Stephan Haase could lose a toe or drop out of the toughest race on the planet. That’s the decision the Stateline resident was faced with days into the Red Bull X-Alps, a cross-country blitz via paraglider and foot only from Salzburg to Monaco.
“Nothing you can do (besides being born with a Swiss passport and paraglider) will ever prepare you for this event,” Haase said through email. ”It’s not tough just because of the weather, terrain, and flying conditions. It’s tough because paragliding and this race also demand a high level of judgement.”
Haase was one of 31 athletes and one of only two Americans chosen for the Red Bull X-Alps. The adventure race through the Alps is widely considered the one of most challenging competitions in the world.
“Competitors need to be focused beyond what is possible,” Haase said. “Properly preparing for this event takes years of intense and thorough work.”
Haase started the race off among the top 16 competitors. But a day of hard hiking took a toll on his feet, he said. His constantly wet shoes led to infected blisters that required attention from the race doctor.
“It looked like the toe would be lost as it was completely degloved,” Haase said. “The race doctor allowed me to make my own decision to continue or seek further treatment in a hospital. I did not see it fair for me to harbor the race doctor for myself when other also needed his expertise. It also seemed selfish and unreasonable to place my limb and life at risk to a system staph infection.”
After withdrawing, Haase checked into the hospital and received several doses of intravenous antibiotics. As the infection eased after his second day in the hospital, Haase headed over to Monaco to congratulate the competitors who finished the race.
Also among those who withdrew from the competition was Nepal’s Babu Sunuwar, a National Geographic adventurer of the year, who hiked and paraglided from Mount Everest.
The Red Bull X-Alps only happens every odd year. Athletes are challenged to make it to Monaco before a certain time when the race officially ends. This year 10 athletes finished the race in the allotted time.
Haase has been paragliding the Sierra Nevada for years. He’s well known for crossing the mountain range via paraglider and breaking the Nevada distance record. Despite having to pull out of the race, Haase is happy with his accomplishments.
“I enjoyed every step like nothing ever before and have gained more reward than I thought possible,” he said.