NORTHRIDGE, CA – Telma Ghazarian Altoon is competing in the world’s toughest footrace in about one month. But no one achieves success in such events alone. All the racers are backed up by crews of three or four (the maximum allowed) people.
Telma’s crew will consist of four, and is very international. Currently, one slot is open because two people who had planned on filling it were sidelined by health issues. The search is on for a replacement. Meanwhile, the other three are busily preparing for the big two-days in July that the Badwater 135 race spans.
The crew’s sole purpose for those days will be to see to the racer’s needs. They will support her by running beside her not only to hand her water and food, but also to keep her from running too fast! They will spray her with water to cool down in the 120–130°F heat of the desert, make sure all supplies are immediately available (e.g. fresh socks), keep the support van close for the brief naps she may take, etc. In short, they are there to make sure all she does is focus on the grueling task of running 135 miles and 14,600 feet of gain in the desert.
Valod Shaverdian, an engineer born in Iran, is the crew chief, and is responsible for making sure all the nitty-gritty arrangements are made and a tight schedule adhered to. He is the first Armenian to serve in that position in this three-decade-old race. He is most proud of being his daughter, Audrey’s, dad. But he also brings a dozen years’ worth of hiking/mountaineering/running experience.
Before seeing the documentary “Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135” in 2006, Shaverdian had never been involved in any organized sports and claims “I couldn’t run to save my life.” The film’s presentation of the human spirit and the extremes human bodies can endure fascinated him, however, so he started running.
Since then, he has finished eleven half marathons, four marathons, and two 50-kilometer races. His current passion is hiking. Besides summiting most of the major peaks in Southern California, he has climbed Mt. Ararat in 2014 and Mt. Elbrus (in Russia near Georgia, the highest mountain in Europe) in 2017, both dormant volcanoes. He aspires to complete a 50-mile event and climb South America’s highest peak, Aconcagua, in Argentina.
Balmore Flores has been running since he was 13 in El Salvador, where he was born. Immigrating to the United States at age 17, he ran the mile and two-mile for his high school track and cross-country teams for one season. After graduating, Flores joined the US Navy and kept running for fun, but stayed away from competitive events except for a few marathons here and there. Like Shaverdian, a film inspired him. In March 2013, seeing the film “Indulgence: 1,000 Miles Under the Colorado Sky” made him realize that running 100 miles or more is possible. After that, there was no stopping him.
He has completed the LA and San Diego Marathons multiple times, along with the Santa Clarita, Mountains to Beach, and Boston Marathons. Among his “short” races are the Valley Crest Trail 1/2 Marathon and Xterra Trail 21K (“K” is commonly used in racing circles for kilometer). He has six 50K (33-mile) Ultra-Trail races under his belt — Bulldog (twice), Speedgoat (twice), Bandit and Holcom Valley. He has the Leona Divide and Avalon Ultra-Trail 50 milers under his belt as well. Finally, in the 100 mile Ultra-Trail category, the Chimera (twice), Angeles Crest (twice), Bryce, Wasatch, and Born to Run (twice) have all seen the underside of his feet!
He hopes to return to Central America upon retirement and is already signed up to run the Ultra-Trail Guatemala. However, he’s concerned that “it might not happen because the volcano Fuego has erupted twice already this year, and the race course goes up that volcano. I am looking into running Ulta-Trail Fuego Y Agua in Nicaragua in 2019.”
Hakoop Abnoos, like Shaverdian, was born in Iran and currently resides in Burbank. He is a black belt in karate. He was been passionate about track and field in his teenage years when he participated in multiple 400m, 1600m and 10k races in Iran’s Hamahaykakan (pan-Armenian) games, continuing into young adulthood.
One of Abnoos’ life-long dreams was to climb Mount Ararat. After achieving this goal in 2014, he got passionate about hiking and mountaineering and went on to climb Mount Orizaba — Mexico highest, and Chimborazo, Cayambe, Illiniza Norte, Pichincha and Pasochoa in Ecuador. In 2015, he completed the LA marathon which reignited his passion for the sport of running. He has since completed four additional marathons, two 50Ks, two 50 milers and several half marathons and 10K runs. He placed first for his age group in two of those competitions. His biggest goals are to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and participate in a 100-miler.
All this running and training is necessary since the crew will also have to endure the same conditions as Altoon, but will be taking turns in running with her.