Richard Ussher has been a winter Olympian, an Ironman and a professional multisport athlete. For years, he’s pushed himself to achieve results - to go further, faster, harder. But now the Kathmandu Coast to Coast race director and Kathmandu brand ambassador is slowing down and taking time to enjoy wild places in a new way.
How did you get into the outdoors?
I think ever since I was a kid, I’ve been into anything that was outdoors. My generation was still the one where you got told to go play outside and you didn’t come back in until you were called for dinner.
When I left school and went into skiing, I was definitely focused on racing but we also got to explore the mountains. When I finished skiing, I got into multisport and then adventure racing and especially in the training it was a whole new world to venture into. It’s all a symptom of loving doing something and exploring new places.
Why is it important to get outside?
Being out there gives people a real appreciation for nature and that leads to greater respect and turns people into advocates for the protection of those resources.
I try to inspire people, especially kids to get out there and give things a shot. I think for me the biggest thing that I always try and impress on people is that there’s no point just thinking about things and having a dream. You’ve got to put some action behind it to turn those dreams into a reality - you have just got to get out there and do it.
What does Coast to Coast mean for you?
Coast to Coast is really special to me in a number of ways. When I first did it, it was just a new challenge. I didn’t do it with the intention of becoming a professional athlete but it was the catalyst for what ended up being a 15-year career for me.
And I think what makes the race so special is that you are actually crossing a country. That thought - the whole notion that conjures up - makes for a very special kind of journey. And of course, the places you go are very special. The two real jewels of the race are the mountain run and kayaking but touching the sea on the West Coast and finishing with a dip on the East Coast is awesome.
You’ve stepped away from professional racing to run the Coast to Coast. Has that changed your experience of the outdoors?
The cool thing about adventure racing is that you get to go to amazing places that are right off the grid. But when you’re racing you don’t have much time to take them in. You’re not getting much sleep, you’re pushing really hard. The races can be quite brutal. It’s a very retrospective kind of enjoyment that you get.
The focus for me now is purely on having fun experiences and going to places that I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve got lots of things on the list to tick off - a lot in New Zealand, in our own backyard, and plenty overseas too.
It’s really nice getting back to the more pure essence of the outdoors - going back to some of the places where we raced, taking our time moving through them, exploring them more deeply.
For years, everything I did was always being driven towards an outcome - a race result. Now the only outcome is to have fun.
How has travel and adventure shaped you as a person?
I left school to go skiing - and by default go travelling. It definitely shaped me as a person. When ordering a cup of coffee or finding a train schedule is hard because you don’t speak the language, you get your eyes opened and you become much more aware. You embrace other cultures. You get an appreciation for the differences but also the common traits of humanity. Travel teaches respect and tolerance - even if you’ve been brought up in a particular way, you understand there are many other ways of looking at things.
People that do travel and go off the beaten path, when they come back and show you their photos and tell you the stories, it’s never the mainstream attractions that meant the most. It’s about some little old woman in a tiny town who they met and had a conversation or tea with, talked about her kids in sign language or were given some sort of local speciality. It’s when they’ve gone beyond that normal tourism thing where someone opened their heart to them and they made a real connection despite all the barriers.
What is your best travel story?
The most obvious example is how I met my wife. She raced for a Finnish team while I raced for a Kiwi team. She was famous in the racing world. We were randomly at a race in South Africa and I saw her walking past, said, “Hi Elina.” That led to us talking after the race and now we’re married and she’s been living out here for 11 years. It just shows, you never know when even the act of saying hello to someone from another culture might change your life. And you’ve got to be careful when travelling, you might end up married. (Laughs)