Eco-Challenge Fiji: Leadership Lessons From the “World’s Toughest Race”

Ashley Haun and title text.

Tiffy (00:02):

Ashley Haun was a competitor on Eco-Challenge Fiji, a grueling 10 day expedition race and TV show now on Amazon Prime. Haun trained hard for this 471-mile race leaving behind everything she knew to fly around the world to compete. She described it as the scariest thing she’s ever done. Today, Ashley is on Two-Brain Radio to talk about how she got involved, what she went through and what she learned about leadership from this incredible experience.

Chris (00:31):

Before we continue, I’d like to mention that this episode of Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Wodify. Wodify is an all in one solution for member management, appointment scheduling and tracking. Wodify’s insights tool includes the business health dashboard co-developed with Two-Brain to provide average revenue per member, length of engagement and more key metrics. Gym owners, to receive 20% off your first year of Wodify Core visit

Tiffy (00:59):

Ashley. Welcome to the show.

Ashley (01:00):

Thank you.

Tiffy (01:03):

First off, what made you want to do this crazy challenge and what did the race entail specifically?

Ashley (01:10):

Yeah, so I actually didn’t know what I was signing up for. So a friend of ours approached us and he actually sent a Facebook message and said, Hey, do you want to sign up for this TV show? And I really thought it was the Amazing Race, which is another television show, right. Like myself, I usually say yes and then figure it out later. And so we made a video, we actually had a professional video made and so we waited a couple of months and then got a phone call that we were chosen. And then at that time thought, OK, well we really need to understand what the heck we’re doing here. So yeah, it was a surprise as to exactly what I had signed up for.

Tiffy (02:00):

So when you learned what you were going to be going through, what did you do to sort of prepare yourself? Like what was the training process?

Ashley (02:08):

Yeah, so I’m a CrossFitter and so my mind works in at most one-hour segments, we don’t train for super long. I love CrossFit because it’s constantly changing, right? When you train for a race that’s that long, you have to do the repetitive thing over and over and over again. So our training changed drastically in that we would bike for a hundred miles, we would go out and ruck for, you know, eight hours, that sort of thing. Paddling, we knew that rock climbing was going to be something or we would have to do. So we started learning how to tie knots and belay. And we were given a little hint that sailing would be in it. And so we took a two-day sailing course, and that was the extent of our sailing experience, but we got enough of what we needed to know in order to show up.

Tiffy (03:09):

Were there any surprises along the way, like things that they sprung on you that you weren’t prepared for?

Ashley (03:14):

Yeah. So the sailing portion of things was definitely a surprise. We had to sail what is an ancient Fijian sailing vessel called a Camakau, and they replicated these by remaking them. And they were made out of very thin plywood, bamboo, they were tied together with ropes. Like it was pretty crazy to have taken only a two-day sailing course. We had one hour to figure out how to put together the sail. So when the race started, it was a paddle. And so we were only, its kind of like an Outrigger, but very unstable. So an Outrigger canoe, but very unstable. So three, two, one go, we take off paddling. When we got to the ocean, we were supposed to assemble the sail and then put it up to continue out into the ocean. But here was the thing that was unexpected was there was zero wind. So what was supposed to be all right, get to the ocean and assemble your sail, and then you get sort of a break. Right. Cause you’re not having to paddle as much, did not turn out to be that at all. It was calm, dead waters, zero wind. And you had to continue to paddle.

Tiffy (04:43):

What were the different portions of the trip? Like what exactly did it look like?

Ashley (04:49):

So it was pretty cool. I’m in Florida, we left Florida, flew to Fiji. We actually dodged a giant hurricane in flying to Fiji and got there and was able to do about a week of preparation as far as we had to check off with different elements. Like we had to show that, you know, we could tie our correct knots for the belaying and ascending with ropes. We had to show that we could put the Camakau together. We had to show just different technical things. We did lots of interviews because of course this was a television show and our team was one that was chosen to be featured. So that was interesting. I’d never done that before. Then they took us all, told us they gave us some, a map and said, take your rental car and go out into the middle of Fiji.

