All eyes were on 70-year-old Gunhild Swanson as she crossed the finish line of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains Western States 100-mile Endurance Run in Auburn, CA. Swanson beat the clock with only six seconds to spare, becoming the oldest woman runner to finish the race in under thirty hours, the cut-off to be counted as an official ultra runner finisher.
Out of the limelight was a 74-year old woman who started the race last and never crossed the finish line. She never meant to: with any luck at all she would never see a single Ultra runner. She is a sweep rider.
Sheri Krueger has been part of the sweep riders, a group of volunteer horse riders that stays at the back of the race, for ten years. They use their own horses, buy their own gas and use their own pickups and trailers. “We’re all jockeying for space in the little areas that we have to park our rigs and unload our horses,” Sheri lamented. “Once I was trying to park my 12-year old Dodge 1500 and I hit a tree and the quarter panel pressed into the tire. I had to tie a chain around a tree and pull the panel out so that I could drive home.”
Each group of sweep riders has their scheduled time to take over for the previous group. The sweep riders start the race behind the runners, climbing over 18,000 feet and crossing over areas aptly named Miller’s Defeat and Dusty Corner. It was at Little Bald Mountain Trail this year that Sweep group #2 helped three people.
Sheri’s group, Sweep group #1, found a runner flat on his back. Sheri’s radio call said he was “conscious but not able to sit up.” It’s a single track trail that you might be able to get a quad into, but it would be difficult. The sweep riders were the only hope the runner had of getting back to civilization. They put him on a horse and walked him to Robinsons Flat aid station.
Both Sheri and her son, Tom, volunteer for the California Endurance run and the Tevis Cup 100 Miles One Day Horse Ride. They share a truck and trailer that makes it tricky because they’re on different sweep groups.
Tom, Sheri’s son, met his crew at 6 AM and rode behind Swanson all the way to the finish line at the fairgrounds in Auburn, CA.
Tom, and his sweep rider companion, Nancy felt the excitement and talked about riding their horses into the stadium. But like all sweep riders before them, they would only be seen if Swanson needed them. As she turned into the fairgrounds to the roar of the crowd, Tom and Nancy veered off and headed home until next year.