August 24, 2001


By Melissa Bailey

FORT GREELY, Alaska -- The daughter of a National City man wants an all expenses paid trip to New Zealand, but she's not interested in relaxing at the beach. She aimes to take part in Eco-Challenge: New Zealand, the world's premier expedition race and one of the most physically demanding "man against nature" competitions imaginable.

But to get to New Zealand in October, Army Staff Sgt. Tiffany Morse, daughter of Michael Austen, Van Ness, National City, would first have to prove herself at the Armed Forces Eco-Challenge, a grueling multi-sport adventure race across Alaska's marshland, snow covered mountains, rocky bike trails and glacial-fed rivers.

Army Staff Sgt. Tiffany Morse

Morse and her three teammates, along with 21 other military teams of four, each with at least one female competitor, squared off for a slot on an Eco-Challenge team. Their objective: complete the punishing non-stop 150-mile course in a challenge that transcends physical fitness and the individual. The very essence of the race lies in team dynamics and the ability to solve problems under constant stress, including little sleep and limited food.

"My expectations are to be just as good as one of the other team members and not hold anybody back. I want to be right up front with them," explained Morse, currently stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. "Our team is going to come in first because we're the underdogs, and we're going to take it all."

Two days before the race Morse and the other competitors were required to undergo qualification testing to show officials they had the skills necessary to complete the course. Judges examined their kayaking swimming, orienteering, cycling and mountaineering skills before allowing teams to participate. The race demands mutual respect for others and for the environment. All individuals involved in any aspect of the race - racers, media and event staff - must adhere to stringent environmental guidelines, thus putting the "eco" in Eco-Challenge.

During the race, competitors are pushed to the very edge of human endurance, both physically and mentally. "I trained with another team for about nine months doing endurance and a little mountain training a long with boating and some running," said Morse. "As far as mental preparation, I just psyched myself out for the whole thing. That's mental enough for me. I'm just thinking about getting through this and finishing first."

Each competitor raced with someone special in mind. "Our team is competing in memory of Joseph Sayer, Sr. He was a good friend of mine and I'd like to dedicate my personal race to him," said Morse.

The Armed Forces Eco-Challenge is a race measured in pain-endured lessons. If one person quits, or is injured, the entire team is disqualified. To succeed is to finish as a team; to win demands an extraordinary effort. For Morse and her teammates, whether win or lose, to finish the race meant the challenge of a lifetime.

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