Normally, they’d be scaling distant peaks, running marathons in faraway nations, or training for intense competitions. But even Chicago’s most ambitious explorers and athletes are subject to the same shelter-in-place orders as the rest of us. Here’s how a few of them are coping with confinement.

Rachel Findley

Ninja warrior and obstacle course racer
Tip: Create your own gym

When all three of her gyms — Windy City Ninjas, First Ascent, and the YMCA — shuttered, Findley was knocked for a loop. After all, she’d been training six days a week, 10 to 13 hours total, to audition for American Ninja Warrior in May.

But after a couple of days, she began marshaling all her resources. “I actually read a whole book called Convict Conditioning, written by a guy who was in prison, stuck in a little room with only bodyweight,” she says.

She’s combined his program with yoga, running, and her own creative moves to stay sharp. She’ll climb trees, hang from bleachers, and hoist herself on her home pull-up bar, adding her 2-year-old and 5-year-old for extra resistance.

The audition was postponed, but for right now, she’s still registered for the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association finals in Vegas this summer. She knows that’s still tenuous — but hopes to maintain her edge whenever she can return to competition.

And, she notes, training is more than a physical pursuit. “It’s a love thing,” she says, a counterweight to her roles as a mom and a dog trainer. “This is what I do. This is what keeps me sunny. This is why I smile every day.”


Chirine Njeim

Olympic alpine skier and long-distance runner
Tip: Maintain your routine

Njeim trained all winter for the Rotterdam Marathon, originally scheduled for April — her last chance to secure her return spot to the Olympics (she’s been to both the winter and summer games for her native Lebanon).

First, the race was postponed until October. Then, the Olympics themselves were moved to 2021. Njeim was disappointed, but sees the bigger picture: “Before, you’d go out and if you had a bad race, you’d be upset,” she says. “Now, you go out and run and think, ‘I’m lucky, actually, to be doing this.’”

She’s coping by keeping the same rhythm on a smaller scale: say, a 30-minute faster run on Wednesdays instead of 75 minutes, a longish run on the weekend, easy miles most other days. With the Lakefront Trail closed, she’s exploring the North Shore Channel Trail and new routes on the streets of her Lake View neighborhood.

Each night, she meets her teammates from the Second City Track Club on Zoom for core workouts and catching up. And when she’s not working or working out, she’s walking her golden retriever Zoe and cooking Lebanese dishes with her husband, who usually travels during the week.



Exactly one year ago — I enjoyed a perfect Hong Kong evening on Victoria Peak with Nina — it was the last night before I setoff for Nepal to climb Mount Everest. I felt the whole spectrum of emotions — excitement, nervous, sad — to be leaving Nina for 2 months, doubts and confidence…at the same time if thats possible. The last few weeks have made me feel a whole lot of something else — appreciation — to live in a world where travel, adventure, and human connection are so accessible. My expedition which was to climb Gasherbrum 2 in Pakistan has been cancelled. I feel most sorry for the individuals whose livelihoods depend on these expeditions — but it's absolutely the right decision — traveling right now and risking spreading Covid-19 to other healthcare systems is a way bigger deal. I am excited though as I have decided to set my sights on an oxygenless attempt in Nepal in 2021 on the 7th highest mountain in the world — "The White Mountain" Dhaulagiri. Instead of spending the summer in Pakistan — I look forward to training in Colorado — and getting to the top of a whole lot of 14ers with Nina…(and maybe @theodorewaggington if he behaves)

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Alex Pancoe

Brain tumor survivor, mountaineer, and explorer
Tip: Choose a new goal

Last July, Pancoe ascended Denali and became the first Chicagoan to complete the “Explorer’s Grand Slam” — reaching both poles and Seven Summits. This summer, he’d planned to climb Gasherbrum 2 in Pakistan — the world’s 13th-highest mountain — without supplemental oxygen.

But as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, he knew canceling was the right call. “The worst thing in the world would be to bring this virus to countries in the world that don’t have the healthcare systems to deal with that,” he says.

