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Vandenberg Airman conquers Sahara Desert

SAHARA DESERT, Egypt - Crossing the finish line, Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd Training Squadron space-based infrared system mission instructor, completed the 155-mile Sahara Race at the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. Captain Zederkof was the seventh female and the 39th person out of 156 people to cross the finish line. (Courtesy photo)

SAHARA DESERT, Egypt - Crossing the finish line, Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd Training Squadron space-based infrared system mission instructor, completed the 155-mile Sahara Race at the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010. Captain Zederkof was the seventh female and the 39th person out of 156 people to cross the finish line. (Courtesy photo)

SAHARA DESERT, Egypt - Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd Training Squadron space-based infrared system mission instructor, her father, Ted Lowe, and brother, Matt Lowe, competed in the 2010 Sahara Race in Egypt from Oct. 3 – 9, 2010. The Sahara Race is a seven-day, six-stage, 250-kilometer/155-mile footrace across the Sahara Desert. (Courtesy photo)

SAHARA DESERT, Egypt - Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd Training Squadron space-based infrared system mission instructor, her father, Ted Lowe, and brother, Matt Lowe, competed in the 2010 Sahara Race in Egypt from Oct. 3 – 9, 2010. The Sahara Race is a seven-day, six-stage, 250-kilometer/155-mile footrace across the Sahara Desert. (Courtesy photo)

SAHARA DESERT, Egypt - Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd Training Squadron space-based infrared system mission instructor, her father, Ted Lowe, and brother, Matt Lowe, competed in the 2010 Sahara Race in Egypt from Oct. 3 – 9, 2010. The Sahara Race is a seven-day, six-stage, 250-kilometer/155-mile footrace across the Sahara Desert. (Courtesy photo)

SAHARA DESERT, Egypt - Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd Training Squadron space-based infrared system mission instructor, her father, Ted Lowe, and brother, Matt Lowe, competed in the 2010 Sahara Race in Egypt from Oct. 3 – 9, 2010. The Sahara Race is a seven-day, six-stage, 250-kilometer/155-mile footrace across the Sahara Desert. (Courtesy photo)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- A 533rd Training Squadron instructor here completed the 2010 Sahara Race in Egypt on Oct. 9.

Capt. Carrie Zederkof, a 533rd TRS space-based infrared system mission instructor, competed against more than 150 competitors from 36 countries in a race TIME Magazine named as one of the top 10 endurance competitions in the world.

Entering the race was the idea of Captain Zederkof's brother, Matt Lowe, who found out about the competition online.

"He mentioned that he wanted to do it last year, three weeks before the start of the competition," said Captain Zederkof. "My dad (Ted Lowe) and I tried to talk him out of it because it was a little insane to do something like that without training for it, but we told him that we might do it with him if he waited a year - and the idea just went on from there."

A year later, on Oct. 3, Captain Zederkof found herself hauling a 20-pound backpack filled with just enough gear, food and clothing to last seven days through a six-stage, 155-mile footrace over sand and sand dunes in the world's hottest desert. The only assistance provided  was water and tents, which she did not have to tote.

"The hardest part for me was the heat," said Captain Zederkof. "I had trained, but hadn't been able to train in heat because it is not very warm here - it got up to about 118 F nearly every day there. That was the hardest part."

To overcome the heat of the desert, water and electrolytes were continuously consumed throughout the duration of the footrace, said the native of Colbert, Washington.

"It is hard to run on that much water," Captain Zederkof said. "I definitely drank more water than I would normally drink on a run and I ending up crashing, or bonked as they say, towards the end of the first day. I had to walk the last three kilometers very slowly because my body couldn't handle it anymore."

At the close of day one, an exhausted Captain Zederkof began to doubt herself. Countering thoughts crept into her fatigued mind about her ability to finish the race. However, these thoughts did not last long.

"It is all about the people who help you get through the race," Captain Zederkof said. "That is what's neat about this, although it is a competitive race, people are not out to get each other. We all want to finish, we all want to do well and we all are in pain. It doesn't matter how good of shape you're in, everyone hurts, but the people were really supportive."

Veterans of the race even mentored Captain Zederkof, showing her how to balance electrolytes with water and passed along helpful tips like snacking often in order to make it through the day.

"I told a couple people about this race and I didn't want to disappoint them," she said followed by a boisterous laugh. "I don't like quitting."

Likewise, there was no quit in Captain Zederkof as she pushed on through the remainder of the race, ambitiously crossing the Valley of Whales, where 40-million-year-old whale fossils protrude in what was once an ancient shallow sea, and then on to the finish line at the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt.

Not only did Captain Zederkof complete the seven-day race, she placed high among the competition. Out of 156 competitors, 75 percent of which were male, only 107 people finished the race - Captain Zederkof was the seventh female and the 39th person overall to cross the finish line.

Waiting for her at the finish line was Captain Zederkof's family members, Ted and Matt, who shared in the celebration of the accomplishment of her two initial goals, which were to finish the race and to finish the race without injury.

"It felt awesome that I had finished and I was relieved that I made it," Captain Zederkof said.

Now, after conquering the Sahara Race, Captain Zederkof is contemplating the idea of competing in another part of a series of endurance events organized by RacingThePlanet called 4 Deserts, which also includes The Last Desert, Antarctica; Gobi March, China; and Atacama Crossing, Chile.

"Carrie is a world-class leader and Air Force officer whose dedication to fitness is unparalleled," said Capt. Roman Maynes, a 533rd TRS flight commander.  "Her positive attitude and high energy level as an instructor at the 533rd TRS combined with her unwavering commitment to fitness are a true testament to her success both professionally and personally."