by Carrie Adams
Kat Dunnigan isn’t the kind of woman you would have assumed was the “Death Race Type.” Physically, she’s hardly imposing. Barely 5′ 1”, she’s small, and her soft voiceon the phone, along with her contagious, bubbly laughter, hide her strength and toughness.
Raised in Portland, Maine, Dunnigan had an athletic family but didn’t really get into sports as a child or teenager. She graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree from SUNY Maritime and headed to NYU for law school. At 28 she found herself wanting to do something more than just work, so she took up Karate, and after four years she earned herself a black belt. It was a wakeup call for Kat that she wasn’t just working out and she had transformed into something bigger.
“When I saw myself as an athlete that changed my whole world,” she said in a recent interview. Karate brought with it full contact tournaments, but it also brought burnout and she needed inspiration. A ten month break found her in front of her TV watching an Ironman. She felt the unmistakable feeling of fear in the pit of her stomach and in that moment she committed to doing an Ironman… but not some far off day in the future. She wanted to do one in a year in France. Her training started that day and hasn’t stopped. Since 2006, she’s competed in an Ironman every year from France to Australia, Lake Placid to New Zealand and in four weeks she goes to St. George.
So, why the Death Race? She’s proven herself an athlete and a consistent and formidable one but a year ago while strength training at Warrior Fitness Boot Camp Kat saw the webpage for the Spartan race and saw the link for The Death Race… you maydie.com. She clicked on it. A familiar feeling rose in the pit of her stomach – the same feeling she got when she first watched the Ironman, fear that quickly turned into a rush of adrenaline and then resolve. “I have to do this insane thing.”
She goes into the race with no pretentions. She is doing the race for herself and her way. This event isn’t about her being the strongest physically. She is admittedly not a natural athlete but she has no illusions about herself and she has a quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor that she believes will help her survive the long hours. Mentally, doing the Ironman has taught her how to find inner peace. The race brings everyone to a place where they want to give up and they have to make the decision to move on.
Recently, she participated in Death Race camp and commented, “The one thing that is amazing is that your ego is put away and you are no longer worried about anything but that task at hand… it’s painful but it’s a peaceful place to be. There is nothing left to do but put one foot in front of the other. I can put one foot in front of the other.”
When she thinks about Death Race day she has only two fears – one of just being that tired and sleep deprived. Two, she fears that she will miss time cut-offs and be pulled from the course. “I’m okay with feeling like I’m behind, but I’d hate to be pulled in the middle. I want to make it to the end. I want to get the skull they hand out.” She laughs. She wants to get herself through it. “I want to feel like I have just come through the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” They promised me that.
Kat doesn’t think of herself as a woman competing, she thinks of herself as an athlete competing. She’s read about at least three women who have done it and finished at least once. It opens the door for more women to give it a shot, women like her, and she’s grateful for the trails they have blazed.
This new chapter is a new challenge for a professional, working woman who found her inner athlete in her late 20’s. The Karate gave her confidence, the Ironman gave her endurance, now she trains for strength and she brings her own brand to the table. To stay motivated, to do it in the first place, she said it just clicked. “The death race is just ‘find your inner crazy.’ It resonates with me. I got a lot of inner crazy.” She laughs and then pauses. “ It brings things back to a place that’s very raw.”
Her training has combined endurance and strength – her Ironman mere weeks away, she views it as a training day, focusing more on the Death Race in June. Her friends at Warrior Fitness Boot Camp are helping her get strong – weighted vest runs, stairs, intense cardio sessions and even a few words of wisdom for the journey. Alex Fell, one of the Warrior Fitness owners told her – “Get amnesia…” It’s about living in the moment completely. If you have a bad race or you have a bad day, just forget it and move on. If you have a good day, same thing, get amnesia and move on. It’s just a day. She laments with a laugh, “Most of my amnesia is about bad days.” You can’t help but love her story, her drive, and her reasons. She’s an inspiration for athletes, men and women, everywhere and we don’t think the Death Race will even slow her down. By the way, did we mention Kat turns 40 next week? Happy birthday, Kat… we’ll see you in June.