Anna-Lee Markstedt O’Dwyer

“In Sweden, we are all about equality. We would never separate the guys and girls.”

Prior to the interview with Anna-Lee, I had her to send some pictures of herself so I could get an idea of who she was prior to racing and as a child. After about five emails with numerous pictures in each, I was in awe of her. I had no idea that she had led such an incredible life. The first picture I looked at was of her as a child doing a headstand on a horse. After that, I knew the interview would be nothing but interesting, to say the least.

As the day of the interview approached Anna and I had kept in touch and chatted a little with a few more emails being exchanged. I am not one to be nervous to meet someone new because I love meeting people, but this time I was a little intimidated.

The interview started a little later than we had expected due to her being out rock climbing with her husband all day. By the time we met up on Skype, she was still dressed in her workout clothes. Literally, we skyped moments after she returned home. Despite a day of climbing up a mountain, she was so bubbly and beautiful. This is the second interview with a woman who busts her ass working out and looks fabulous no matter what. It goes to show working out like a beast is the fountain of youth.

It’s 9:45 in the morning in Arizona for me and it’s 4:45 in the evening in Sweden for Anna. I had just finished my morning workout and had some breakfast. Anna and her family are looking to settle in for the evening.

WOR: You were rock climbing this morning?

Anna: Yeah, we were by Stockholm a beautiful city. We are blessed with an area where you can climb everywhere. There are parts where they blasted the walls to make queries and so it’s bolted and all you have to do is bring your ropes and clips. Now that I’m doing Ninja Warrior I really need the climbing because while they were doing the casting some of the girls were climbers. Their upper body is so strong I reckon I need it. It’s more fun than doing pull-ups in the gym.

WOR: We love American Ninja Warrior out here. What is it like out there?

Anna: Well it’s the first season here. We will film in mid-August and I assume it will be aired for the autumn.

WOR: This experience must be so exciting for you.

Anna: We will have to see because my strength is in running and there is no running in this. We will have to see. I have never actually seen the show, only clips of it. I have to google it and you never know how they are going to do it here in Sweden. Have you heard of Wipeout?

WOR: Yes! It’s where you make a fool of yourself running the obstacles.

Anna: It’s the same guy in charge of it over here, so I expect something in between the Gladiator and the Wipeout. Yay, I might make a fool of myself on national television.

WOR: But you will have fun while doing it.

Anna: Yeah, but I never actually wanted to be on t.v. I just filmed a reality show called The Athletes here in Sweden and I have to be all hush hush because I signed a waiver, but in the end, I told them I really never wanted to be on t.v. and they said, ‘why are you even here?!” I told them I have to do this for the experience. I really want to try it (the obstacles). The only way to try it is to be on the show.

WOR: You have obviously always been the type to do very athletic things throughout your life and you haven’t changed. You saying that makes me think of the pictures you sent me of you as a child doing “acrobatics” on a horse.

Anna: We call it volitge. We would just do that at the end of two weeks as part of the show. Yes, as a child I was very, very tiny. I would climb up on the rope because there was no saddle and just hang there by one arm. I was so stubborn I would just do it and kind of fearless. Always fearless. I am not afraid of heights or anything like that. It’s emotions that always get me. The fear of being alone and stuff like that. So, yeah I would ride a horse once a week, on Saturdays, it wasn’t anything serious. I never did sports as a kid.

WOR: Did your parents try to get you involved in sports?

Anna: My parents were hippies. They wanted to be my friend and they never pushed me. There is no one who is more shocked by me doing this than myself. I never did any competitions. I’ve run two marathons, but that’s not really a competition cause you never expect to beat the Kenyans, you know?

WOR: When was your first true competition?

Anna: I entered my first competition last September. It was the Tough Viking and I really had no idea what to expect and I came in 12th place. I thought I could do a really good job if I actually tried.

WOR: After that great finish how long did it take you to sign up for another race?

