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Epic challenge

Grenfell science student bringing ultra-marathons to Western N.L.

special feature: The Student Experience

Part of a special feature highlighting the student voice, student experience and the range of student supports and opportunities available at Memorial.


By Melanie Callahan

Michaela Pye’s fundamental need to be among trees, mountains, water and open skies has motivated her to work, study and play in nature.

The environmental science (biology) student at Grenfell Campus is an ultramarathoner. The Deer Lake resident has completed several 50- and 100-kilometre trail races.

Ms. Pye, who will graduate in the spring, participated in a student exchange in Alaska a few years ago where a mountaineering trip sparked her love of the epic endurance race.

“We spent three days skiing 30-40 kilometres in the Eastern Alaska Range, trying to bag some peaks, and we were all so burnt out at the end,” she said. “I wanted to be able to travel further and higher in the mountains, safely, and so I started running far to train. Somewhere in the process, I found that I loved both!”

It was in Alaska where she heard about the White Mountains 100 (WM100) Race. The event is self-supported and in the Arctic – something Ms. Pye thought was beyond her ability.

1/ Top of the mountain

Michaela Pye completes the Big Foot 200 Race in Washington in August 2019.

Photo: Scott Rockis Photography

2/ Moab Race

The 2018 MOAB Race took Michaela Pye on a 240-mile footrace through desert, canyons, slick rock and two mountain ranges surrounded by Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Utah.

Photo: Scott Rockis Photography

3/ Perseverance

Another scene from the Moab Race.

Photo: Scott Rockis Photography

4/ Ski devotee

Back-country skiing is another passion for Michaela Pye. She is pictured here in the Blomidon Mountains in Western Newfoundland in 2019.

Photo: Gonzo Photography

She returned home, but couldn’t get the race out of her mind. After she signed up for and successfully completed a 50-kilometre race in St. John’s, she threw her hat into the Alaska race. She says the WM100 was “eye-opening.”

“It was the farthest I had ever travelled, in incredibly remote mountains and the temperatures dropped to below -40 C in the night, which brought out intense northern lights over the mountains. It was an adventure that was so impacting and I was totally hooked.”

Ready for a challenge?

Now, Ms. Pye is bringing the world of ultra-marathons to her backyard for Newfoundland and Labrador’s first ultramarathon, STEEP Ultra, taking place in September 2020.

“I designed it as a way to introduce the people of this province to the sport and provide an accessible way to try ultramarathoning,” she said.

“Secondly, it is a way for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to try to push their limits at home. I saw an opportunity to give back to the running community in this event, and it’s a route I train on often, so I know it’s beautiful. We’ve got runners coming from all over Canada and even a few international runners.”

“We’re super privileged here.” — Michaela Pye

As for her academic pursuits, Ms. Pye chose evironmental science at Grenfell Campus as it aligned with her passion for the outdoors while giving her unlimited access to nature.

She says there are “very few” universities in Canada that you can finish class at 1:30 p.m. and be on the ski slopes for 2 p.m.

“We’re super privileged here. I study environmental science because I’m always fascinated by the details of how ecosystems work. I wanted to study something that gave me a really solid background in both ecology, geology and climate change issues. I’ve used my degree every day, even though I don’t typically work “science” jobs.”


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