Blood Sport - Page 6
However, not everyone understands Ortiz. Some of her competitors wonder why she makes self-deprecating statements before she dominates them. "It's hard to hear that because everyone knows how fast she is," said one female ultrarunner who asked not to be named. "But literally every race, she'll line up and say, `Oh, I have this injury, I'm not feeling well, I don't even know if I'll finish.' And then she goes out and sets a course record."
Never mind her tiny stature or pretty face. "She intimidates people," says Adam Chase, team captain of Salomon, which began sponsoring Ortiz three years ago. "I saw her at mile 80 of Western States, and she looked kind of like she always does, which is just tough. She has a `bring it' look to her. She's feisty. I'm glad I never have to race against her."
Later that summer, Kami Semick witnessed a disturbing scene involving Ortiz. Coming off her Western States win, Ortiz was trying to repeat as women's masters team champion at the Gore-Tex TransRockies Run in Colorado, where she was paired with reigning 100K national champion Prudence L'Heureux. Despite having never met, the women took a commanding lead in their division. But L'Heureux had serious trouble breathing, which prevented them from opening an even larger deficit. Ortiz spent much of her days screaming at L'Heureux to move faster, Semick recalls. "Even when they were that far ahead, Anita couldn't turn it off. She had her hands on her hips and was yelling, `Get your ass up the hill!' And Prudence couldn't breathe."
"We'd cross the line after the first three stages, and she wouldn't even look at me," L'Heureux says. "She'd stomp off and go talk to her friends. She just treated me like a bad person. I've never had anyone treat me that way. She didn't seem to have any compassion or human side. She didn't care. And Anita was one of my idols."
Unwilling to continue racing with Ortiz, L'Heureux flew home after three stages. Ortiz ran the final three days alone, crossing the line first each day despite having been disqualified from the team standings. In retrospect, Ortiz says, "I was probably too hard on her. But I could do that to Katie [Mazzia], and she'd go with it. The main thing was, we should have been more clear about what we both wanted out of the race."
For Ortiz, it came down to the same thing it always does: satisfying "the need to do the absolute best that I can do." That's how she explained it in her kitchen the last time I saw her—as a need. But she was worried about how she'd be judged in light of the TransRockies episode showing up in public. She is a mother, wife and elementary-school teacher, after all, "an example for all women," as Chase put it.
But she is also one of the world's best runners. And when it comes to that, Ortiz's philosophy is simple. "I think you have to have some fierceness in you."
Devon O'Neil is a writer in Breckenridge, Colorado. His work can be viewed at www.devononeil.com.