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Celebrating Death Valley Jack

Celebrating Death Valley Jack

Jen and I crewed for “Death Valley Jack” Denness at the Badwater Ultra in 2004. Jack was 68 years old at the time, and would go on to complete two more Badwaters, becoming the first septuagenarian – and possibly the last – to finish this punishing course.

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On the occasion that we crewed for him, he freely admitted that he was under-prepared. The journey was arduous for all of us; at a couple of points Jen and I were convinced that he wouldn’t make it, especially after she treated a blister that literally covered the entire ball of his foot.

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Jack is made of sterner stuff, however, and although he only jogged the first mile, he made it in the end – 67 hours after starting, he crossed the finish line and was rewarded with his traditional can of cold Guinness, which had been dangling from a fishing rod atop the minivan for several miles!

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A memorable moment for me was walking 30 miles after Stovepipe Wells, during which time night fell. We trudged up Father Crowley pass, and I fell back to give Jack some space. Eventually I suppose he forgot about me altogether, and paused for a moment during which I caught up to him. I asked if he was getting lazy, and he nearly jumped over the cliff and out of his skin!

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Another thing that will last me forever was dawn, a few hours later. I had run forward to catch up with Jen and take a photo or two, since the sun would be rising behind Jack. He came into view, leaning at 20 degrees to his left. He was in a bad way. Jen decided to put a track from Oh Brother! Where Art Thou? on the stereo, very loudly. She opened the tailgate and the stirring voice of Alison Krauss with ‘Down To The River To Pray’ soared into the rising sun.

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As the chorus joins her and the music swells, Jack slowly begins to straighten up. His gallant limp becomes a purposeful stride, and he cuts a figure of strength and nobility as his head rises. Both of us were overwhelmed with emotion and admiration, and at that point we DID know that he would make it.

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To this day, that song reminds us of our friend Jack and his remarkable achievements. He is a true hero and an inspiration to many who have shared his company, especially in Death Valley.

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The following clip is an enjoyable romp through his active imagination. Did I mention that he hallucinates merrily while on the voyage? Aliens, devils, free money – it’s all there! In the second half of the clip, Jack discusses the cerebral palsy charity that he has raised thousands for, over the years. I hope you enjoy it too.

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Jon Rice
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Jon Rice

Jon is a highly-experienced runner who adopted the sport of heat running in 1996. He visits Death Valley every year to participate in his bizarre creation, The Darth Valley Challenge - a one-mile charge through the desert in the height of summer, dressed as Darth Vader.

To prepare for such silliness he takes extraordinary precautions. He trains year-round in the sauna, runs countless miles in extreme temperatures, and has crewed the Badwater Ultramarathon twice.

Jon's only request as you read this site is that you prepare carefully, tell someone where you're going and when you'll be back, and take more water than you think you'll need.
Jon Rice
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