News & Stories
June 24, 2022

Going solo, but not alone

By Rick Woodall

with contributions by Adam Newton


The sky was dark and the water frigid when Adam Newton (07C) waded into the Pacific Ocean in early December 2021 for the first leg of Chile’s Patagonman triathlon, one of the world’s most extreme endurance races. Ahead lay an open-water swim that would stretch to nearly 3 miles, a 112-mile bicycle ride through the Andes Mountains, and a 28-mile run across the Chilean countryside – all leading to the finish-line near the Argentinian border.

Newton is no stranger to such rigors. First as a cross country runner at Berry, then as a marathoner in the streets of New York and Boston, and finally as a triathlete sponsored by the BlueSeventy company, he knows well the challenge of pushing one’s body beyond the limits of what seems possible.

This time would be different, however. This time, he wouldn’t be sharing the struggle with a pack of fellow competitors – he would be on his own.

Two weeks earlier, Patagonman had become yet another victim of the global pandemic, canceled by the Chilean government due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Officials left the door open for individual competitors with the appropriate travel credentials to try the course on their own, but only a handful ultimately did so, Newton among them.

“I’d already invested the time and the training and was in great shape,” he recalled. “We had a baby on the way, so I couldn’t put it off a year. My work was supportive, along with my family and friends, so I thought, ‘I have to do this. I’ll figure out a way.’”

He did more than that, becoming the only person to complete all three segments on what would have been race day. Smiling at the distinction, Newton concluded: “I guess that makes me the unofficial winner.”

Changing plans

When Newton first applied for Patagonman, the dream was to join former Berry teammate Matt Scott (09C) in an international field of 300 triathletes chosen by lottery. Notified in March 2021 that they had made the cut, the Viking duo began their arduous training while recruiting a support team that eventually swelled to 10 or more, nearly all Berry alumni. Accompanying the racers to Chile, this group would be tasked with managing race logistics and delivering supplies, assistance and encouragement along the route.

As it turned out, nagging injuries hampered Scott’s training, forcing him to forgo the race. Difficulties also befell the support team, cutting into its ranks. All the while, Newton’s path remained clear, and he was determined to continue on as long as the Lord kept the door open.

Uncertainty swirled right up until the day of the flight. In fact, one of two remaining support couples – Ben (06C) and Allison Wagner Krichko (06C) – were forced to drop out just hours before takeoff when travel documents submitted weeks earlier were left unapproved. This left Newton with a team of only three: wife Sarah King Newton (08C) and Bill (09C) and Maggie Norman.


Helping hands (and wings)

Challenges arose almost immediately upon arrival in Santiago, as Newton discovered a side pocket on his luggage open and the gear inside missing.

“I walked away shaking my head, assuming my things had been stolen,” he related. “Just then, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned to see my things in the hands of a local baggage handler. They had spilled out in the loading area. My faith in humanity returned, and I was embarrassed by my lack of trust.”

Faith and trust were recurring themes throughout Newton’s South American adventure, but particularly during the pre-dawn swim. He recounted:


“I swam straight out and prayed nothing in the water would be looking for a big Sunday breakfast. After 33 minutes and 1.2 miles completed, I was right on pace. I just needed to do a simple turn and swim back. About that time, a large splash hit right beside me, so close that I could feel the spray. Putting my head down in the water, I don’t think I breathed until a few minutes later. I had never swum the second half as fast as I did that day. Above me was an army of angels in the form of condors. Maybe they chased off my sea predator. Flying low right in front of me, they were like military escort planes skimming the water.”

Safely ashore, Newton traded his wetsuit for a bicycle and set off on the next leg. This time, help came in the form of cheers and honking horns from passing motorists, including an oil tanker that escorted him to the top of one incline and an Italian known to the group only as “Gucci” who arrived in Chile as a competitor but wound up an enthusiastic spectator and cheerleader after his bicycle was lost in transit.

“He easily could have crawled into a corner and been mad at the world,” Newton marveled. “Instead, he drove nearly three hours to provide 10 seconds of support that was immeasurably valuable to me. He came out of nowhere at the exact moment I needed someone. To this day, I don’t know what he said, but those Italian words of encouragement did the job.”

While the ascents were laborious, the “El Diablo” headwind that buffeted Newton on the final descent was an even greater challenge. Struggling against that unrelenting force, he experienced a moment of sheer terror when a bump in the road caused his handlebars to come loose and rotate downward.

“I’m going 30 miles an hour down this steep descent and the handlebars slip down,” he described. “For a moment, I think, ‘This is it. This is how I go down.’ This was the life-flash-before-you moment.”

Luckily, Newton was able to stop before tumbling into the surrounding valley. He then readjusted the handlebars, noting that he screwed them on so tight “I probably won’t ever be able to get them off again.”

The welcome sight of his support team signaled the end of the ride. They were joined by a small group of Chileans who had gathered to cheer the handful of cyclists on the road that day. One looked at Newton and exclaimed, “Me Patagonboy, tu Patagonman!”


Newton would be in his element for the last leg, racing on foot as he’d done so many times at Berry. Team member Bill joined him for brief stretches to provide support and company, and Gucci once again turned up at just the right moment, offering critical directional assistance in the form of a “universal thumbs up and hand point” after Newton’s smart watch failed, denying him access to the course map.

The run wasn’t without its difficulties, but it ended in the best way possible, with wife Sarah by his side.

“Running the last mile with my pregnant wife, who had spent the last 12 hours staying mentally strong to support me and beat back any worries about the dangers I might face, was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget,” he said.


Lessons from the journey

It would be easy to focus solely on the individual nature of such an intensely physical accomplishment, but that wasn’t the big takeaway for Newton, a financial professional and associate partner for Aon when not helping Sarah raise their three children (including this spring’s new arrival) at the family home in Dunwoody, Ga. Reflecting on the experience, he returned again and again to the support he received.

First and foremost were the “rock stars” on his team. Then there were the students in the portfolio management class he stepped in and taught at Berry last fall; Newton said their videos and encouragement “motivated me as I motivated them.”

From right, Adam Newton with support team members Sarah King Newton, Maggie Norman and Bill Norman.

And finally, there were the many people he encountered along the way, all making their own unique contributions to his ultimate triumph.

“Have faith in humanity,” Newton declared. “All those who helped and encouraged me are examples of good in the world. We just need to see the good and recognize that it happens all the time.   

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