by Carrie Adams
“I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.”
— Marilyn Monroe
When the first of the headlamp lights pierced the darkness of the rain whipped night, all the volunteers at the pond crossing task rose to their feet. Seeing the lights materialize out of the deep void of the forest, bobbing side to side is an eerie but welcome site. It signaled that the first of the racers had successfully navigated the swollen and fast-moving river to get here nearly eight hours since the race began. The racers were quickly ushered into the 45 degree pond and were made to stand waist deep for five minutes to await the arrival of the rest of the field.
In that first group of a dozen or she stood, shivering against the cold that assaulted her bare legs a trash bag tied around her small frame to keep her and her pack dry. Her eyes were clear and focused and she cracked a few jokes with Joe Decker and the other front runners. It was 27 year old Grace Cuomo Durfee, 12th place Death Race finisher in 2010 and she was on a mission in 2011.
Durfee, who makes her home in Hampton New York with husband Seth and two-year-old daughter Quinn, trained for this race all year. She came to finish but she came to perform as well and perform she did. Blazing through the challenges, always at the front, she ultimately finished fourth overall and first female. Durfee was one of only six who successfully completed all the tasks on the list for the 45 hour race that ended at 3 PM on Sunday the 26th of June.
Durfee has been involved with Spartan Race for some time. She was first female in the 2010 Vermont Spartan Race and that earned her a free race entry into the Death Race last year. She decided to go for it and with a supportive crew beside her she committed to the event.
Says Durfee, “I did a little research before last year – watched the videos and got an idea of what it was about and we all decided to give it a try.” She laughs, “Unfortunately, we were expecting it to be 12 hours and it was 35 hours so we learned a lot that time around.”
Coming into 2011 Durfee had some major goals. “I wanted to be top female and expected a lot of myself. I knew that if there was a girl better than me I would have been okay with it, but I had to give it everything I had.” Durfee credits her husband and support system with her win as well as her support team. “My husband is super supportive and my trainer puts me through hell and kicks my butt.”
Dealing with the fatigue and stress, particularly at the pace Durfee was maintaining was tough, but she was mentally prepared. “You have to ignore the fact that your body is aching. You have to block it out. You just have to be positive.”
Durfee also thought of her daughter Quinn to stay positive. “To be able to tell her to be strong and proud of herself is a huge thing. She’s the #1 person I want to make proud and let her know she can do anything. She’s my greatest accomplishment and this race is my second.”
Adding to Durfee’s stress was her grandmother’s open heart surgery a mere week before the event. It didn’t deter her mission or her focus. “You can do anything that you put your mind to – if you’re willing to put in the work it can be one of the greatest things. It is what you put into it. You can juggle things. I run a business, have a child, a husband.”
Durfee isn’t done with racing either. The former Varsity track star and high school cheerleader is setting her sights on Vermont again. This time the Beast, August 6th in Killington and she hopes more women come out to join her. “I have goals for that one too but it will be more for fun. I hope women realize that they can do it. They can do anything.”
Durfee smiles when she talks about her, “I don’t care what she wants to do but she seems like she’s going to be a natural athlete. For me, I always want to stay in shape so that we can jog together. Bond, you know? I’m not rushing it but I am looking forward to it.”
She pauses, “I just want to make daughter proud.”