Amelia Boone's grit and glamour put her at forefront of obstacle racing

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Amelia Boone comes under some crushing burdens as a obstacle race competitor. But she can smile because she is the world champion in this rising sport.

“We’ve got Amelia Boooooooo-oooooooooooooooooooooo-

ooooone here!”

That was what the announcer boomed at the start of the Spartan Race Gravel Pit in Las Vegas last March, because among all of the gutsy competitors at the starting line, the gutsiest and greatest of them all was there — obstacle racing world champion Amelia Boone.

Lake Oswego can take special pride in this because Boone grew up in Lake Oswego and graduated from Lakeridge High School. Just before the starter’s gun goes off, Boone looks wonderful, like Obstacle Racer Barbie. Boone is slim, blonde and 5 feet 9 inches of chiseled muscle.

Then Boone proceeded on to a competition that almost any athlete would consider nuts — running 9 miles covered with excruciating obstacles, jagged hills, high walls in the middle of mud puddles, while carrying heavy objects for miserably long distances and crawling on her belly under live wires and barbed wire. It was sort of like No Man’s Land without the machine guns.

Actually, the Las Vegas obstacle course wasn’t so bad. Boone has competed over much longer and more difficult courses in events that lasted up to three days. At least there wasn’t a chance of Boone freezing to death. However, she did have to sign a waiver to absolve Spartan of responsibility just in case she dropped dead.

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Amelia Boone races through Tryon Creek State Park as part of her training while on a visit home. When not competing, she is a lawyer in Chicago.

Welcome to the world of obstacle racing, a sport that the 30-year-old Boone loves and dominates. Many people, such as marathoners and triathletes, do not call this outrageously difficult sport a sport. They call it suffering. If the early American pioneers would have had to face the obstacles Boone does, they would have turned back. Once a little girl who was a softball and soccer phenom back in Lake Oswego, Boone is now the face of a sport that is rapidly rising in popularity. She is held in awe by other obstacle runners. “I think she’s an animal,” said one of her toughest competitors.

Boone’s exterior has always masked a ferocious desire to win, even when newspaper photos showed her as a 6-year-old girl smiling cutely in her soccer uniform or unleashing a fastball from the pitcher’s mound. She was unlike any other athlete her age. But just when her high school athletics career should have been really taking off, she quit sports and took up singing and performing with Company, Lakeridge’s well-known musical group. Yes, Amelia Boone was a complicated kid. She was always highly intelligent, and today she works as a bankruptcy attorney for one of the world’s leading law firms, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom of Chicago.

So why does such a person allow herself to be drenched with mud while scaling walls? What makes her endure suffering? Is this really the World’s Toughest Mudder? You betcha.

Boone’s startling career started because a few of her law firm buddies came to her with a wild idea three years ago.

“My friends told me about the Toughest Mudder and said, ‘Let’s do it!’” Boone said.

The event was held in a pleasant little place called Devil’s Head, Wis., but Boone was keen to give it a try.

“We heard it was awful. Our goal was just to finish,” Boone said. “I took off and I had a blast. My friends said they never wanted to do it again. They thought I was crazy, but I thought it was cool. It was different from anything I had ever done before. There was crawling, climbing and swinging, like a playground. Except you had to go through freezing water. There was an entire sensory experience.

“I do well with pain and suffering. I don’t pay any attention to it.”

Meanwhile, back home her family was worried sick.

“Frightened,” was how Amelia’s mother Irene Boone described her feeling when her daughter started this ultra-difficult sport. “We were concerned about her safety. On her first race we followed every move she made over the Internet. Amelia’s threshold of pain is quite amazing.”

This quality helped her survive the 72-hour Death Race in Vermont. When it was done only four people had finished, and one of them was Boone. She went on to win the World’s Toughest Mudder title, the Spartan Race championship and over a dozen other obstacle racing extravaganzas. She even pocketed $25,000 for winning the Reebok championship, a financial breakthrough for obstacle racing athletes. She has also received a lot of attention she never expected.

“Amelia is an incredible ambassador for our sport,” said Adrian Bijanada, director of the OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) World Championship. “She is a true role model. She has balanced her professional life with her athletic career. She is one of the most famous and well liked athletes, and she’s even better as a person. She’s the figurehead for one of the fastest growing sports in the world. She’s a threat to win at any distance, and very few athletes compete at every distance. There are very few events where she is not the favorite.”

Best of all, Boone’s parents Dan and Irene now feel pride and joy instead of fear when Amelia is competing. They even got to see her compete in person for the first time at the Pacific NW Spartan Race in Washougal, Wash. on Aug. 2 (Amelia finished second) and had a wonderful time.

“We’re at ease because we’ve seen how much Amelia enjoys doing it,” Irene said. “Now we look forward to seeing how she does. We had a huge family dinner after her event in Washington. She was fine. She was a little beat up, but she’s used to it.”

Sometimes when Boone, covered gloriously in mud, crosses a finish line in first place, she does some humorous muscle flexing. That is about as far as her ego trip goes.

“I lucked into it,” Boone said of becoming the glitter girl of obstacle racing. “We’re in the infancy of the sport. I like to think that I’m a pioneer. I never expected to end up where I am. I thought I would just run around in the mud for fun.

“This has been kind of unexpected. I always like to be the underdog. But I can’t do that.”

Yes, it is hard to be an underdog when you are usually finishing first. But having your events televised on NBC and ESPN is nice compensation. Boone’s friend Bijanada is now negotiating a contract with ESPN for televising the world championships in October.

Boone also noted, “One of the coolest parts is that the kids of my friends see me as a role model. I’m just a regular human being, but we do need good role models.”

There is now even a movement to make obstacle racing an Olympic sport, but if that happens Boone does not expect to compete.

“I’m age 30 now,” she said. “I’m on the tail end of my career. There’s more people coming into the sport, and the focus will shift to other athletes.”

Until that happens, however, she will continue to be “Amelia Boooooooooooooooooooooooo-oooooooooooone!”

Photo Credit: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Once a sports phenom as a girl in Lake Oswego, Boone has become a sensation as the first star of obstacle racing. She is usually the favorite to win any race at any distance.

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