From time to time we all find ourselves in difficult or tough circumstances not of our own choosing. Then there are those who actually opt to put themselves in extremely perilous situations as a way of testing their mettle -- for the challenge of it. Pennsylvania"s Tim Hewitt is such a person. He may just be the world's toughest athlete.

We marvel at the men and women who have the courage and toughness to take on the 1100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race each year. We wonder how they can possibly deal with the sub-zero-degree temperatures, mind-boggling wind-chills, the deep snow and the sometimes blizzard conditions while tackling traveling across some of the most rugged wilderness terrain in the world. These mushers, as they are called, are truly amazing ultra-endurance athletes.

Tim Hewitt is not a musher; however, Tim has completed the 1100-miles-of-ice-and-snow trek from Anchorage to Nome Alaska. He's done it a record four times. What makes this 150-pounder possibly the world's toughest athlete, and what makes his accomplishment all the more noteworthy, is that he competes in this toughest of races on foot. That's right, Tim runs (when not slogging through the deep snows) sans dogs, all the while dragging a 40-pound supply sled behind him. AND, he's not a young, elite athlete; this lawyer, husband and father of four teenage daughters is 55 YEARS OLD!

In the nine years, 2000 - 2009, that the Iditarod Trail Invitational race has been held, only 28 men and two women have completed the full 1100 miles (there's also a shorter 350-mile version of this race) -- it's so challenging that there's about a 90% drop-out rate. The race alternates between taking a southern route one year and a northern route the next. In 2009, Tim set a record for the southern route on foot (some competitors ski and some snow-bike) with a time of 25 days 9 hours 29 minutes. That means that in these less-than-perfect (to say the least) conditions, Tim Hewitt averaged more than 40 miles a day. The one other finisher last year was 42-year-old Brit, Marco Berni.

Giving an idea of the ruggedness of the racers is the fact that no support crews are allowed. In addition, there are stretches of wilderness where competitors won't come across another human for days. The weather, also, has a way of becoming extreme from time to time. Here's a sample, by way of the race directors' Bill and Kathi Merchant's daily journal/blog site: Tim left White Mountain around 20:00 on the 25th [of March]. He said, "At the summit of the second hill on Topcock it really started blowing and from there to safety my sled was constantly flipping over in the wind, turning me around like a weather vane and at times I couldn't take another step into it."

For more information on the Iditarod Trail Invitational, Tim Hewitt's 2009 race and photos, go to: Tim is signed up for 2010 (starting Feb. 28) and you can follow his race by following the daily journal entries at the aforementioned website.

The next time you're watching a baseball, football, basketball ... game and you hear the announcers going on about what an amazing athlete some "superstar" is or how tough this or that athlete is, think about this: Is their idolized, obscenely-high-paid 20- or 30-year-old tough enough -- fit enough -- to do what Tim Hewitt has done four times? What would happen to these athletes after a couple of days of racing across the Alaskan bone-chilling wilderness? Would they call their agent and yell, "Get me out of here!" Think about this: They get paid millions to play a game. Tim Hewitt's prize for surviving 1100 snow-covered miles, risking toes, fingers and life -- is a free entry into next year's race.

Is Lance Armstrong the world's toughest athlete? Is football's Brett Favre the world's toughest athlete? Is Kobe Bryant? OR is it 55-year-old Tim Hewitt?

Author's Bio: 

Ed Mayhew is a leading authority on slowing and reversing aging naturally, who through his speaking engagements, books, CDs and newsletters, helps Boomers thrive! His age-redefining books include: Fitter After 50, Fitter for Life and AGE BLASTERS: 3 Steps to a Younger You Visit him at: AND Ask for your F*R*E*E** Fitter After 50 e-newsletter