Anna: Three weeks. When I was younger I lived abroad and I have some friends in Belgium and I was talking to them about Tough Viking and my friend said they were doing one in two weeks’ time and I was registered for that within ten minutes of hearing about it. I got 2nd place in that one and thought, oh, I am really going to have a go at this. Then three weeks after that, I did another race in Copenhagen, which is only 45 minutes from Sweden. I placed 1st. Three weeks after that I did another race in Belgium. Then the season was over because it just gets too cold. The season ends in October and starts back up again in April. I did nothing in between then and now for the past five weeks, I have done a race every weekend.

WOR: I know you are wanting to attend the OCR World Championships. How is that coming along?

Anna: They didn’t have a qualifier here in Sweden so me and another guy from my team booked to go down to Holland and do it there. He is my rabbit. But, it turns out that one of the races I have already done has become a qualifier, so I have already qualified.

WOR: How do you think you are going to perform there?

Anna: I am signed up under the elites and I don’t think I belong there, but they told me I can move down. I can compete in my age group cause I’m quite old and think I can do good in my age group. The thing is…the sport is so young. Especially here in Sweden. The first two races were last year. I don’t think the real stars have found the sport yet. When I was first winning, I was winning by two minutes and now I’m winning by seconds.

WOR: What does your husband think of all of this?

Anna: He just said to me, “I can’t wait until your races are over.”

WOR: Why is that?

Anna: When I am home I am either racing or training for a race. Then I am at work.

WOR: What is your career?

Anna: Here we call it a personal assistant. I help a judge who has muscle weakness and is in a wheelchair. I start at 9 a.m. and work 25 hours and get off at 9 a.m. the following morning. That means I only have to work one day a week. I have a four-year-old daughter and he is minding her while I’m traveling and out doing my thing. Can you hold a minute? I have to make sure he is picking up my daughter. She is at her boyfriend’s house.

WOR: Boyfriend?

Anna: Yes, at four she has a boyfriend.

WOR: I am really curious about what the ratio of women to men race the elites where you are.

Anna: Here, about 1/3 are women compared to men.

WOR: What would you say to women to try and get more of them to compete in the elites?

Anna: I think women are scared off because we have a lot of electrical. I am recruiting more women to our team. I think we are about 50/50 on the team.

WOR: What is your team?

Anna: MITTough Team. There are about 160 of us. I really don’t know about getting more women because we are just so much worse than men. It really just pisses me off. I hate hearing, she is really fast for a girl. I just hate that! I always want to be the top ten overall. Always top ten.

WOR: We love to watch how many girls can ‘chick’ a guy in a race. We call it “being chicked”.

Anna: Here in Sweden it’s all about equality and I read that Amelia Boone said, it’s nice that all the guys and girls start together. We never start races separately here. I don’t get the logic of it, starting separately. Why? Here in Sweden if they did that, separated the two, they would probably be reported. We are supposed to have everything the same. Same salary, jobs… The results are listed by men and women and that’s it.

WOR:  So your parents probably aren’t shocked that you are out doing these races as opposed to your brother since equality is so much part of your culture. What do they think of you doing obstacle races?

Anna: It’s unfortunate because my father has dementia and is in a dementia home. It is kind of a pity cause he doesn’t know. My mother is proud. She was active, but never did any sports. My father was a good skier, but never actively did any sports.

WOR: Are your brothers going to race.

Anna: Yes, one is doing the Tough Viking in August. My other brother, who is the real star of the family, just genetically gifted should race. He’s bumming around in India right now.

WOR: What about your husband? Will he race?

Anna: No, it’s not his thing. He’s a diver. My family is really supportive and they help my husband so he doesn’t have to carry all the weight.

At this point, her husband had arrived home with her little daughter. Anna’s family is as sweet and lively as she is. Anna-Lee has a funny, witty, candid sense of humor and drives that only a select few embody. As the interview came to a close Anna-Lee said to me. I am only racing for a year and then I’m done. I told her, in a year when that doesn’t happen, we will do another interview to discuss how she could not give up the sport of obstacle racing. It’s just too addictive.  

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