On the morning of September 13, a bus carrying endurance athletes from around the world left Nairobi, Kenya, and rumbled hundreds of miles into the vast wilderness of East Africa.
After their seven-hour drive, the cramped and sweaty passengers disembarked the bus and headed to their base camp at the Lewa Conservancy. That was just the beginning. The runners would embark on a 143-mile ultramarathon passing through four wildlife sanctuaries to support wildlife wardens protecting Africa’s most endangered species.
An Air National Guardsman from Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, crossed the finish line first. Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Delorey, the logistics NCO in charge of the 157th Medical Group, finished 41 minutes ahead of the runner-up.
“It was challenging, the heat we were in, the environment, the mental toughness, all of that,” Delorey said. “When I crossed the finish line I was emotional. My heart and mind could not be more filled with this journey.”
Over the course of five days, Delorey trekked winding dirt roads through burning grasslands, rocky hills, river beds and montane forests teeming with East African wildlife.
“We were out in the wild with all the beautiful animals, following the roads and trails that the rangers navigate while protecting wildlife,” explained Delorey. “A small percentage of the time we were walking through very small rural villages and meeting the people and the children who lived there.”
Race course lengths varied from 24 miles to 30 miles per day. The runners passed three checkpoints with available water, medical supplies and a time control during the daily stages.
“We had the security and refueling checkpoints,” Delorey said. “A couple of sections we walked just a few feet from these giant baboons, Cape buffalo and elephants. The rangers and directors did everything in their power to make the course safe, but you still had to be vigilant when walking on animal land.”
Runners completed the first four stages at temporary base camps set up by race crew teams. The small seas of tents were arranged around a communal structure and fire pit.
“There was a lot of value on the nights by the fire, sharing stories and hearing about people’s lives,” Delorey said. “That’s when you realize how important and valuable it is to get in touch with people from other parts of the world.”
“We learned more about the whole reason why we were there too,” he said. “The rangers who protect the wildlife knew all about the plants we saw, the landscape and animal behavior. It was so inspiring, they were wonderful people and just true warriors.”
For Rangers Ultra is about raising funds for the welfare of rangers. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the largest and longest-running field conservation program in Africa, poaching activities for rhinos and elephants have reached catastrophic levels over the past decade.
“It’s an incredibly dangerous job,” Delorey said. “The rangers risk their lives every day to protect beautiful populations that have been decimated by poaching and industrialization. The whole race gave me a better understanding of conservation and appreciation for the work of the rangers.”
Delorey originally planned to compete in September 2020, but the race was postponed two years in a row during the height of the pandemic. He still managed to find a silver lining and took the obstacle at a walk.
“There were a few setbacks during his training, but they never got in the way,” said Maj. Michelle Mastrobattista, Administrator of the 157th MDG. “He was disappointed when the race was postponed but took it as an opportunity to train more. He was always positive and had a great attitude.”
“I don’t think he wanted to win,” she added. “I wasn’t surprised because he always does his best but he did this race to challenge himself and that alone is an amazing achievement.”
After waiting through global setbacks and becoming a father the year before the event, Delorey said the journey felt surreal and he was up for the challenge.
“I felt very well prepared,” he said. “I think there are a lot of similarities between how you approach goals in the military and how you approach them in endurance racing. You have to go through your checklist all the time, and it’s all very strategic. You can’t let your mind wander too much because there are so many things on your mind to make sure you run efficiently and safely. Just like in the military.”
“I think my Air Force experience strengthened me for this race, which tested my resolve,” he added. “[The Air Force] taught me how to deal with challenges, overcome obstacles and adapt in real time.”
Delorey said he breathed a sigh of relief when he crossed the finish line after three years of waiting and dedicated training on the African savannah, but this race was just the beginning.
“I loved it and I think I’ve found my niche in terms of athletics,” he laughed. “It’s a personal challenge and I love what I get from being with the other competing athletes.”
“My wife is so supportive and my family is really the reason I can do this,” he added. “They make me excited for what’s on the horizon. My biggest realization is that I want to keep going.”
|Date of recording:||09/23/2022|
|Release Date:||09/23/2022 16:49|
This work, Airman wins 140-mile ultramarathon in Kenya, Africathrough SSgt Victoria Nelsonidentified by DVIDSmust comply with the restrictions set forth at https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.