by Matt Trinca

It’s Friday afternoon. The Death Racers have been going now for 5 hours, moving boulders and cutting branches to clear a path up to Joe’s cabin. Joe De Sena and Andy Weinberg are standing atop a climbing wall, explaining the theme – Gambling – and the rules for this year’s event. “We started the Peak Death Race to find people that we’d like to hang out with,” explained Andy. “We wanted to surround ourselves with people that inspire us.”

Team SISU was started with the same premise. Two years ago, as Daren de Heras and Yesel Arvizu were training for their first Death Race, they formed this small team to help prepare themselves for an event cloaked in mystery and madness. Neither of them finished the race that year, but they came back with a burning desire to push themselves further, and that desire spread amongst their friends. In 2012, 7 members of Team SISU traveled to the Peak Death Race and 4 of them finished… ”unofficially.” Bolstered by this success, the team continued to grow, and now boasts more than 800 members across the country.

SISU is a Finnish word, meaning “ultimate determination, fortitude, and persistence, carried to an unfathomable level.” But to sum it up in one word, SISU means “guts.” The mission of Team SISU is to, “forge unbreakable athletes,” and nowhere was this more apparent than at the 2013 Death Race, where 10 members came to race, along with 5 members who came to serve as support crew and volunteers.

Bolstered by a team camaraderie developed through various team events, such at the 50+ mile Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim run in the Grand Canyon and the 24+ hour SISU Iron adventure challenge, the true grit of each team member was truly on display over the course of the 72 to 80-hour 2013 Death Race.

There was a point in the event where each racer was pushed to their limit, and faced with temptation to quit. Whether it was an injury, soreness, lack of sleep, mental fatigue, competitiveness, or fear, all had their own personal demons to face down. In a situation like this, just toeing the start line takes tremendous courage, and a “Did Not Finish” or “DNF”, is nothing to be ashamed of. But for those who were able to reach down deep and push through the pain and doubt, there was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Daren de Heras finally earned his first “official” finish. “It’s a great feeling. The 2013 Winter Death Race left me with some unanswered questions about myself, but I now feel like I have my confidence back. What a way to celebrate my 40th birthday!”

Will Bowden – first time Death Race competitor and 5th place male finisher – had this to say, “This race was a game changer for me. Any situation that brings you to your mental or physical boundaries (or both), and allows you to decide if you want to hold short or cross them and create a new boundary, will always change the core of your being. The Death Race did just that.”

Eric Wyler – another first time competitor and Death Race finisher – said, “The race was incredible. It’s truly an experience that strips you down and exposes parts of yourself you never though existed. During the 70-ish hours the race lasted, there was nothing on my mind other than the race. Time seemed to pass in a strange, continuous way such that I lost track of whether it was Friday or Saturday or Monday morning. It’s always incredible to do these races and meet so many inspiring people.”

Even the SISU support crew got into the act, staying up long hours to prepare food, shuttle supplies, and provide logistical support to the SISU racers. Three team members even took part in an overnight, 30+ mile hike that brought more than a few participants to their knees. And they did it not for money or glory, but merely for a mutual respect and love for their friends, a bond forged through shared experiences of hardship and triumph. Racers and crew alike bonded together supporting each other, and pushing each other to dig deep, not to quit, and show that true grit which embodies the word, “SISU”.

Team SISU will be back again for the 2014 Peak Death Race, where the theme will be the Year of the Explorer. Find Team SISU at www.facebook.com/groups/278263838919491/. And check out the Peak Death Race at www.youmaydie.com.

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