Most Father’s Day gifts go to fathers who are still with us. Winter Vinecki, a 14-year-old triathlete and aspiring Olympic aerial skier, is giving a year-long gift to her father, who is now gone.
Earlier this year, Vinecki set out to break a world record for her father. She wanted to become the youngest person ever to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents by the end of this year. Since January, she’s completed marathons on four continents, including North America, Africa, Antarctica and South America.
In 2009, Vinecki’s father, Michael Vinecki, died from prostate cancer. Vowing to help put an end to the disease, Vinecki, who has been competing in races and triathlons since she was 5, took her passion for racing and started TeamWinter.org. The non-profit organization honors her dad by spreading awareness and raising money for prostate cancer research.
“I was looking in the Guinness Book of World Records and I noticed the youngest person to ever run a marathon on seven continents," said Vinecki. "I pointed to the book and said to my mom, 'I want that record for my dad and for all the men and families affected by prostate cancer.'”
Today, Vinecki’s organization, which includes her mother, Dawn Estelle, as well as a board of directors, has raised more than $400,000.
“One hundred percent of the money goes to research and finding new cures for prostate cancer,” said Vinecki, who encourages athletes of all ages to join TeamWinter.org.
Her mother, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, travels with Vinecki and also runs each marathon.
“For me, my race is over when she gets to the finish line, because then I can quit worrying about her,” said Estelle. “I know how much each one of these races means to her and I know why she’s doing it. We are all doing it for her dad.”
Vinecki’s age, 14, proved to be an obstacle because many race directors set an age limit at 16. But her perseverance and clear athletic excellence won them over.
This past March, Vinecki traveled to the iciest, windiest and driest continent in the world - Antarctica. The race, put on by the Boston-based company, Marathon Tours and Travel, takes place on King George Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Vinecki came in third place for the women’s division, completing the race in 4:49:45. More impressively, she was the youngest person to complete a marathon on Antarctica.
Most recently, Vinecki traveled to Peru to run the Inca Trail marathon, put on by Andes Adventures. The grueling course began at approximately 8,650 feet and ended at 8,890 feet. Throughout the course, runners climb over many steep hills and two mountain passes (13,800 feet and 13,000 feet). The Inca Trail course has an elevation gain of 10,400 feet and descent of 10,950 feet.
Vinecki completed the race in 9:18:44, placing first in the women’s division and fourth overall.
“It was definitely the hardest one I’ll do in my life,” said Vinecki.
Runners rose at 2 a.m. to eat breakfast in the dark before setting out on the hilly course.
“It was hard to breathe,” said Vinecki. “I was expecting to make up the time on the down hills, but there were stone steps going down and the rain made them slick.”
Race director Devy Reinstein, who owns Andes Adventures and has staged the Inca Trail marathon for the past 18 years, works hard to make sure the runners remain safe and healthy.
“I could not have let her fail at this event,” said Reinstein, who spoke with Estelle extensively about the challenges of the course before allowing someone as young as Vinecki into the race.
“I accepted her because I knew this girl could do anything,” said Reinstein. “I was more than amazed.”
Vinecki has accomplished her feats while training with the youth Olympic development team for aerial skiing, a heart-stopping sport in which athletes ski off of two- to four-meter jumps, often performing somersaults and twists in the air before landing. She hopes to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. In order to train for the games, Vinecki lives with an Olympic host family in Park City, Utah.
While traveling the world in a year to complete the seven marathons, Vinecki is also a full-time high school student, pulling in straight A's at a demanding virtual high school run by Stanford University.
“My dad put off a lot of things he wanted to do, saying, ‘You know, I’ll do it tomorrow,’ but then he passed away from prostate cancer,” said Vinecki. “That’s why I’m doing all of these marathons when I can and not waiting until I’m older to do them.”
Vinecki has three continents to go if she’s to make the Guinness Book of World Records. She plans to run marathons in Mongolia, New Zealand and Greece by the end of the year.
Despite her growing list of accomplishments, Vinecki said the biggest reward so far is knowing she’s taking her dad around the world with her. With each continent she checks off, she hopes she’s getting one step closer to defeating prostate cancer.