Mary Foss knows about physical pain. The 29-year-old has suffered and triumphed through numerous mountain bike races and recently qualified for and finished the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii, which included a 1-mile ocean swim, an 18.3-mile mountain bike, and a 6.1-mile run.
But Foss also knows that being able to endure that pain, pushing through it and conquering it is one way of affirming life.
When Foss was 12 years old her 17-year-old sister was hit and killed while crossing the road in the small Arizona town where they grew up. Foss, now an Ogden resident, has taken that painful loss and used it to prick herself into living a full life -- one that includes testing her body and relishing being alive.
"I think that of all the people that never had that chance, like my sister," said Foss about what keeps her doing Xterra races. "There were so many things she never got to experience because her life was cut short and it's horribly unfair.
"There are people that have to go through things all the time, and you think about what is real suffering. My Grandma has cancer, and every now and then when I think, 'This is so hard,' and I want to back off and go easier, then I'll think of those times and the people that would kill for the opportunity to just do it, that would kill to have the freedom of movement," she said.
To qualify for Xterra Worlds, Foss placed second in her age division at the Las Vegas Xterra in April. She did the Ogden Xterra Long course this year and placed second in her age group. Then this month she planned her race, packed her bags and headed to Hawaii for the World Championships, where her goal was to finish and to finish feeling good.
Foss said that she came out of the water close to last place, but made up time on the bike, where she turned in the second-fastest bike split in her age group. During the run she started to suffer from asthma and the sun beat into her.
"I could barely breathe and if you were to hear me laboring on, you would think I was on my death bed," wrote Foss in a race report that she shared with the Standard-Examiner.
"The sun was cruel and the lack of wind was killing me. I don't remember much (it's more convenient to block out the bad parts), but I do remember wanting to just stop and sit on the trail or at the water station for the rest of the day. I don't know what made me continue."
While the feeling good part didn't quite work out for her, Foss did finish and had the second-fastest bike time (1:52:12) and was 10th overall in her age division.
"I had come to Maui to finish and I am thrilled now to say that I did," she wrote in the report. "It wasn't the hardest thing I have ever done, but the last few miles of the run were probably some of the worst moments of my life. I suppose that is what makes it so good, and makes me want to go back (maybe with some swim lessons under my belt)."
Foss, who works at Fresenius Medical Care as a utilities engineering manager, said that Xterra racing is just part of how she affirms the value of life and remembers her sister, Elizabeth Wilcox.
"Maybe she would have grown up to be a triathlete. She probably would be kicking my butt right now. Maybe we would go and train together and travel the world. Maybe.
"The lesson that I learned at 12 my sister taught me. You never know when your time is up. Our time here on Earth isn't a given. There is no money back guarantee," wrote Foss in explaining her reason for doing Xterra.
"Even as I write this now I am keenly aware of just how fragile human life is. That doesn't mean that you should hide out and try and escape whatever inevitable fate is waiting for you, but instead, bring it on. Bring on all that life has to offer and marvel at how flippin' awesome it is. I'm coming and racing for my sister, just like everything else that I do. She never got the chance and in some way life seems a little bit more fair if I can go for her."