Life is an adventure
• Adventure racer Teri Snyder healed herself by pushing beyond her pain
Adventure racing ÑÊan extreme sport that for up to 12 days at a time takes three- to five-person teams over mountains, across rivers, through jungles and sometimes down 100-foot cliffs ÑÊhas served as Teri Snyder's personal voyage in self-discovery.
It's helped Snyder, a 34-year-old mother of two, deal with a dark incident that took place 22 years ago.
When she was 12, Snyder and her mother visited her older sister, who worked at an Idaho mountain resort. There, in a small tent, a stranger raped her.
'I've always been very independent, and I ran around all over the place and talked with people,' says Snyder, one of the country's top female adventure racers.
'I walked by this campsite, and there was a guy sitting there and he said, 'Hello,' and I said, 'Hi, how are you doing?' He said, 'Hey, come on over.' So I did. And that's when it all started.'
The man, in his late 20s, threatened to kill her if she told anyone. Scared and embarrassed, she tried to bury the rape in her mind, but it was a slow burning ember. It took her four years to tell anyone. After that awkward discussion with her best friend, she didn't tell anyone else until she was 18.
Since then, she has spoken sparingly about it. This is the first time she's discussed it publicly. The more she talks about it, she says, the easier it is to cope with.
'I suppose it was something that I could've prevented at the time,' Snyder says. 'Hindsight, yes, if I hadn't gone up to him, but I did. And that's part of the reason (why) for so long I felt it was my fault.'
She ends self-blame
Recurring nightmares plagued Snyder into adulthood, and she lived with the shame often associated with rapes.
When she began adventure racing, she used her emotions as motivation. Before long, her anger and rage were funneled into a fierce competitiveness, and she excelled in the sport, winning her first race in 1998.
'Racing really forced me to deal with it,' she says. 'It doesn't seem like it, but when you're out there for 18 hours straight and you're tired, you start to know yourself.'
As she delved deeper into her world of self-discovery, Snyder began to realize that she was racing for the wrong reasons. That's when she finally accepted that she can't change the past.
'You understand and learn over time Ñ and through a lot of mistakes and challenges Ñ that you've got so much more than what that person took away from you,' she says. 'And I needed to learn that.'
Snyder no longer blames herself for what happened. That, she says, was one of the hardest lessons to learn.
'Talking about it and having your nightmares end is one piece, but really dealing with it and getting to know yourself and accepting and loving yourself is really important.
'That took me a long time,' she says. 'And it hurt. I have never been really good in relationships because of it, and for a long time I didn't know myself.
'You really need to accept the things that have happened to you and accept the choices you've made and the person you are. When you do that, you can become a better person.'
Snyder says she's more at ease in personal relationships and no longer feels guilt or shame. She'll tell you she's a stronger person now and happier. And she feels more confident that she is racing not because she's angry but because she's happy.
'I've been more focused now and have been for the last six months,' she says. 'Now, I'm racing for all the right reasons: It makes me feel good, and I'm able to give back to the sport in so many ways.'
It began with triathlons
In the early 1990s, Snyder did triathlons and road races. In 1998, she moved off-road, competing in mountain bike races, trail scrambles, snowshoe races and orienteering events.
That led her to adventure racing. In her first three seasons, she and her teammates won twice, including the 110-mile Houston Urban Onion event, and had many second- and third-place finishes.
'Initially, it was the concept that drew me to the sport Ñ the idea of a team of three people working together, competing together side by side,' she says.
Relatively new and hardly mainstream, adventure racing is one of the fastest-growing extreme sports. Each race includes mountain biking, paddling and trail running Ñ while finding your way through an unmarked course with a compass and map. Race directors typically add at least one other discipline.
In December, Snyder competed in a 210-mile race in the British Virgin Islands that included swimming, kayaking, mountain biking, rappelling, sailing, trekking and scuba diving.
Each team must include a female. Snyder happens to be adept at most adventure racing disciplines, so she is highly sought after. Few women can match her strengths in mountain biking, navigating and kayaking.
Pain and suffering go hand in hand in this sport. Adventure racers, who must carry their provisions, compete for days at a time with little or no sleep.
'I've learned to challenge myself beyond what I think I'm capable of in every situation, and it has definitely spilled over into the real world,' Snyder says. 'We all face challenges every day, and most of us give up too early and too easily.'
She's tough, too
It's easy to imagine how the sport can bring out the worst in people. With athletes competing in demanding situations, breakdowns Ñ exhaustion, hunger, injuries and mental Ñ are just a step away. In the heat of battle, some racers get testy and agitated, but Snyder remains true to her sweet self.
According to racers, she is as tough as they come. So tough that teammate John Hartley marvels at her tolerance of pain.
'We did a race in Chicago, and she tried out a backpack she never used before,' Hartley says. 'On her lower back, she had very little skin left. It was one of the worst abrasion wounds I've ever seen, and she never said a word about it.'
Former teammate Adam Chase of Boulder, Colo., recalls when Snyder met her Hi-Tech teammates. The trio planned a 15-mile training run at 6,000 feet. Not used to those heights, and running at six-minute mile pace (she usually runs a 7:30 minute mile), Snyder got altitude sickness midway through.
'So we called mountain rescue,' Chase recalls. 'Here's Teri feeling pretty much at her worst, and at that point she was as sweet as you could find. Even under those conditions, I knew we had a good race mate.'
When she came to, Chase says, Snyder apologized to the rescue workers and her teammates for inconveniencing them.
'To me, that's quintessential Teri,' he says. 'Never heard a grumble out of her, and that's what makes a good adventure racer, someone who's willing to put it on the line for the betterment of the team.'
Flexible job helps
Snyder has become a goodwill ambassador for the sport. She's an instructor for Adventure Training Consultants in California and GirlTeams, a weekend-long program in which she teaches women mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking and navigation skills.
She's also an instructor for Inspired Adventure in Portland, as well as two other adventure racing clinics on the East Coast. She's on the athlete advisory board for the Gorge Games in Hood River. Later this year, she'll compete with a team of writers from Sports Illustrated who will write a feature story on adventure racing.
Add a full race schedule Ñ she's competing in 15 races this year Ñ and it's no surprise that she's on the road more than 100 days a year.
Snyder, who is divorced, admits that being an adventure racer is hard on relationships and makes it difficult to hold down a full-time job.
Her employer, Bindery Systems of Portland, allows her the flexibility to juggle a full race schedule and a career. She maintains an amiable relationship with her ex-husband, and she's very close with her two boys, Charlie and Jalen.
'I didn't intend for it to get as overwhelming as it did,' she says. 'I thought I'd dabble in it, but as I got more involved in it, I found that it brings out so many positive things. The negative is that it is hard on relationships because you are gone so much.
'I love everything about adventure racing. I love the challenges, the teamwork, the mental state it puts you in, and all the different levels it takes you to.'