Marie Claire Aquilina completed an impressive feat last weekend as the Maltese cyclist battled high winds and fatigue to complete 69 laps of the daunting Ta’ Pinellu Hill to complete the Everesting Challenge.
The challenge is quite simple. Athletes are asked to pick any hill, anywhere in the world, and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m, which is the equivalent height of Mount Everest.
The 43-year-old Aquilina took on the challenge alongside eight other cyclists on Saturday evening, starting her quest at 5.15pm before finishing off her quest on Sunday at noon as she completed the distance in 14 hours.
“I’m overwhelmed at the moment,” an exhausted Aquilina told the Times of Malta.
“I had never thought of being able to complete this challenge but thankfully with the support of my team-mates I managed to do it and I am really proud of myself.”
Aquilina said that initially she held no interest in taking part in the event which was organized here in Malta by season endurance athlete Fabio Spiteri.
“When Fabio Spiteri posted on facebook the creation of this event, I wasn’t much interested to take part,” Aquilina admitted.
“In the beginning I felt that it was a boring challenge going round the same route repeatedly with little motivation.
“But then three weeks ago I took part in a mountain bike event in Sicily on Mount Etna and I felt really good as I managed to win my category and finished second overall. When we returned, a friend of mine told me that he was taking the Everesting challenge and it was then that I started to get interested.
“As the race was approaching, I was getting increasingly nervous as I feared that I would not be able to complete the challenge. To be honest, the challenge started to become even more interesting particularly with the logistics and preparation and with it my motivation was continuing to increase.”
Asked whether there were any moments where she felt that she wouldn’t be able to complete the challenge, Aquilina, said: “Oh sure. On Sunday morning, round 4am, I was seriously considering to pull out of the event. Fatigue was creeping and when you hear others saying that they want to stop and go to sleep, it doesn’t help you much mentally!
“But then everything changed just after sunrise as I started to think that with the start of the new day, many of my cycling friends will be returning to the venue and that gave me an extra motivation to kick on and in fact I managed to complete the challenge.”
Aquilina admitted that being the only one to finish the challenge was surely a sense of great pride, particularly as the rest of the field was made only of male cyclists.
“I don’t like sexist talk, but I have to admit that it was a great moment of pride for me as a woman to be able to finish the challenge as opposed to my male counterparts,” Aquilina said with a smile.
“Cycling is a sport that unfortunately, the presence of female riders is far more limited when compared to men and it’s a pity.
“I sincerely hope that my achievement will be an inspiration to many more women to take up our sport as it would be nice to have more female participants.
Now that she completed the Everesting Challenge, Aquilina admitted that she may well embark on another daunting challenge, to compete in the Mountain Bike Epic races.
The Epic Series is a global portfolio of best-in-class mountain bike stage races in which riders challenge themselves on world-famous trails, find hidden gems and share a premium riding experience with some of the biggest names in the sport, all while surrounded by iconic landscapes.
“That is certainly my dream to compete in the Epic Series,” Aquilina said.
“One needs a very detailed preparation so it’s still a bit far off for me but certainly having completed the Everesting challenge is a huge source of motivation to take on this challenge and hopefully it will not be long before I do one.”