It has been 240 years since Admiral Cook’s expedition sailed within 150 miles of the mainland and almost 200 years since the American sealer, Captain John Davis first stepped off a boat onto the ice of Antarctica, but now another American has conquered the icy and unforgiving continent. This one is a bit younger and her quest is a bit different than those who fared the icy waters centuries before. Fourteen year old Winter Vinecki hit the ice running as she became the youngest participant ever to finish the treacherous Antarctica Marathon.
Vinecki finished the 8-year-old marathon in 4:49:45, covering the 26.2 mile course with its difficult rocky and icy terrain in temperatures that topped out at a chilly 22 degrees Fahrenheit. The time was good enough to place the teen third among the women and eleventh overall in the competition. For most teens, this feat would be unimaginable. Even for most adult runners, the Antarctica Marathon is a grueling prospect. But this finish, which would be a major landmark for most competitive runners, is only a step in the plan for the young Vinecki. Winter is seeking to become the youngest person to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents this year. She has already finished the Eugene Marathon in Oregon and the Amazing Maasai in Kenya this year, leaving only Europe, Asia, South America, and Australia to finish her goal. The Inca Trail Marathon at Machu Picchu in Peru is her next stop. She will take on this challenge, one that many consider the world’s toughest marathon, in June.
Winter is by no means new to challenges. She began running competitively at age five when she completed her first triathlon. She ran her first Olympic-distance triathlon at 9 and has been competing against adults most of her competitive career despite many considering the events too much for a child of her age. Not only did she rise to the challenge, she excelled, leading success-focused teen to her current historic endeavor.
Vinecki doesn’t run simply for the record-setting achievement. It’s not only for the medals. It’s not even for the life experiences. She runs for a greater purpose. Vinecki runs in the memory of her father, whom she lost to an aggressive form of prostate cancer just four years ago. “I couldn’t imagine just sitting around being sad. I knew I had to do something” she said. “So with the help of my mom, I formed a nonprofit called Team Winter.” Through Team Winter she is dedicated to raise public awareness of prostate cancer. She promised while speaking at a 2009 Prostate Cancer Foundation gathering in front of more than 100 prominent prostate cancer researchers, “I will make certain that, in my lifetime, I will get a blue ribbon out there to match every pink ribbon!” To date, through her foundation, she has helped raise more than $400,000 to aid in research. Her competitive spirit is driving her to play her part in finding a cure for the disease that took her father from her.
As if all of this wasn’t enough for a 14-year-old, Vinecki, who was the 2011 Annika Inspiration Award winner, is also an accomplished aerial skier, having been the youngest skier accepted into the prestigious Fly Elite Olympic development team in Park City, Utah. She lives year round with a host family near the Olympic facility. When she’s not running, she is training up to eight hours a day as she sets her sights on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. In the midst of all of this, she still finds time for school. Winter is a top performing student in the gifted online high school program run by Stanford University. “I don’t know how she does it,” said her mother.
The answer seems clear. Winter has been blessed with a lot of talent, but most importantly she has a personal drive that is nothing short of inspirational. She hopes that her accomplishments will encourage other kids to follow her example. “I hope I’m able to show others that if a 9-year-old girl from a rural town in northern Michigan can have an impact on the world, anyone can do the same,” she said. “I challenge people to not only dream but to dream big!”