Team Fear Youth are the youngest team in the 2023 Adventure Racing World Championship and the only competitive team representing New Zealand still in the race. They are aged between 18 and 20, competing in their first international race and are currently racing with world’s best and most experienced teams on the 840km course in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
The young team arrived at Transition 3 today in 9th position from 107 starters. They were completing an 80km overnight trek and this morning there were sudden, torrential, downpours of rain, but the team were in good spirits when they arrived at the Buffelshoek Lodge and Game Reserve.
Dean Stewart said they’d made no big navigational mistakes and had stopped to sleep for an hour. He added, “We woke up and got ready to go just before the rain came, which was lucky.” He walked into the transition talking to Fynn Mitchell’s parents, Glen and Michelle, who are here on holiday and to support the team and explained the team’s race plan. “We didn’t sleep for long as we wanted to get onto the kayak stage and make some distance before the dark zone hits tonight. We can then sleep on the riverbank, but didn’t pack sleeping bags or anything. We’ll have to spoon.”
In a race where a team in the top 10 of the world rankings has already withdrawn, and on a course which is severely testing racers who have years of experience in expedition races all over the world, it’s hard to underestimate how exceptional their performance so far in the race is.
The average age of racers in the World Championship is 41, and with its complex mix of skills, challenges and environments adventure racing is seen as a sport where experience is essential to do well. The teams who take the titles and top the rankings, do so after years of hard won experience.
Fear Youth do have considerable racing experience and have twice taken part in the Godzone Expedition race, finishing 7th this year against the best in New Zealand, so those who have followed them won’t be surprised. However, this race is a new experience and level of competition for them. All of the world’s top teams are competing on a brutally testing World Championship course and the young team are holding their own well.
The team is made up of Dean Stewart (20), Molly Spark (19), Fynn Mitchell (18) and Josh Pearson (20), who all have Godzone experience and have raced together at home for a few years now. Fynn joined the Bend Racing team in the Nordic Islands Adventure Race in the Faroe Islands earlier this year and finished 3rd= in his first ARWS race, so he has race internationally before.
The team is organised and coached by Andrew Magness and started after they competed in races he organises through the FEAR (Fiordland Endurance & Adventure Racing) Society from Te Anau on South Island. The male team members were doing well in rogaines and short adventure races and wanted to take on something more and Molly was recruited to the team after a schools adventure race competition in which she was on the only team to beat the FEAR Society. (She is the only one to live outside Fiordland and is from Canterbury.)
Magness says the team has a lot to learn and are doing it their way by going in at the deep end. Before the first Godzone Molly refused to be towed and had to be taught the team ethic of adventure racing and he says they may still struggle with asking for help but are gelling as a team. They spent a week in South Africa together ahead of the race.
He says Fynn is quietly competent and the hungriest and he wants to be the Adventure Racing World Champion by the time he is 25! Molly is the motivator and most competitive (sometimes too much), Dean he describes as confident and humble and Josh is the leader who looks after the others on the team the most. They don’t really have a training program, but spend a lot of time hunting and doing outdoor sports in bush and mountain terrain, and as such do better in races with more wilderness terrain. Their outdoor lifestyle is most of the training they need (which is something Nathan Fa’avae always said).
Glen Mitchell is an adventure racer himself and has raced with some of the team and said the same, that Fynn is always hunting, climbing, skiing and lives for the outdoors, though he did more cycle training in the build up to this race. He added that Fynn is still at school and has to take his final exams 4 days after getting home and that, “Maybe he won’t get A’s but a pass would be a success!”
Magness says the team want to finish of course, and do well, but their aim is to be top 10. It’s an ambitious aim, and they will have to avoid any big mistakes and keep up their pace, but they are on target so far.