The venerable Omak Suicide Race had its annual rousing run, but
it was done under protest
This is an article from the Aug. 20, 2001 issue
If you've heard of Omak, a tiny saddle town in Northeast
Washington, it's probably because of the Omak Suicide Race, which
each year attracts thousands of onlookers--and some fervent
protesters. "It's what puts our town on the map," said Omak mayor
Walt Smith just before the race began last weekend. "I get calls
pro and con about it. Some people don't understand it."
The Suicides are horse races that have been held almost every
year since 1935. There's one on each day of Omak's annual
four-day rodeo. With townsfolk and tourists lining the course,
the same group of 15 to 20 riders and their mounts gallop
approxmately 40 yards, hurtle down a 225-foot decline of 62
degrees for about 20 seconds, swim or slog 100 yards across the
Okanogan River, scramble up a dirt ramp and sprint 100 yards to
the finish line inside the packed Stampede Rodeo Arena. Each race
takes anywhere from one to two minutes.
Simply reaching the finish area is an achievement, and race
organizers were proud that last Friday all 17 entered horses--with
soaked riders still aboard--made it safely into the Arena. During
the sprint to the finish, however, a horse named Elvis collapsed
and another horse vaulted over him. Both jockeys were thrown and
lay motionless on the ground before receiving treatment for minor
injuries. Elvis, having fallen headfirst, broke his neck and was
euthanized. In an elimination race last week, another horse was
put down after sustaining a broken shoulder. Since the mid-1980s,
at least 15 horses have died in the Omak event.
"We have yet to find a horse race in North America deadlier than
this one," says Richard Huffman, the director of advocacy at the
animal rights group PAWS. "We believe it should not be run."
Huffman and other objectors are up against a long-standing and
much beloved Native American tradition. All but two riders
registered this year are members of the Colville Confederated
tribes; endurance horse racing is woven deeply into their
culture. Riders spend months searching for horses courageous
enough for the Suicide Race (some rear back in fear upon going
off the lip of the decline; others balk at crossing the river),
and they train intensely for them. "It's a tradition among our
Native peoples," says Colville tribe member Pam Moses, whose
husband, Ralph, competes in the Suicide Race. "It's a test of
bravery and trust. You have to become one with your horse, and
your horse becomes one with you."
This year's top rider was George Marchand, 25, a local rancher
and tribe member who took his horse, Roanie, to the overall
championship with his two firsts and two seconds. Not that
Huffman was impressed. "I will be asking the race officials to
stop the race," he says, "but I don't anticipate them listening."
High Drama on a New U.S. Tour
Coming soon to a rock face near you: the U.S. Professional
Climbing Association Tour. The first of this year's three
scheduled events will be held in Salt Lake City this weekend and
will feature such top-ranked climbers as Tommy Caldwell, Chris
Sharma, Lisa Rands and Tori Allen. The $20,000 purse (the male
and female winner will each get $2,000) is one of the largest
ever offered in U.S. competitive climbing. "It's great for the
sport," says Sharma. "Until now, U.S. climbers have had to go to
Europe to compete. Not that we're going to get rich, but finally
we have an event that'll allow us to pay some bills."
With the Indo Board, the landlocked surfer and the Sun Belt
snowboarder can find nirvana in their living rooms
For the uninitiated, the Indo Board might appear to be a bad
accident waiting to happen. The makers of the new indoor
surfing-snowboarding-skateboarding simulator appear to
acknowledge as much, as evidenced by the cartoonishly big and
bold disclaimer they've slapped on the board's face, WARNING: USE
AT YOUR OWN RISK. In fact, for mid-level and world-class athletes
alike, the Indo Board is a swell way to fine-tune technique and
lower-body muscles before hitting the waves or the slopes. Among
those who count themselves as Indo junkies are renowned big-wave
surfer Laird Hamilton and six-time U.S. wakeboard champion Darin
It might take a few days (as opposed to the "10 to 15 minutes"
suggested by the product's website, www.indoboard.com) before you
can comfortably balance yourself on the board and enjoy a maximum
workout. Nonetheless, no matter how often you might fall, there's
something addictive about the 30-by-18-inch device (complete with
rocker for $99.95). Its pleasures range from the (brief)
vicarious thrill of imagining yourself in the maw of a 40-foot
swell to its capacity to kill time in your office on a slow
afternoon. If you tire of using the Indo, entertain yourself by
inviting coworkers to go for a test ride. We can assure you it'll
be better than an episode of Jackass. --Albert Chen
As of Monday, billionaire adventurer Steve Fossett was
approaching South America, having covered more than 10,000 miles
in his fifth attempt to make the first solo trip around the
globe in his hot-air balloon, SoloSpirit (above). Fossett, who
launched from the Australian Outback on Aug. 5 and whose longest
solo trip, in 1998, was 14,226 miles, hopes to complete the
voyage by late next week....
