How did Winter Vinecki become the youngest person ever to run a marathon on all seven continents at just 14 years old? The young athlete put a lot of hard work in, beginning in her Kindergarten years. Though Winter’s work ethic and incredible stamina have certainly been with her since a young age, a tragic loss in her childhood would literally push her to the ends of the earth. This is Winter’s amazing story and it has inspired people all over the world. Without a doubt, it is only the beginning.
You won’t believe the busy life she was leading when she was only nine years old!
Athletic From A Young Age
Winter Vinecki has always been athletic. When most kids were watching cartoons or playing with their toys, Winter was training. She became swift on foot and a speedster on a bike. From the age of five, Winter was already competing in marathon races against adults.
Early in her career, Winter raced to bring light to childhood obesity, a growing epidemic for many young Americans. But in 2009, something would happen to the Vinecki family that would change everything. For Winter, it was the moment that her motivations for racing would become crystal clear.
Winter’s Father Passed Away From Prostate Cancer
Winter was nine years old when she completed her first Olympic-distance triathlon. Many believed she was too young, but Winter completed it in less than four hours. But it was the last race where her father would greet her at the finish line.
In 2008, Winter’s father Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which took his life in ten short months. Though the family was still grieving, Winter told Statesman Journal, “It took me a while to realize that I couldn’t just sit around and be sad. I had to do something.” So Winter channeled her grief into something amazing.
She Spent Most Of Her Time Racing
Winter vowed to help other families affected by prostate cancer. Along with her mom and brothers, she founded Team Winter. The non-profit organization works to raise money for prostate cancer research and awareness.
As Winter continued to compete in triathlons, she and her family would travel to races on weekends. While most athletes spent their pre-race hours prepping their bodies for the long haul, Winter was in her Team Winter booth promoting her cause. All the while, Winter maintained a 4.0 GPA while enrolled in Stanford University’s online high school program, which accommodated her training schedule.
Running for Team Winter and for her father’s memory would become her primary motivation when she took on quite an ambitious goal.
Winter Set A New Goal For Herself
Winter became a two-time IronKids national triathlon champion in 2010 and 2011. By 2013, she’d raised $400,000 for prostate cancer research through Team Winter. But her accomplishments didn’t end there. In fact, she set the bar even higher for herself.
After winning two consecutive IronKids triathlons, Winter established a new goal to race a marathon on every continent. It seemed like a daunting feat for even the most avid marathoner, let alone someone who’d barely reached their teens. Winter intended to accomplish her goal by the time she reached the age of 15.
She Doesn’t Want Age To Be A Barrier
The average teen merely dreams of visiting every continent, let alone going to run full marathons on them. It was an ambitious goal for sure, but Winter seemed undaunted and determined to accomplish that goal.
"My dad waited until he was 40 years old to do the things he wanted to do and never got to do them. I’m more capable now to do the things I do, so why put them off until tomorrow? …I hope to encourage others to do the same and not let age be a barrier." she told CNN.
The Eugene Marathon Was First
In what was perhaps the easiest step towards accomplishing her goal, Winter took on North America first. She participated in the Eugene Marathon in Oregon in April 2012, placing fourth in her age group with a time of 3:45:04. It would become her fastest marathon time on record.
“My goal is to be the youngest person in the world to complete a marathon on every continent before I turn 15, to honor not only my dad but the one in six men affected by prostate cancer,” Winter told CNN. Still, she had the magnificent challenge of taking on the six other continents.
In chasing her globe-trotting goal, Winter would cross off some amazing firsts on her list!
Africa Proved To Be An Uphill Battle
Winter wasted no time in taking on her second continent: Africa. Just five months after the Eugene Marathon, Winter traveled to Kenya to participate in the Amazing Maasai Marathon near Lake Victoria.
Winter placed third overall for women on this notoriously hilly off-road course. "One of my favorite memories from Kenya was when I was running up the steepest hill and these two little boys, maybe around 6 years old, started running beside me. It was that extra motivation I needed to get up the hill and finish the race," Winter told Statesman Journal.
From One Extreme To The Next
Racing through the dirt roads, paths, and trails of the Kenyan highlands, Winter had to be wary of exotic animals she might’ve encountered, like lions and elephants. “We didn’t see any animals during the race, but we saw rhinos, lots of monkeys and giraffes afterward,” she told Statesman Journal.
Africa was certainly the polar opposite of where Winter went for her third continent: Antarctica. “Antarctica and Kenya were so different, especially weather-wise, but both trails had a lot of hills and things I’ve never seen before. There wasn’t one animal that was the same on the two continents,” she added.
The Youngest On Antarctica
Winter competed in the Antarctica Marathon in March 2013. Running a 26.2 on icy terrain was a challenge but Winter – who only fell once – finished third in the women’s race at 4:49:45. She then became the youngest person ever, male or female, to complete a marathon on Antarctica.
"The main goal is to take my dad to the places he never got to go and also to spread prostate cancer awareness," she told ABC News. Not only is Antarctica the world’s driest, windiest, and iciest continent, but it’s also the world’s most isolated and undeveloped continent as well.
This may have been one of the most challenging things Winter has ever done, but she was only half-way there…
South America Was Next
Two months later in 2013, Winter went to South America to take on the Inca Trail Marathon, which has a reputation as the “toughest marathon in the world” and ends at Machu Picchu. The trail usually takes hikers three days to complete, but Winter ran the whole thing in one.
