Willie Benegas (Expedition Member)

Diane Van Deren (Lead)
Damian Benegas
Willie Benegas

After Diane Van Deren won the world's coldest, toughest footrace in 2009 - the 430-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra race - one might think she'd rest on her laurels. But that isn't how this super-athlete, mother of three and overall role model is wired. In January 2010 she'll attempt a record-shredding speed traverse of South America's tallest peak, Aconcagua (22,841 feet).

Aconcagua is a massive volcanic mountain that is frequently blasted by a hurricane-force jetstream Argentineans call the "viento blanco," or white wind. It's a serious mountaineering objective that typically takes a climbing team three weeks to summit. Diane's speed trek will climb up the "Polish Glacier" route on the East Face to the summit, and then she'll head down the Northwest side of the mountain. Total distance will exceed 100 miles.

During Diane's ascent, she'll be monitored by the Mayo clinic of Rochester, MN, by being hooked up to performance-tracking portable instruments. Medical science will focus not only on Diane's athleticism, but also on her singularity as a survivor: In 1997 she underwent radical and risky brain surgery to cure epilepsy. Though she'd been a pro-tennis player in college and multi-sport expert, she found her Ultra running stride after that lobectomy removed a golf-ball sized piece of her brain. For Diane, running was the antidote to seizures. Whenever she felt the tingling sensation that signaled the onset of a seizure, she'd slip on her running shoes and hit the trail. Indeed, she never had a seizure while running, and she's remained seizure-free since surgery. Running, she reports, puts her into a zone where time and distance evaporate; perhaps that's the key to her prowess on so many 100-mile runs, like the recent Hard Rock Trail event in Colorado, on which she earned eighth place among the women's division

On Aconcagua, she'll join forces with The North Face alpinists Willie and Damian Benegas. A decade ago, Willie set a world record by blitzing the peak in under 24 hours. This year, he'll be a team member on Diane's historic fusion of ultra running and alpinism.