2 Utah moms compete in tough 100-mile race in New Zealand

SALT LAKE CITY – Network television has two new “cool moms” from the Beehive State.

Elite ultrarunners Rhandi Orme and Ashley Pauslon were named the only women's team to be named “Cool Moms” in USA Network's “Race to Survive: New Zealand.” The five-part series first aired on May 20 and features nine teams running 100 miles through some of New Zealand's most challenging terrain to win $500,000.

Orme, of Kaysville, is a wife and mother of five and a running/endurance coach. She says she grew up on mountain adventures like the one she's now participating in. She's competed in several 50- and 100-mile races, often coming in at the top.

Paulson is a St. George native, wife, and mother of four children. She is a professional athlete, coach, and fitness instructor who discovered running and adventure later in life. She has qualified for and competed in the Olympic Marathon and has won and set records in numerous ultramarathons in multiple states.

Rhandi Orme of Kaysville and Ashley Paulson of St. George compete on the USA Network "Race for survival: New Zealand."
Rhandi Orme of Kaysville and Ashley Paulson of St. George compete in USA Network's “Race to Survive: New Zealand.” (Photo: Brian Finestone, USA Network)

“Ashely and I met on Instagram!” said Orme. “We are a unique breed of people, full-time moms and endurance athletes who push themselves to the limit in competition. I love Ashley's charisma. … I want to surround myself with people who are positive – who make you feel better about yourself and your potential as a person. When we met on Instagram, we became fast friends.”

Paulson agreed, saying, “You can get a certain sense of what kind of people you want in your circle. … Rhandi is that kind of person.”

When the opportunity to be on the show arose, it was a no-brainer for her as it combined all of her passions while also presenting new challenges.

“I don't have a lot of experience with outdoor activities, but I've always wanted to do this,” Paulson said. “I've always wanted to go on wild adventures and this ticked all the boxes. Learning ropes courses and rafting – those are things I wanted to try. (Being on the show) excited me and also scared me, and that excited me because if something makes me nervous, that means it's going to challenge me and change me.”

We are a unique species: we are full-time mothers and endurance athletes who push themselves to the limit in competition.

–Rhandi Orme

In the reality TV race, participants must “navigate 100 miles of New Zealand's most rugged terrain. From the depths of ancient caves to icy alpine peaks,” according to the broadcaster. The teams must also find food in “caches” scattered along the route.

Hard things are short-lived

One of the toughest aspects of the experience, they say, was competing without consuming a lot of calories – this particular challenge really brought out the “mothers” in them.

“One of the tricky aspects was the lack of calories because we had missed some of our food supplies,” explained Orme. “I think the lack of calories and the fact that strategically we didn't know how far we needed to make it made it such a challenge, because the other problem was that we needed enough energy to run well.”

In the third and most recent episode, the pair are seen dividing almonds between each other, each wanting to give the other the bigger piece. Orme said this particular moment showed their maternal instincts as they wanted to make sure the other was OK. Thinking about it brought tears to her eyes.

“I think as mothers we couldn't help our children (like we normally do) so we put all our energy into helping each other,” Orme explained. “It was beautiful to see Ashley say, 'You get the bigger half,' because we really meant it. It kind of gave meaning to the suffering because I was looking out for Ashley and Ashley was looking out for me.”

Rhandi Orme of Kaysville and Ashley Paulson of St. George participated in the USA Network broadcast. "Race for survival: New Zealand."
Rhandi Orme of Kaysville and Ashley Paulson of St. George participated in the USA Network's “Race to Survive: New Zealand.” (Photo: Patrik Giardino, USA Network)

Paulson said caring for each other helped them through the difficult times, but the difficult experiences they had as mothers also helped them keep things in perspective.

“We've both given up certain things we love and know that better rewards await,” Pauslon said. “It's made it easier for us to deal with the hard times, knowing they were short-lived. We've had endless nights of babies waking us up. We know it's short-lived – it will pass. We can get through it.”

“We both have a really positive attitude. I don't think I saw Rhandi get angry. Even though we were both suffering, we were just grateful to be there to try and see what we could do.”

Inspire others

Orme and Paulson said they have received a lot of positive feedback saying they are an inspiration to women and great examples of how to stay positive even in difficult situations.

“I got a message from my cousin thanking us for teaching his daughters that they can do difficult things, and that really meant a lot to me,” Orme said.

“I've heard many times that people aren't fighting with the other teams, they're cheering for them,” Paulson added. “Some have wondered why we cheer for the teams, but that's our job.”

“I want them to run their best race. I just want to run a little bit better than them. … I'll always cheer someone on, even if they're out there pursuing the same goal as me. I hope they have a fantastic day, too.”

Rhandi Orme of Kaysville and Ashley Paulson of St. George compete on the USA Network "Race to Survive: New Zealand," There they traversed 100 miles of rough terrain and competed for a cash prize.
Rhandi Orme of Kaysville and Ashley Paulson of St. George compete in the USA Network's “Race to Survive: New Zealand,” where they traversed 100 miles of rugged terrain to compete for a cash prize. (Photo: Daniel Allen, USA Network)

The episode of that “incredible day” in which one team will take home the $500,000 grand prize is still to be announced. The fourth episode airs tonight. But grand prize or not, both agreed they are grateful for the experience and the support they received from family and friends.

“I would do it again 10 times over – I couldn't be more grateful for this opportunity,” Orme said. “I don't take lightly the support we had from our spouses, children and community. Ashley will forever be a part of my special community because of what we shared in New Zealand.”

“I had all the support and love of my family,” Paulson said. “Even though I missed them like crazy, this was the adventure of a lifetime with an incredible girl that I will just always love and she will always be my 'wild woman.' I am forever grateful for this opportunity.”

There are seven teams left in the race, including two more teams from Utah. Episode four airs Monday at 11 p.m. on the USA Network.

Anna Harden

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