The Swamp Sisters Did It!

Every adventure race I’ve done, whether the outcome has been what I had hoped for or not, has transformed the experience into a life lesson and provided another chapter to add to my book of tales.

This is one of the reasons my husband/teammate and I created the Yukon Adventure Challenge. We want to provide people with an opportunity to challenge themselves both physically and mentally and perhaps learn something about themselves.

The Yukon Adventure Challenge is a 24 to 36-hour adventure race based in the Yukon.

Teams of two or four have trekked, biked, paddled and rappelled across some of the most beautiful, rugged terrain our territory has to offer.

One of the most amazing stories from the 2007 race is a two-person women’s team that called themselves, “The Swamp Sisters”.

The Swamp Sisters were not new to adventure racing. They had attempted the 2002 Raid the North Extreme that was hosted in the Yukon, but due to some difficulties were forced to drop out.

They had entered our 2006 race, but were again forced to drop out.

The Swamp Sisters had approached us several months before the 2007 race and asked, “Do you think we can finish this race?”

Honestly, not knowing the answer to that question, we spent some time talking about mistakes they had made from their previous races, gear choices, training and could only hope for the best for them.

As race day arrived and teams left the shores of Bennett Lake for the first leg of the race, I watched the Swamp Sisters depart from shore and wondered what was in store for them.

The race began with a three to four-hour paddle, followed by a 23-kilometre mountain trek, a 100-plus-kilometre mountain bike/mountain bike push and a short paddle to the finish, all while navigating with a map and compass.

The Swamp Sisters completed the mountain trek in 16 hours. This was nearly twice as long as it took the lead team, but I was elated to hear they had completed it and had set off on their bikes, minutes before the cut-off time.

Having tested the bike section of the course again the week before, I also knew this section was every bit as tough as the mountain trek, only they were doing it with 17 hours of racing fatigue in their body.

Because of the remoteness of the race course, radio contact was limited between checkpoints. As the hours passed, I began to get a little bit worried.

It was now midday the following day, 31 hours after the gun went off in Carcross, teams were crossing the finish line and still no word on the Swamp Sisters.

Finally the call came in from the last checkpoint staff on the bike section: the Swamp Sisters had made it to the checkpoint and were on their way.

Several more hours went by and all the teams came in that were going to finish. The Swamp Sisters were the only ones left on the course.

The 36-hour time cut-off passed and no word still.

Finally, a call came in from the checkpoint staff at the end of the bike leg. The Swamp Sisters had completed the bike section and were on their way to the finish line!

Then we saw them round the bend of the river. As they pulled their canoe up to shore, one of the girls said, “We have met our dream!”

I felt tears come to my eyes. As they crossed the finish line and I handed them their celebratory bottle of champagne, I couldn’t help but think what an inspiration these two women are.

Their perseverance, hours of preparation and hard work had paid off. Although a difficult journey, I am sure it is one which they will never forget.

After all, isn’t it usually the most difficult journeys that make for the best stories?

Denise McHale is an adventure racer, ultra runner and marathon runner. She and her husband, Greg, race as part of the top Canadian adventure racing team in the country. They are also the race directors for the Yukon Adventure Challenge. This year’s event is a 12 to 18-hour adventure race and is scheduled for July 12. For more information check out

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