Brian Robinson, who is vying to become the first to complete
hiking's Triple Crown in a single year (SI, July 23), completed
the 2,645-mile Pacific Crest Trail three weeks ago. Currently
approaching Leadore, Idaho, on the Continental Divide, Robinson
has roughly 1,400 miles left on the CDT, after which he will
tackle the remaining 590 miles of the Appalachian Trail....
C.J. Hobgood, the top-ranked competitor on the Association of
Surfing Professionals tour, teamed with pro motocross rider
David Castillo to win the third annual Surfercross in Southern
California last week. In the athlete-organized event,
surfer-and-rider pairs are chosen out of a hat, and each
teammate competes in both a surfing heat and on a motocross
track. Other top surfers who finished in the Top 5 were Sunny
Garcia and Kalani Robb.
You think you've endured a hot summer? Baste as you might have
under last week's record-breaking heat across the U.S., you
won't get any sympathy from Marshall Ulrich (SI, July 23), who
recently completed the famously brutal Badwater Quad
Ultramarathon course (146 miles each way, 584 total) in a
scorching 10 days and 13 hours. Temperatures on the
course--which began 282 feet below sea level in Badwater,
Calif.--reached a foot-melting 126[degrees]. "I hallucinated 10
percent of the time I was out there," Ulrich says. "I remember
seeing four dozen scorpions on the road, thinking it was a
hallucination. But in a scorpion hallucination they jump out and
attack you. These ran away. I guess they were real."
Percent increase, from 1995 to 2000, in the number of Americans
who skateboard, according to a survey by the National Sporting
Goods Association. Snowboarder participation during the same
period increased by 53.6%. Some of the laggards? Basketball, ice
hockey and tennis, in which participation declined 9.6%, 13.6%
and 21.4%, respectively.
For more adventure, go to siadventure.com. Check out these
--Budget-friendly ski trips to Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.
--Link to transworldmatrix.com, your extreme sports source.
--Trail Guide: complete U.S. national parks database.
Faces and Feats
Renee Hanks, Arcata, Calif.
Hanks, 31, became the first female kiteboarder in Gorge Games
history to finish the event's Blowout competition. Hanks
completed the 17-mile race in 2:47:25. In last weekend's Bridge
of the Gods competition in Stevenson, Wash., she finished third.
Jonathan Vaughters, Denver
Vaughters, 28, won last weekend's Saturn Cycling Classic with a
time of 6:50:58. The grueling race, which begins in Boulder,
Colo., and ends 140 miles later in Breckenridge, consists of
seven major climbs, three of which exceed 10,000 feet.
Karen Ann McKeachie, Ann Arbor, Mich.
McKeachie, 48, won the Ann Arbor Triathlon in the women's
division for the second straight year. McKeachie, who was USA
Triathlon's athlete of the year in 1999, completed the course
(half-mile swim, 14-mile bike ride, five-mile run) in 1:31:10.
Submit Faces candidates to siadventure.com/faces
Biff of the month
What Goes Up...After losing his grip in the stand-up pro
freestyle competition at an International Jet Sports Boating
Association event in Ventura, Calif., Josh Lustic readies himself
for the unplanned reentry.