Ashley (05:45):

And we’re going to spend the night here. And they have this amazing ceremony for us, all that Mark Burnett and Bear Grylls was there for. And it was really, really cool. Spent the night out there. We were up, I think it was 4:00 AM. Sun is starting to come up. They march us out to a middle of a field. And of course, you know, it’s television. So Bear Grylls comes flying in on his helicopter, drops in very dramatic form and pulls a huge map. So now we can see the entire race course. But how it works is you get very small pieces of the map at a time. So we got a very small piece that said you will be paddling and sailing to this point. Right. So, you know, and then you had to collect these medallions along the way to show that you had been certain places and things.

Tiffy (06:41):

Yeah. And so how long was the span of time that you were in the race?

Ashley (06:48):

We were in the race a total of three days. And so we were out after that. We had a very dramatic—for us it was, it was really cool. We got to hike a volcano in the middle of the night. The thing that I will say that, Fiji is beautiful. It’s exactly what you imagined it to be. But what people don’t know about Fiji is how unbelievably kind the people are. And so we would be hiking a volcano in the middle of the night and the Fijian people would be out saying, hola, bula, Oh, Americans or wherever. Cause there was 62 other countries there, I believe. And so, you know, whatever country you were from, they’d be screaming your name. And so that was just a huge part of the morale of things to come around a corner. And there was somebody cheering you on when you think there’s no way. And they would say like, do you need food? Do you need my home? You know, and this is a very undeveloped country. And so their homes are very sparse and you know, they may have one mattress for their whole entire family, but they’re willing to give you their whole everything for you to take a rest.

Tiffy (08:07):

So what would you say in the whole experience, what was the most challenging part of it for you?

Ashley (08:17):

The most challenging part would be the teamwork part. When you’re doing a race like this or anything where you set off into the unknown, you have to have a very, very tight-knit team and you need to have worked with each other a lot in the past just to know each other’s idiosyncrasies, but also to know what a high looks like for somebody and what a low looks like and how you can help them when they’re in that low, because you’re going to need help too eventually. And so the challenge for us was truly just the teamwork aspect of it and working together.

Tiffy (08:58):

So what would you say you learned about leadership as in your own personal leadership from this experience?

Chris (09:10):

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Ashley (09:50):

From a leadership point of view, for me, I learned that the first thing I always do is take responsibility to step outside of the situation and look at it from above and say, what is really happening here? What emotions can I remove in order to make a better decision? And that’s when I talk about teamwork, that’s part of it is trusting your team to then take what’s happening and be able to remove the emotion and make an appropriate decision. The other portion of it too is you need to be able to trust those that you’re working with. And so, relationships are very, very important, but a good working relationship is what’s important. So, yeah.

Tiffy (10:55):

Was there anything you would’ve done differently looking back?

Ashley (10:58):

Yeah, I would have, when we were out of the race, what happened was there was a huge—I’m used to it being from Florida, but it was what we call summer storm.

Ashley (11:12):

So, you know, four or five o’clock every day, we have these massive thunderstorms that come through and that’s what was happening. We were also stuck between two islands. So our little Camakau had been hit by another boat and was taking on water. So, we were starting to, our Camakau was starting to flip, the storm’s coming and I stopped trusting my team. And I stopped believing in what we had created as far as a working relationship had gone. So looking back, I wish I would have taken the moment to get unemotional and figure out the situation. Instead of looking at Kara, who’s now my wife, and being like, I’m done, I no longer trust this because I could have made an unemotional decision and moved forward.

Tiffy (12:12):

I guess it’s in the heat of the moment there, it’s hard to kind of distance yourself from—

Ashley (12:17):

It is, and as a business owner, we’re in heat of the moment situations all the time, we don’t always get that moment to step back necessarily, you know, for whatever amount of time we think we need. We need to be able to react, take a breath and then make a decision. Instead of just being emotional right away.

