What makes SufferFest special? At this point in time in British Columbia, what could be special about an extreme race? Between the Tough Mudder competitions, IRONman, Crankworx, etc, SufferFest simply captures the zeitgeist, right?
It’s just another overly extreme competition, isn’t it? After all, nothing says summertime in British Columbia and the Nelson Kootenay Lake area like extreme competitions.
Well, actually, SufferFest is different. And it’s different in a way that is so delightful that I am having a hard time describing it. It’s different in a way that makes you just want to smile. If I could have just posted an image of me with a huge smile on my face, I would.
Luckily, I had the good fortune to be able to talk to Janis Neufeld about SufferFest. Taking time out of her busy schedule to school me a bit on what it’s like to organize an event like this, which encourages people to get up off their couch and do extraordinary things, often in inclement weather, was awesome.
SufferFest has grown up a bit from its beginnings, when Janis and her husband set out to create an event that would inspire people to really push themselves and to allow them to show off their piece of paradise (the Kaslo, New Denver and Nakusp areas).
In a really cool, very Kootenay way, the race has morphed and grown and matured into a thing that allows participants to be both extremely silly and extremely extreme all at the same time. And allows and encourages people who are feeling super uber-competitive to race alongside little kids, or people who are just out for a walk, or people who would like to run quite slowly. We’re all in this together, after all.
There’s even a “very competitive” race for people who enjoy wearing denim and riding on their Grandma’s 1970’s Schwinn Stingray with banana seat. Sponsored by Marin, no less.
So, though there is a marathon up Idaho Peak, and a 100 km MTB race, and a 50 km race, and much, much more, this is not a race that is attended by people who generally attend extreme competitions. It’s a festival that is attended by people who want to accomplish something. Who have decided that they want to see what they can do. Who come back, year after year to the SufferFest and suffer a little, and give ‘er, and push themselves further than they thought they could. And then they send Janis emails and letters that are full of the emotion they feel at knowing what they can do. Because now they know. And that is so cool.
Created, Nurtured and Grown with Love by Volunteers
In fact, and I had to ask her this, when I asked Janis why she does this, why she devotes hundreds of hours to this festival of suffering, she told me it was because of those emails and letters.
And, “It’s the smiles. They are the friendliest, nicest people. And so many smiling faces. They are all working so hard, in what is sometimes miserable weather, and they can’t help but smile.”
SufferFest is run by an entire army of volunteers who all want people to realize what they are capable of, and to realize this while sharing space in what really is a bit of paradise. This part of the world is special. Those of us who live here know it all too well. The fact that so many of us are willing to dedicate hours and hours to creating things that will bring other people here, just for a bit, to share this space and show off where we live a bit says so much about our collective soul and the gorgeousness that is alive and well in this corner of the world.
And SufferFest is definitely a part of that.