Winter was the women’s overall winner for this race, which took her just over nine hours to complete. The trail took her over a 13,800-foot mountain pass where she dodged llamas, bulls, and other hikers along the way, not to mention running through rain and snow.
Next Stop, Asia
The next continent was Asia. The following summer, Winter traveled to Mongolia and took second overall for women at the Sunrise to Sunset Marathon. She traversed up to 7,550-feet above sea level through the woods and windy lowlands of Hovsgol National Park.
Winter was nowhere near slowing down. "I plan on showing my dad all these amazing places he never got to see. He is with me wherever I go, and you can bet he is by my side every step of the way as I conquer every continent, 26.2 miles at a time," she told CNN.
New Zealand Reminded Her To Enjoy The Scenery
A couple months after Mongolia, Winter was in New Zealand for the Wharf to Wharf Marathon as the sixth continent on her mission. The Wharf to Wharf marathon was the only one in the Oceania region that would allow Winter to compete at just 14 years old.
While her dad was at the forefront of her mind during these races, she often had to remember where she was. "I catch myself forgetting to stop and think ‘wow this place is amazing and I am so lucky to be here,’" she told NZ Herald.
Doing this much at 14 seems like a lot, but luckily, Winter had someone by her side every step of the way – and it wasn’t just the memory of her dad…
No Time For Jetlag
Winter completed these marathons, one after the other. With limited time to prep in between races and having to account for the time it takes to travel across the world, it’s a wonder how she did it all – especially as a young teen.
"The travel has been the hardest thing and that makes the whole thing pretty tiring and hard to keep up with the training but I can’t complain, it has been an incredible journey. It will be a surreal feeling when it is all over with my last marathon in Athens," Winter told NZ Herald in 2013.
The Record Was Set
The final continent Winter had to check off her list was Europe. Finally, in November 2013, Winter completed the Athens Classic Marathon, which was a tour of the original run of Pheidippides who inspired the modern marathon race.
After a time of 4:03:53, Winter finished her seventh race with her finger pointed to the sky, a gesture she made at every finish line as a salutation to her father. “This is for you, Dad,” she famously exclaimed as she crossed the final finish line that helped her accomplish her ambitious goal.
The One Person Who Supported Her All The Way
When she finished her race in Athens, Winter became the youngest person ever, male or female, to run a marathon on all seven continents and she did it all in just 18 months. But while her father’s spirit was there to pull her through each race, Winter had another support system right beside her all along: her mother.
Winter’s mom, Dr. Dawn Estelle, completed all seven marathons alongside her daughter, which also made them both the first mother-daughter duo to complete a marathon on all the continents. Dr. Estelle, had a motivating factor of her own.
And after conquering seven continents, it wasn’t long before Winter had a new goal in mind…
Her Mother Wanted To Set An Example
Winter has said that age shouldn’t be a barrier, which is something that not only she proved but her mother did as well. Dr. Estelle told Yahoo! News that racing alongside Winter allowed her to empathize with everything her daughter was going through. Winter not only lost her dad, but Estelle lost her husband.
Estelle added, "I also want to show her that I, too, could do anything I put my mind to and that I can be a full-time mom, a full-time dad, a full-time physician and still train and run seven marathons in 18 months at age 45."
She Was Also Training For Aerial Skiing
Winter is definitely an avid runner, but it’s not the only sport she loves. When she wasn’t training for a marathon or racing in one, Winter lived in Park City, Utah with a host family to train professionally for aerial skiing.
“Skiing is a huge part of our family, and I’ve always had a love for it. I don’t want to get burned out on running and think it’s good to cross train, so when I got the opportunity to do aerial freestyle skiing, I took it,” she told Statesman Journal.
An Olympian Got In Her Head
Having grown up in Michigan and Oregon, Winter has been skiing since she was four years old. While it was a fun, family hobby at first, she didn’t get serious about it until 2011, when she met two-time Olympic aerialist Emily Cook, who told her she should try aerial skiing.
Winter was intimidated to try a ski jump at first, but loved the thrill. "Aerial skiing is more of a skill sport. It takes more guts and willpower to get off the jump," she told Today. Of course, it wasn’t long before she proved she could compete in the big leagues.
She Had A New Goal
In 2013, Winter’s aerial skiing training was paying off and she had qualified for the FIS Junior World Ski Championships and the Sprint Freestyle U.S. Championships. But this was the same time she had embarked on her seven-continent goal. Because the Antarctica Marathon had to be rescheduled, Winter gave up her spots in the ski competitions.
But after she had run on all seven continents, Winter’s next ambitious goal was to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. She was on the fast track to PyeongChang but yet another obstacle stood in the way.
She Won’t Give In
Winter spent a few years with the U.S. Freestyle Junior Worlds Team and eventually made it to the U.S. Olympic ski team when she was 19. But suddenly, her journey to the 2018 Winter Olympics came to a halt when she tore her ACL at a qualifying competition.
Winter delivered the heartbreaking news to her fans on social media saying, “My timeline has now changed, but my goals have not.” Winter put her sights on the 2022 Winter Olympics, working just as hard as she always had. “So, it’s not over. Stay tuned and never give in,” she added.