‘The unknown is my only fear’: Alaskan set to push personal limits with 24-hour race in Sweden
For as long as she can remember, Jennifer Hufford says she has loved to compete.
Hufford was born and raised in Alaska. She was a figure skater and competed around the world but says she had to find another sport to latch onto.
"It was trying to find a sport that gave me the same athleticism for the rest of life, but something you could do,” Hufford said. “Where figure skating, there kind of comes an age — like gymnastics — the body just kind of says, ‘Alright, we're good.”
It wouldn’t be just any old sport Hufford would try. She tried coaching and even dabbled in bodybuilding. However, there was a sport and an athlete that caught her eye.
"We have a former world champion here, Matt Novakovich, he was the one that kind of put my eye on the prize in Spartan racing years ago," Hufford said. "I really followed him and admired him, and his tenacity and what he was doing."
Spartan races are long-distance courses where competitors have to climb over, swim across or carry items through obstacles.
One day Hufford says Novakovich, whose nickname is "The Bear,” asked her to finally do an event — so she did.
In her first race, Hufford says she qualified for nationals but decided she wanted to challenge herself even more. So she set her sights high and has been training for the Ultra World Championship, a 24-hour obstacle course race that takes place in Sweden in early November.
Timothy Flynn, who is part of the crew traveling to Sweden with Hufford, says the race has less than 500 competitors who qualified worldwide, and Hufford is the only Alaskan to make the cut.
"The course is 5-mile loops, [2,000-2,500] feet elevation gain per loop with 30-35 obstacles per loop. For every obstacle failed, 30 burpees are performed,” Flynn wrote in an email. “Most mileage racked up after 24 hours wins.”
Flynn says the ultimate goal for the competitors is to finish 100 miles within those 24 hours, but Hufford says she's not afraid to fail.
"The only fear of anything is failure for most people and I don't have the fear of failure. I have more of the fear of the unknown and that’s just because you can't really plan for 24 hours," Hufford said.
Hufford has a GoFundMe page set up to help with some of the travel, but the money raised also goes toward support for athletes who compete in para Spartan races. She says raising the money is a way to give back. Her brother, the late Mark Hufford, was a hand cyclist champion who was paralyzed from the waist down.
"The disabled is huge to my heart, and to be able to help them, to show them that they can do everything just as much as we can if not, some of them, even better," Hufford said.
ESPN will be filming the event starting on Nov. 8 with the parade of nations. The race gets underway the following day at noon Sweden time.
Hufford and Flynn are planning to livestream on Facebook.
"As long as reception permits, my goal is to update everyone on her Facebook Live every [time] she completes a lap,” Flynn said. “Her main goal is to hit the 24-hour mark, as it only has about 20% statistic rate of the racers getting that prestigious accomplishment.”
Hufford leaves for Sweden on Friday, Nov. 1.
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