Earlier today National Geographic announced its Adventurers of the Year for 2016.
Of most interest to the backpacking community will be the decision to recognize Scott Jurek — who in July set a new supported speed record for the Appalachian Trail, in 46+ days — but not Heather (“Anish”) Anderson, the other obvious choice this year.
If you’re asking, “Who is Heather Anderson?” I’m not surprised: she was not a star in Born to Run, has not written a best-selling book, and does not have big sponsors with big media channels. So the publicity surrounding her own record-setting achievement was relatively mute, despite it being in better style (“self-supported“) and despite lopping 4 days off the previous record, versus the mere 3 hours by which Jurek lowered Jennifer Pharr-Davis’ record.
If the Adventurer of the Year honor were based on relative Appalachian Trail performances, a compelling case could be made that National Geographic made the wrong decision, or at least that Jurek and Anish should have been co-recognized, instead of one over the other.
Speaking as the 2007 Adventurer of the Year, I greatly admire both efforts, and, personally, I think very highly of both individuals. (If you’ve met either, you’ll agree 100 percent.) But the basis for NG’s decision was not Scott’s FKT alone. This was simply the impetus for recognition in the 2015/2016 class; really, Scott is being honored for his cumulative achievements and contributions to the sport of ultra running, in which he is rightfully considered a legend, as the winner of Western States 100 (seven consecutive years), Hardrock 100, Badwater, and many other races, plus a former record-holder for the US 24-hour record (165.7 miles!).
In NG’s words: “Speed records come and go… Maybe a year from now, maybe in a few decades, someone will displace Jurek’s time, but what will always remain is the indelible mark he has left on the sport of ultrarunning. His 2015 record merely serves as an incredible capstone of a 20-year career.”
In this context, Anish’s resume seems thinner. But given her trendline, I’ll be surprised if she does not join the Adventurer of the Year ranks very soon, and I’m looking forward to hearing about what she has planned next.