This week’s sports quiz.
Name the most remarkable woman athlete of today.
It is neither of the Herculean sisters of world tennis, Serena or Venus Williams.
It is not Annika Sorenstam of golf.
Nor ice skating’s Michelle Kwan.
It is not swimming’s newest superstar, Natalie Coughlin.
It is not 21-year-old Sarah Fisher, the first woman ever to win a pole position in a major auto race.
And it is not Sheryl Swoopes, the most valuable player in women’s professional basketball.
So who is it?
It is a 41-year-old housewife in Tucson, Arizona, 5-feet 4, 105 pounds, mother of five, who you and millions of others have never heard of, until now.
Her name is Pam Reed, and what she does is unbelievable.
She is a runner.
A distance runner.
A long distance runner.
A very long distance runner.
Not just marathons, but double and triple and multiple marathons. All at once. And some of them in the most forbidding places on earth. Like Death Valley.
Like you, I had never heard of Pam Reed, although I live in Tucson, until she won the Badwater Ultra-Marathon on July 24. I had never heard of the race, either, until columnist Greg Hansen profiled Pam and the Badwater in the Arizona Daily Star.
The Badwater covers 135 miles, through Death Valley in July. Through Stovepipe and Furnace Creek and Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level. Pam told Hansen she knew she could run 135 miles, even there, where runners’ shoe soles melt. Her goal was to run it in less than 30 hours. Her winning time was 27 hours 36 minutes.
Seventy-one runners started the race ”” all of them men except for Pam Reed.
Sixty-two finished, which is remarkable in itself, but none of the 61 guys were anywhere near Mrs. Reed, with the temperature 127 degrees. Her friend and fellow distance runner, Suzy Bacal, followed Pam in a car with medical equipment and supplies, including cans of vitamin-enhanced sports liquids. Pam drank 30 of them, chewed ice throughout the race, and ate half a peanut butter sandwich during the almost 28 hours of running. Suzy ran with her for three hours, and said she was wasted and almost heat-stroked when she got back to the car. Pam kept going for another 25 hours.
It turns out that while the Death Valley run is the most grueling of all long distance races, it is not the only test of human endurance that Pam Reed enjoys competing in. She ran the Boston Marathon in April in 3 hours 30 minutes, and then, without stopping, turned around and ran it the other way in 3 hours and 36 minutes.
Hansen, interviewing her, asked her the logical question: why would she, or anyone, do this to themselves?
Mrs. Reed said she did it for herself, for her own satisfaction. And then she said something amazing. She told Hansen she did for her sanity.
She said her five kids ”” three her own, two stepkids ”” range from 7 to 17, and that "running allows me to get away and focus on other things."
Mothers with five kids, or even one or two, might understand that statement, but they don’t run 100 miles to get away.
Pam Reed says she doesn’t find it exhausting, she finds it exhilarating. She did say, though, that when she finished the Badwater she started crying and couldn’t stop. She was thinking about those five dozen men still out there in the heat of Death Valley, and about the monumental nature of what she had just accomplished.