On the surface, Staci Lovell is like any other teenager.
She enjoys hanging out with friends, has a favorite subject in school, which happens to be English, she’s a member of her high school track and field team, and spends what little quiet time she can carve out from her busy day reading and writing.
But what separates the 16-year-old Kealakehe High School junior from her peers is what lays beneath her charming looks and sweet personality. Turns out, Lovell’s natural-born athleticism and lionhearted spirit for adventure has given her the opportunity to be among a select group of elite athletes – swimming, mountain biking and running with the best off-road XTERRA triathletes in the world.
Last year at the age of 15, Lovell was the youngest female competitor at the XTERRA World Championships held in Maui. The iconic event is considered to be the world’s premiere off-road triathlon, consisting of a dangerous 1.5-kilometer rough water swim, followed by a treacherous 32K mountain bike and finishing off with a pulverizing 10K run traversing the unpredictable terrain of forest trails and beach sand.
Lovell earned her spot at the start line among the world’s best by qualifying through the Inaugural XTERRA Hawaii Island held last August.
“I think being the youngest was honestly a blessing in disguise because being able to do something at a young age has shown me that I can do it,” Lovell said. “Basically for me, the older I get the better I’ll be able to do it, and the more goals I’ll be able to break for myself in the future.”
As the daughter of longtime XTERRA timer Jim Lovell, one could say the younger Lovell was basically born into the XTERRA tribe and therefore it’s no surprise that one-day her inspiration for competing in off-road triathlons would come full circle.
“I’ve always been inspired with seeing people push past their struggles and crossing that finish line,” Lovell said. “And I’ve always known that’s an emotional thing and I think that’s why I’ve always wanted to do it. But growing up I never really thought I would, there was never a moment when I was timing that I thought I’d want to win this one day, so I think it just kind of evolved over time.”
Five weeks before last year’s Inaugural XTERRA Hawaii Island, and what would become her first triathlon ever, it finally hit her.
“I remember being on my phone at 9:30 at night and I was watching this Instagram video called, ‘People are Awesome,’ and it honestly inspired me to want to do something more with my life,” she said. “I think it’s been subconsciously in my mind. I remember at 2017 worlds sitting at the finish line and the whole time I was thinking this would be so cool to cross this finish line. And then I totally forgot about it, but I guess I had it in my mind enough as I began going on 2-mile runs with my mom (Nia Lovell) who was training for the 2018 New York Marathon. So I think that started the ripple effect that inspired me to compete.”
Competing in Maui’s XTERRA World Championships
Before toeing the line in Maui, Lovell had to first qualify for her slot at last year’s Inaugural XTERRA Hawaii Island, a novel experience she will never forget.
“I remember initially walking around T1 the morning of and I was freaking out and shaking uncontrollably because it was all new to me,” Lovell said. “I’ve been on a mountain bike like five times and I was terrified. But once I got in the water it was like being at home – it was time to put it all together. The nervous part definitely went away but the ‘holy cow I’m actually doing this’ part was with me the whole time. Going up-hills on my mountain bike and then getting wristbands for each loop kind of became my wow moment that I was actually doing XTERRA.”
Lovell finished XTERRA Hawaii Island (1/2-mile swim, 10-mile mountain bike, 3.1-mile trail run) in a time of 2 hours, 38 minutes, 41 seconds and two months later she was ready to tackle her first XTERRA World Championships.
“I was so new to racing so obviously my first goal I thought was to win my age-group – but that was a big eye-opener and I’ve grown a lot since then,” Lovell said. “But really, my goal ended up being just to finish the race.”
When asked what, of the swim-bike-run, Lovell was most proficient at she said, “On it’s own, my run is probably the strongest. But during a triathlon, I think my swim is probably the strongest.”
And that was definitely the strength needed to get her through what was considered to be one of the worst swim conditions in all 23-years of XTERRA’s history. Crossing the finish line in a time of 6:34:47 made it all that more worthwhile.
“Crossing the finish line was the most emotional thing I’ve ever been through,” Lovell recalled. “It was so many goals and so many future goals all coming together. I’ve worked as staff with XTERRA pretty much my whole life because of my dad, and I know how hectic and crazy it is. You just never have time and you want to see some of your friends cross the line but you can’t because you are just too busy.
“When I finished, every single one of my XTERRA family members came to see me within the five minutes that I finished. So they all took some time to stop what they are doing to come and say hi and give me a high-five and say ‘good job’ and that meant the world to me.”
Returning to where it all started
This Sunday, Lovell plans to give it another go at XTERRA Hawaii Island in hopes to qualify for her second XTERRA World Championships slated for October 27th. While Lovell now has a triathlon coach, Deanna McCurdy, who is an XTERRA pro, more than focusing on the outcome, she plans to race “for the fun.”
“My mom always says to follow my dreams and if you are not having fun then don’t push it,” she said. “My mom is always making sure that I’m being safe and not too crazy.
“And my dad always tells me to give it your all. You go out there and if you are having a bad day, put on a smile and tell yourself that you are having a good day. If not tell yourself that you will be done soon.”
Jim Lovell will be able to put own his advice to use as he will be competing alongside his daughter on Sunday. Nia, who registered for the event but recently suffered a hand injury due to a bike accident, does not plan to compete.
Once again, Aloha Sports Kona (ASK) will organize XTERRA Hawaii Island on Sunday with a 7:30 a.m. start for the men followed by a 7:35 a.m. female start time.
The event will offer 25 qualifying slots to the XTERRA World Championships and will feature half-mile rough water ocean swim beginning and ending at Hapuna Beach, followed by a grueling two loop, 10-mile bike course traversing over Hapuna Beach Park State land, and then finishing off with a 3.1-mile run at Hapuna Beach Resort.
For Lovell, who should no doubt be labeled as XTERRA’s newest “It” girl as she currently leads the 2019 point series in the 15-19 age-group at the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Tour, XTERRA Pan American Tour and XTERRA West Region, one can only imagine her bright future in the sport that awaits.
“I have a lot of different options and a lot of really great things that I’d like to do,” said Lovell, who also won her first Peaman Biathlon on Sunday in a time of 37:47. “I really like to take a gap year, if it works out, to travel to the European XTERRA circuit. And if that doesn’t work then I’d like to go to University of Colorado Boulder because I think it’s a really cool town and there are so many sports I’d like to do. All of my friends that have gone really far in this sport are all from Boulder or from the areas around the Rocky Mountains. I just think it would be a cool place to train and race.”
Saturday: Lavaman presents the LavaKids Aquathlon at Hapuna Beach State Park as part of the weekend of events featuring XTERRA Hawaii Island on Sunday. Start time is 8 a.m. for the keiki 100-yard dash (ages 6-and-under), 100-yard swim/1K run (ages 7-10), and 200-yard swim/2K run (ages 11-14). Race morning registration happening onsite at 7 a.m, and parents must be present to sign USAT waiver. For more info visit lavakids.org.
Saturday: XTERRA Hawaii Island Sunset 3.1-Mile Trail Run will be held at Hapuna Beach State Park at 5 p.m. For more information and registration details visit xterrahawaiiisland.com.