Power to the (13-Year-Old) She
On September 29th, I completed marathon number two of seven. What does seven signify? The seven continents of the world. My journey began at age nine, sitting on my couch at home flipping through the Guinness Book of World Records. I stumbled across the youngest person to run a marathon on every continent, then held by a 27-year-old male. I figured it was the least I could do in memory of my dad, who died just months earlier of prostate cancer at the age of 40. I would set out on this journey for him and all the one in six men affected by prostate cancer.
My name is Winter and I’m the founder of Team Winter, a non-profit organization to fund prostate cancer research and raise awareness for a cancer far more common than even breast cancer. Men don’t want to talk about prostate cancer, so this 13-year-old girl is! I just returned from Kenya last week where I completed the Amazing Massai Marathon. This was my second continent in my Winter’s World Marathon Tour for Prostate Cancer Awareness. I completed the Eugene Marathon earlier this year with a time of 3:45. My goal, to complete a marathon on every continent before I turn fifteen.
Over the summer, I was selected to the Olympic Development Team, Fly Elite, for aerial skiing and now reside and train in Park City, UT. My sights are set on competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Headed to Kenya, I knew I was well trained and acclimated to the altitude of over 7,600 feet. My training had paid off and Sunday I found myself, a 13-year-old girl from the U.S., leading the race amongst a talented field of Kenyan runners. It took until mile 20 for two Kenyan runners to overtake my lead and finish just minutes ahead of me. I placed third overall female in my first trail marathon, through tough, hot, hilly and unfamiliar Maasai territory, carrying an eight pound Camelbak for hydration and covering the 26.2 miles in four hours and four minutes.
During this race, it was recommended that each runner pair up with someone in our group to run with. Since my pace didn’t match up with anyone, the race director consulted the Massai tribe to provide one of their top young runners to accompany me through the desolate Maasai countryside. By mile 16, the 17-year-old Massai named Johnson was reduced to walking. The last 10 miles I continued my journey to the finish line on my own with no other runners in sight. I was occasionally joined by small Maasai children. They would run barefoot alongside ome, some for half a mile or so, with no parent in sight. Small boys could be seen herding their goats and cattle, and the younger girls were carrying their siblings on their back. You see, this marathon helps pay for Kenyan girls to get a high school education. Last year’s marathon put 20 girls into school that could not otherwise afford to go. In Kenya they say, “You educate a Kenyan boy, you educate an individual, you educate a Kenyan girl and you educate a nation.”
Knowing, as I ran that day, I might be helping educate one of those children running alongside me, knowing I might be helping even just one man with prostate cancer, made me feel “amazing.” I found myself saying the word “amazing” many times last week in Kenya. Amazing culture, amazing beauty, amazing people, amazing animals, amazing race. There could be no better name for the Amazing Maasai Marathon that is inspired and run by four individuals brought together after being on the Amazing Race TV series.
Every marathon I’m learning more about myself, especially my love and gift for endurance running. Don’t be alarmed, I was not truly alone as I ran in Kenya. Those who know me will attest — I never run alone. My dad is always with me. He keeps me company and encourages me, he empowers me to dig deep through tough conditions and through pain. Few things can fuel an athlete more than the love of their dad that left them too soon. My message to others is, “Never give in and never let age or gender be a barrier.” I’ve been told by many that I’m too young to run marathons despite the research showing otherwise. I’m trained by an amazing run coach who believes, as I do, “Cancer shows no age barriers, and neither does my running.”
Never Give In!
WINTER VINECKI is a tenacious, 13-year-old Fly Elite aerial skier and two-time IronKids National Triathlon Champion, and holds the prestigious position, for the third year in a row, as the Ambassador for the IronKids youth triathlon series. At age nine, after the death of her father, Winter founded Team Winter, a non-profit organization that raises awareness of and helps fund research to end prostate cancer. Her goal is to run a marathon on all seven continents before she turns fifteen. Follow her “Chasing down Prostate Cancer” at TeamWinter.org.