Hike and fly racing: what it takes
This was Eli’s first race, and her disadvantages were clear. Although she’s an extremely skilled mountaineer and paragliding instructor, physiologically, Eli is unable to hike or fly as fast as many of the male competitors. And those who fail to reach checkpoints by set times are eliminated.
By all accounts, no one really expected her to finish. Admittedly, Eli herself had many doubts.
“I had journalists asking me, ‘Do you really think you’re fit enough to finish this race?,’” she said. “And from male competitors, there was a sense of respect but it was more like, ‘It’s cool that you’re trying, and even if you get eliminated it’s not a big deal because at least you were there.’
“It was hard mentally, because when you keep hearing it all the time you begin to think, ‘Maybe I can’t do this,’” she said. “But in the end it made me stronger, because I wanted to prove that gender doesn’t define limits.”
Having supported another athlete at the two previous editions of the Red Bull X-Alps, Eli was fully aware of the physical and mental stamina she would need to get through the race. Based on that experience, she also developed one key advantage: decision-making.
“I’m good at collecting information and seeing my options,” she said. “This kind of analytical thinking really made it possible to keep on the route.” Something her male competitors occasionally struggled with: where they often chose riskier flight lines in favour of time, Eli chose strategic routes in favour of safety and ease of flight.
Eli’s elected team of supporters, a talented mixed-gender group, kept her in check emotionally and physically as she made daily progress towards the finish.