What does a triathlete do when races and events begin falling off the schedule, thanks to the pandemic?
If you’re Amber Ferreira, you find a way to conquer Everest.
The Concord resident — and Ironman champion, coach and owner of the Granite State Endurance Project — hopped on her bike at 5 a.m. on a warm June morning and began what’s known in cycling circles as the Everest Challenge: Pick any hill, anywhere, and start climbing — over and over again — until you’ve ascended the equivalent of the height of Mt. Everest.
It took her 15 hours and 38 minutes to travel up and down the 2,936-foot Mt. Kearsarge, traveling more than 137 miles and climbing more than 30,000 feet atop her bike — all while raising $5,000 for the NAACP.
“It’s cool to say you’ve climbed Everest,” Ferreira says. “It was really nice.”
It was just the latest goal the Concord Hospital physical therapist set for herself. Ferreira, who was born in Westford, Massachusetts, describes herself as having been a shy child who used sports as a way to gain confidence and build relationships. She studied at Northeastern University on a track and cross-country scholarship, and competed at the collegiate level while earning her Ph.D. It was a hint at the career waiting just around the corner.
After graduation, Ferreira upped her focus by several magnitudes. She began competing in uphill running, ultrarunning, snowshoe racing and long-distance swimming. (Intensity, you say? She once sprained both wrists in a 10-mile swim in Lake Memphremagog in Vermont.) She then discovered her passion: triathlon.
“I was working my first job and saving money for a car, so I commuted on my bike,” she says. “I figured that I could swim, bike and run, so let’s do Ironman.”
She raced her first sprint triathlon in 2008, competed in her first Ironman in 2009, qualified for the Ironman World Championships the next year and turned pro in 2011. Since then, there have been podiums, near-misses, and some impressive victories along the way. She took second in Mont Tremblant, and counts Switzerland and Austria among the most breathtaking competitions. Then there are the fourth-place finishes.
“That’s a joke that goes around,” she says, laughing. “I come in fourth place in everything.”
Well, not everything.
“I won Lake Placid in New York in 2014, so it’s hard to say that’s not my favorite,” she says. “When I first turned pro, I thought, ‘Whoa, I’m getting my butt kicked.’ But it was a great challenge, racing against the best in the world. I got to travel, explore and see all the competition out there. It took a ton of putting my head down and hard work.”
Despite the accomplishments, there have been challenges. After some early organizational struggles (for years there were more slots for pro male competitors at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, than there were for women), the field has been somewhat leveled.
“It was a huge fight back and forth,” Ferreira says. “Their response originally was that there are fewer females in the field, but that was eventually changed. There’s equality there now — 50 guys and 50 girls.”
Ferreira is no stranger to battling. To even get to Kona she had to qualify, which meant competing in several races back to back. She placed third in a Texas Ironman race in 2014, won Lake Placid, raced two weeks later in Mont Tremblant — she was leading for the majority of that race but finished second — and that’s what sent her to Hawaii.
“By the time I go to Kona for the World Championships, I was destroyed,” she says. “It was physically and mentally challenging to turn around and repeat a podium performance.”
Two years later, a spectator jumped onto the racecourse in Lake Placid, causing a collision. She ended up in the emergency room with a torn quad and some road rash. Two weeks later, she was back at it in Mont Tremblant (fourth place).
“I’m bullheaded,” she says. “I felt like that race was stolen from me. I’m proud of all of those moments. It takes a lot to race an Ironman. You have to stay focused.”
Consider it foreshadowing. With the summer racing schedule also taken away, it’s that stubborn fierceness that motivated Ferreira to try Everesting. It was her second attempt.
“I thought, ‘Cool, there are no races happening — may as well try it,’” she says.
Ferreira has competed in more than 70 professional Ironman events in 11 different countries — amazing opportunities by any measure — but always looks forward to her return to the Northeast.
“I just spent six months in Colorado training,” she says. “And it made me appreciate New Hampshire and all the awesome riding available here. I just did New London to Grafton, about 80% of that on dirt roads, and didn’t pass a lot of car traffic — just nice, New England backcountry roads. We did 87 miles on gravel and dirt, and it was awesome.”