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For Olympian Holly Brooks, Mount Marathon is everything

By Emily Carlson Photojournalist: John Thain - 7:27 PM July 1, 2014

On the Fourth of July, the town of Seward will be jammed with thousands of runners, mountain lovers and spectators who gather for the iconic Alaska race: Mount Marathon.

This year’s women’s favorite is Olympian Holly Brooks. But the reason why the elite athlete climbs the mountain may surprise you.

When you’re an Olympic athlete, finding new ways to challenge yourself can be nearly impossible. But in the Chugach Mountains, Brooks finds the motivation to keep pushing. A cross-country skier in the last two Olympic Games, Brooks has found a sport even more addicting than the last.

“Some people call Mount Marathon the Olympics of Alaska,” Brooks said.

Training on the backside of Flattop Mountain, Brooks says wouldn’t have qualified for the Olympics if she hadn’t been toughened by Mount Marathon first.

“I was leading the race at the top and leading three-quarters of the way down. I don’t really remember much, but it was 80 degrees and I passed out literally right in front of the ER,” Brooks said.

In 2009, heat and dehydration foiled Brooks. She spent 11 hours in the emergency room with a blood blister on her foot, leaving only briefly to quickly cross the finish line.

“I discharged myself from the emergency room. I took the IVs out of my arm and walked across the finish line and then walked back to the hospital. I think I finished 212th that year,” Brooks said.

While the race drained her, it only fueled her competitive spirit. In that moment, Brooks realized she needed to push herself even harder in her other sport: skiing.

“I normally don’t believe in these kinds of things, but it came to me. A light bulb went off in my head that I was going to try and make the Vancouver 2010 Olympics,” she said.

Brooks made the 2010 Olympic team. Then, she pushed herself even further, winning Mount Marathon in 2012. Today, she calls the race her addiction, a drug that keeps her climbing higher.

The chunk of rock in Seward holds a few other special memories. In 2008, her husband Robert proposed to her two days before the race. The next year, she was married just a few days after she crossed the finish line. She’s the favorite going into this year’s race. For Brooks, however, the best part of the race isn’t winning.

“Mount Marathon is all about determination and pushing yourself,” she said.

From the steep incline on the mountain to the view from the top, Mount Marathon is everything to Brooks. Step by grueling step, which only a world-class athlete would love about home.

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