year) seemed destined to get hooked on adventure racing. She started Team Montrail in 1998, and the four-person squad went on to win the Raid Gauloises, in Kyrgyzstan, in June 2003. But being the lone woman on one of the top adventure teams in the world isn't always a good thing: "The guys' attitude usually is 'I'm going to beat you!' " says Rusch. "It revs me up when I can hold my own with a bunch of men, but sometimes it gets a little intense."
Says Who: "Rebecca understands what's required to be great, and she's gone out and done it," says former Raid winner Ian Adamson, 39. "She is definitely a force to be contended with." HOW TO AVOID A
Testosterone Overload: Hang out with the girls. "It's my therapy," Rusch says of her recent all-women outings—like notching female first ascents in Yosemite and riverboarding (think boogie board, with handles) the entire length of the Grand Canyon, some 300 miles of Class II-V rapids, in 19 days.
Forward Spin: She'll help Team Montrail defend their title at the 2004 Raid World Championship and try to improve on their 2003 second-place finish at next year's Primal Quest.
Jeannie Wall, 36
Why She Rules: Jeannie Wall is standing at the boat dock in Grand Teton National Park, looking fresh despite August temperatures in the nineties. She has run here from Teton Pass, nearly 30 miles away, over several 10,000-foot-plus passes. It is a typical moment in the life of this self-described endurance junkie, and she is grinning. In the past ten years, Wall has climbed Mont Blanc in just over four hours, run rim to rim to rim across the Grand Canyon—just for the fun of it—and summited three of the four highest peaks in North America: Steele, Lucania, and Logan. And when her passion turns competitive, she dominates. In 2002, Wall was the first female to cross the finish line in the 32-mile American Birkebeiner nordic ski race, in Cable, Wisconsin. In March 2003, she won both the North American Randonnée Championships, in Jackson Hole, and the Wasatch PowderKeg, in Alta. No wonder many think Wall is the toughest woman in the Rockies.
Says Who: "There are not enough hours in the day to keep up with Jeannie's whirling dervish of a life," says cross-country ski racer Brooke Baughman, 31. "But look where it gets her: She's one of the best endurance athletes out there."
Wait, There's More: Wall joined the staff of Patagonia as a hard-goods buyer at 23 and has worked in product design ever since. So what's the source of all this drive? "It's Darwinian," she explains. "I was the youngest of 11 children. I wanted to do it all and be part of it all."
Forward Spin: In March, she'll compete in the world championship randonnée races, in Val d'Aran, Spain; then she's off to Alaska. "I'd like to climb every spring in Alaska for the rest of my life," Wall says with another grin.