TEAM SEAGATE.COM NZ WINS ECO-CHALLENGE FIJI
Kiwis Kayak to the Finish, Arriving at Denarau Island Early Friday Morning
Denarau Island, Fiji (Oct. 18, 2002) - Team Seagate.com NZ, of New Zealand, won the ninth Eco-Challenge Friday at 8 a.m., finishing the grueling 500 km Fijian course in 6 days and 23 hours. They paddled to the finish line hours ahead of Teams GoLite from the United States and Air Pacific of Australia who are still currently fighting for second place.
With a crowd of staff, media, volunteers, family and fans cheering on the Kiwis, they paddled two kayaks in unison toward the finish on the sand in front of the Sheraton Royal Hotel. Eco-Challenge Creator Mark Burnett greeted the exhausted but smiling team with congratulations, traditional Fijian Sulu wraps, and a bottle of champagne.
"I congratulate the Kiwis on an outstanding race and a tremendous comeback from adversities faced in this true expedition," Burnett said. "Half-way through the race, no one, including myself and the Kiwis, thought they could finish even in the top three. But just as in life, when people keep pushing, keep moving, and work together, they are able to achieve great things. There's a moral in this victory that could apply to all of us."
He championed the team's resilience along the course despite both Kristina Penny-Strode's perseverance after taking ill for 12 full hours during the race and Team Buff AXN's day six lead of almost 24 hours.
The win was sweet redemption for the Kiwis, who suffered a heart-breaking meltdown less than 24 hours from the finish line in last year's Eco-Challenge on their home soil. That strategy of racing without any sleep served as their ultimate demise after sleep depravation and total exhaustion forced them to rest as the winning Eco-Internet - the team racing under the GoLite moniker this year - passed them by en route to their second consecutive title. A mere 14 minutes split the two teams' final times.
At one point during this year's race, Seagate.com NZ ranked ninth on the leaderboard before charging through the final leg of the race with little sleep. They continued at a steady pace - only sleeping for 30 minutes of the final 40 hours. Aware that the water-savvy Australians had reached the final Checkpoint, Seagate.com NZ charged ahead.
In addition to strategic sleep breaks, co-captain Nathan Fa'avae cited smooth transitions and proper foot care as keys to staying on top of what he considered the most difficult Eco-Challenge to date. "Great course, great race, and awesome people," said Fa'avae.
Long, exhausting and intimidating, the Fiji course covered a range of settings and disciplines in sporadic weather and stayed true to Burnett's desire to make the race a true expedition requiring strategy and ingenuity rather than just a physical footrace. While the majority of the race featured trekking, kayaking, pack rafting, biking, canyoneering and coasteering in the interior of the main island of Viti Levu, the final leg of the course included ocean kayaking and trekking along a string of islands known as the Yasawas.
"This year's Eco-Challenge maintained a focus on the expedition, and I've received wonderful feedback from competitors - from the Kiwis who just won the race, as well as from the many teams who were forced to drop out," Burnett said. "The changes that we've made proved to be just what these athletes wanted - a thoughtful and demanding adventure in the truest form of an expedition."
The bulk of the 23 other teams still on the course were separated into two groups with the secondary leaders expected to finish within 24 hours, and the back of the pack teams not expected to finish for several days. They remain spread out along Checkpoints nine, ten and eleven on the mainland.
Seagate.com NZ was co-captained by Fa'avae, an outdoor instructor, and Neil Jones, a 40-year-old pig hunter. Along with Jeff Mitchell, both Fa'avae and Jones were on last year's squad that finished a close second.
Joining them was new addition Kristina Penny-Strode, a physical education leader from Australia who suffered from sickness and dehydration throughout the race. Refusing to leave the race, Penny-Strode said only "death's door" would have prevented her from moving forward. The victory was particularly sweet for Penn-Strode, who had to bow out of the 1999 Eco-Challenge in Argentina after a brutal fall from a horse, which resulted in her broken ankle.
As Burnett handed the Kiwis a congratulatory bottle of champagne, Fa'avae's wife greeted her man with a hug and kiss. In response to "what's for breakfast," the team shouted "everything!"
It's been a triumphant week for Mark Burnett in general - he was just named Number 38 on Entertainment Weekly's "100 Most Powerful People in Hollywood" list, his hit show "Survivor" continues to flourish at the top of the viewership charts, and Eco-Challenge's new expedition format has now proven successful with today's strong Kiwi finish which also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the day Burnett emigrated to America with $600 in his pocket.