It’s a miserable cold, rainy day in September 2013 in the mountain village of Kaslo, B.C. Race director Janis Neufeld, ’95 BPE, is wrapped up in her wet-weather gear at the finish line of the fourth annual Kootenay Sufferfest. She greets each race participant, regardless of their finish time, with enthusiastic clapping, hoots and a supportive hug.
“What brings a smile to my face is watching everyone who crosses the finish line. I love seeing how happy and proud they are of their accomplishments, regardless of how far they went or how long it took,” says the soon-to-be Ironman competitor (more on that later).
Whether they’re serious athletes or first-timers, Neufeld’s enthusiasm for all of them illustrates an infectious commitment to good health that has enriched the lives of many living in southeast British Columbia. And as a professional coach and owner of a sports store in Nakusp, B.C., with her husband, Shon, helping others set goals for physical fitness is something she loves to do.
“Moving to the Kootenays in 2009 was a great opportunity for me to help others get off the couch, get active and get the most out of their incredible natural surroundings,” Neufeld says, describing the motivation to start up the Kootenay (originally Kaslo) Sufferfest in 2010.
“I had already started up a local runners club for people of all ages and abilities, and the Kaslo Hotel suggested the idea of an event to draw more people into the community, something family-friendly that anyone could take part in.”
The Sufferfest includes separate events for trail running, mountain biking and cyclocross, as well as an extreme, not-for-the-faint-hearted multi-day trail running race called the “Loonie Toonie.” It’s rapidly gaining in popularity and notoriety among riders and runners in British Columbia and Alberta.
“Some competitors said our 100-kilometre event last year might even have been the hardest one-day mountain biking ride in Canada,” Neufeld says.
But she says the Sufferfest is primarily a festival, rather than a competition, designed so every family member can take part. “There are distances and disciplines for everyone.”
Her favourite events are those the kids can do. “I often cry standing at that finish line; it’s just so great to see kids out moving and giving it their best.”
Have her kids inherited her love of sport? “Yup! Setting an example works much better than nagging. I’m glad they think it’s just ‘normal’ to have a mom compete in a 12-hour race,” she says of steep goals she has set for herself.
The most recent was to tackle the 2014 Coeur d’Alene Ironman in Idaho on June 29. She finished third in the 40-44 women’s age group, qualifying for a coveted spot at this year’s Ironman World Championship Oct. 11 in Hawaii. She’ll be one of 2,000 athletes who will swim, cycle and run a 226-kilometre course on the black lava fields of Kona and along the Kona Coast.
Now she’s training for the Ironman World Championship on top of organizing the 2014 Sufferfest. The pace doesn’t faze her, though.
“It is so worth it,” she says.
“We live in such an incredible part of Canada, and it’s amazing how many people come back year after year to take part [in Sufferfest], despite the name.”