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Meet the Illinois athletes on the all-Black adventure racing team that's featured on a new Amazon series

Tracy Swartz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- You can't miss Illinois native Coree Woltering -- or his Speedos -- on "World's Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji."

"The Speedo became a thing back in (2016) when I was in Florida for a 50-kilometer race, and I forgot my racing shorts, but I had Speedos with me," Woltering told the Tribune by phone. "I ended up winning that race, and the picture just went like viral on social media, and after that everyone was like, you have to race in a Speedo. That just became my thing."

The 30-year-old professional trail and ultra runner packed several Speedos for the Eco-Challenge, an 11-day race over 416 miles of mountains, jungles, rivers and ocean. The event, which took place in September 2019, is documented on a 10-episode Amazon Prime Video series scheduled to premiere Friday.

The show is hosted by Bear Grylls and executive produced by Mark Burnett, who created the Eco-Challenge race series, which began in 1995 in Utah and ended in 2002 in Fiji. Lisa Hennessy, who grew up in Park Ridge and worked alongside Burnett on those early Eco-Challenges, serves as showrunner and executive producer of the Amazon reboot.

Technology changed a lot in the 17-year break between Eco-Challenges. Nearly 200 cameras were used to record last year's race, including handheld cameras, GoPros, drones and time-lapse cameras. Hennessy said the five-member teams were outfitted with tracking devices that were monitored at race headquarters. Sixty-six teams from 30 countries competed in the race, which required paddling, canyoneering, sailing, climbing, swimming, mountain biking, building rafts, grabbing medallions and other skills.

"It's really an interesting sport where you can have so much diversity on the playing field from background to age to different countries represented," Hennessy said.

 

Woltering and Chicago freelance designer Sam Scipio are on Team Onyx, which is touted as the first all-Black endurance racing team to compete on a global level. Besides finishing the race, the members also wanted to inspire others.

"Our goal was basically to just bring awareness to the fact that there are people of color that like to do adventure sports and just really intense things in the outdoors," said Woltering, who lives in Ottawa, which is about 80 miles southwest of Chicago. "And then personally for me, I also wanted to show that there are people in the LGBTQ+ community that are also very into outdoor sports."

Woltering said the Eco-Challenge was his first adventure race and most of his team didn't know each other when they signed on. He said he trained by mountain biking and practicing new skills like rock climbing, paddling and performing wilderness first aid.

Scipio, 29, said she incorporated training into her everyday activities like walking about four miles from her Avondale home to her job as a bike mechanic at Comrade Cycles in East Ukrainian Village. She said she was most concerned about the water portions of the Eco-Challenge because she learned to swim only a few years ago.

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