Tiffy (12:42):

Have you developed any strategies since when it comes to leading in your own business to be able to create that distance?

Ashley (12:51):

Yeah. It’s a lot of times in business we’re able to take what time we need. Right. We can take a day, we can take an hour, we can do what we need in order to become unemotional when making decisions. If I can’t, if I need to react right away, I do take a breath. Try to imagine myself, as funny as this sounds, kind of hovering over the situation and what would that person do, right. Instead of the emotional Ashley that wants to.

Tiffy (13:25):

What would be your advice to business owners that in terms of how they should lead in a crisis, which is what a lot of them are currently going through, what sort of lessons have you taken from your experience that could be applied to business owners going through similar tumultuous situation?

Ashley (13:46):

Lead from the front, don’t hide from it, stand in front of everyone, whether that’s in an email or, you know, private Facebook group, or even if it’s in front of your employees and your members or whatnot, speak your truth but make it a truth that is direct, not overly long, and unemotional. And when I do, you know, I learned that in the race too, I learned how to be better, really in the race. I learned how to be a better leader. I went into that—one of my mentors said to me, you will come out of this completely different than you went into it. And I kind of thought at the time, yeah right. Like, come on now. They were a hundred percent right. So what I came out it with is that leading from the front, making an unemotional decision and being short and sweet in what you want to say.

Tiffy (15:02):

And investing, I guess, that time in your team members and putting that trust, learning to put your trust in them.

Ashley (15:14):

Right. So you’re a team of four and you have a fifth person that is your tack, which they’re the person doing the behind the scenes camp set up that sort of stuff. And unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to train with our one member. He lived in Utah and just busy life, but, yeah. So in business, what you want to do, what I want to do is build a working relationship with those people so that I can know their love languages. I can know how, you know, when they’re on a high or a low and how to help them do their very best at what opportunity that I’m giving them.

Tiffy (15:58):

It’s kind of like that concept of bringing the water level up. So all the ships can rise along with you.

Ashley (16:02):

Yeah, absolutely.

Tiffy (16:05):

It’s really, really inspiring. What would you say is your proudest moment of that whole trip, even though there were those setbacks and there was that storm, what would you say you’re most proud of in that whole experience?

Ashley (16:21):

Climbing a volcano in the middle of the night that no other human, other than the two Fijians that hacked their way through it, had never done before and getting to the top of that. We do a workout in CrossFit called Chad, which is a thousand step-ups for time with a weighted vest. And I had done that workout in preparation for this. And I kept thinking, this is just Chad, this is just that workout. You know, now I’ve got a 45-pound pack on my back and got to the top of that volcano and was the most beautiful view you could ever imagine. And so, you know, you’re tired and you’re hungry and all those good things, but that was definitely a moment to be proud of. And the coolest part is that I got to celebrate it with Kara.

Ashley (17:13):

Do you believe it made you a better business owner?

Ashley (17:15):

A thousand percent. It really did. When you go through hard things, I believe you need to go through hard things. I believe you need to celebrate the hard things instead of avoiding the hard things, because those aren’t going away, but your reaction to them each time will change the more you experience them. So I welcome them honestly, and I search them out in order to become better and better and better, because I believe everything we do can be applied to business, to life.

Ashley (17:50):

To family, to parenting, to mentoring, whatever it may be.

Tiffy (17:54):

Ashley, thanks so much for taking time out of your day to talk with me about this. It sounds really cool.

Ashley (18:01):


Tiffy (18:01):

It was a real opportunity that you took advantage of, and it seemed like you really gleaned a lot from it.

Ashley (18:10):

Yeah, I sure did.

Tiffy (18:11):

Thanks so much. That was Ashley Haun on Two-Brain Radio. I’m Tiffy Thompson. Running a business can be tough, but Two-Brain Business has a Growth ToolKit to success. You don’t have to figure out all this stuff yourself and get overwhelmed. To hear how a Two-Brain mentor can help you find success fast, click book a free call in the show notes to spend 60 minutes with a mentor. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe for more episodes.



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