Every mile, a gold Chrysler minivan waited for Lisa Smith-Batchen. It carried her pit crew, armed with water spray bottles, wet towels, body cream, calorie-dense food, new shoes (for when the rubber on hers melts) and bags of ice. The crew members paid their own way to help with the run.
Crew chief: Ernie Rambo It was only appropriate that the crew be led by a Rambo. She has the most experience among the team members in running in the Badwater-to-Mt. Whitney area, and she coordinated the pace and supplies. The ultramarathon runner is coached by Smith-Batchen, and they have known each other for 14 years.
“With something like this, it’s about knowing your body and paying attention to what your body is telling you,” said Rambo, a teacher in the Las Vegas area. “Every marathoner knows when they are running out of breath. And if she was ignoring signs here, she’d be dead. Bottom line.”
Driver, orthopedic advisor: Army Maj. Vincent Antunez Antunez is also an avid ultramarathon runner and has a clinical doctorate in orthopedics, helpful for Smith-Batchen’s blistered feet. Antunez said he had experienced similar heat while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This is stupid. This is crazy stupid … nothing compares,” said Antunez. In Iraq, he had seen children playing in areas that didn’t have drinkable water. “If she is able to bring help to those people through this event, that makes it all worthwhile.”
Charity advisor, pace runner: Sister Mary Beth Lloyd Lloyd hails from New Jersey, and she runs mission projects in Albania, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India and Brazil. She has worked with Smith-Batchen to raise money through running events for more than 20 years. A marathon runner herself, Lloyd ran alongside Smith-Batchen in her nun’s habit at multiple points in the journey.
“There’s no clean water, so they are drinking whatever water they find on the side of the road, and they get sick,” Lloyd said of conditions she’s witnessed abroad. “Once you have a good well and good pumps … you not only have healthy children, but then they can go to school, and the mothers can go to work knowing their children will be safe. ... This will change lives.”
Crew hand, pace runner: Kerri Kanuga A real estate broker in the Cayman Islands, Kanuga is also a runner and swimmer, coached by Smith-Batchen. She ran alongside for pacing at various points in Death Valley and is training for a 20 kilometer swim.
“She’s scary. She had me swim 30 miles in one week,” Kanuga said of Smith-Batchen’s coaching. “She’s somebody who has real-life experience and can get you through these things. And she’s still doing it. A lot of people get to be a certain age, and they just decide to curl up.”