Now, he’s set his sights on a new target: “The White Mountain,” or Dhaulagiri, in Nepal, in 2021. His coaches at Uphill Athlete have supplied creative workouts — treks up his River North staircase with a pack on his back, and multiple sets of squat jumps and lunges, sometimes with a weighted vest.

Paradoxically, perhaps, his adventures have instilled skills well matched to this moment. “When you’re on climbs, a lot of basecamp is sitting around and waiting for weather; it’s actually the most stressful time,” he says. “You’re exhausted and confined to a tent with your team, sometimes for a week or longer. So in that regard, this isn’t totally unfamiliar.”


Diana Chen

Travel blogger
Tip: Give back (and get a dog)

Chen, an attorney who left her law-firm position in 2017 to help other entrepreneurs and travelers build remote businesses, had planned to move to Washington state this summer — a relocation that’s currently postponed. Her 30th-birthday trip to Vegas last month was also canceled. Many other adventures she’d had penciled in never came to pass.

To fill the void, she’s trading tales of past travels in the Facebook group for the site she runs with her sister, MVMT Blog. Many members have lost jobs, so she’s connecting them with everything from writing and social-media gigs to remote data entry and positions teaching English online.

And while her move was delayed, she hit fast-forward on another part of her plan: adopting a six-month-old cattle-dog mix, named Toby. She’s currently training him to be a hiking and adventure buddy.

She’s not quite sure which future quests he’ll accompany her on, or when she’ll mark more destinations off her list of 65 countries and counting. “I know some travelers are hedging their bets and booking flights now for the fall, hoping things will be OK by then,” she says. “But I’m going to wait until everything is open.”



In the second half of 2018 I headed to Brazil for Meia Maratona do Rio. This was the fourth continent I ran on and easily one of the most beautiful. . The race has a point-to-point course starts at São Conrado, finishes in Marina do Glória and goes through some of the most famous neighborhoods in Rio (Ipanema, Copacabana, Flamengo, and several others). There are a couple small hills during the first 5K but after that everything flattens out. For almost the entire race there are mountains on the left side of the course and the beautiful beaches that Rio is famous for on the right. You also get to see perfect views of the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain while you're running and since the race at the end of August (which is late winter/early spring in Brazil), the temperatures are nice and mild. . Aside from the race, the nightlife in Rio is awesome. There's a great post race party with plenty of music and dancing at the clubs alongside the beaches. The food is amazing and so is the cachaça. There are also a bunch of other unique places to to check out in Rio, like Escadaria Selarón which is a set of steps made into a work of art by a local artist who gradually covered them in more than 2000 tiles over a period of 20+ years and eventually became so famous that celebrities and other people from all over the world started sending him their own tiles to add. . Brazil's scenery, music, art, culture and people make it a fascinating country to run in and visit. As soon as I left I was already making plans to go back. . #brazil #rio #riodejaneiro #saopaulo #runner #runtoinspire #runalways #runchat #instarunners #runnerscommunity #runnersofinstagram #travel #adventure #wanderlust #wandergram #travelgram #explore #travelphotography #neverstopexploring #lifeofadventure

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Tom Leddy

Marathoner and author of The Ultimate Travel Guide for Runners: How to Travel for Races Without Losing your Money and Sanity
Tip: Grieve your losses — then find new motivation

The day he was due to log his last long run before the Antarctica Marathon — an event at which he’d complete his goal of racing on all seven continents — Leddy learned the trip would be called off.

At first, he tried to stay positive, but his desire to run even a few miles evaporated. It wasn’t until he admitted his disappointment that he felt compelled to leave the house for a three-mile jog. “At that point, I was like, ‘all right, it actually does feel good to get out,’ ” he says.

The state parks near his home in Peotone are closed, but he’s been able to log miles on country roads. Besides that, he’s been going on drives with his daughter — she’s 15 and has her learner’s permit — and working long hours at Salesforce, helping higher-ed institutions and non-profits transition to online platforms.

It’s a role that’s helped him see light in the darkness. “There are going to be opportunities coming out of this. People are going to figure out how to get by, creating new services they can offer online,” he says. “Eventually, there will be a silver lining. It’s going to take a while to see it. But it’ll be there.”