Published in the North Island Eagle, February 2017
By Trish Weatherall
After watching a local survive for 78 days in the South American wilderness, the North Island is celebrating Port McNeill’s Megan Mackay Hanacek’s success on The History Channel’s third season of the Alone reality TV series. Hanacek, 42, placed third after surviving on her own in the wilds of Patagonia, also known as “the edge of the world”. Seasons one and two were filmed locally, in remote areas of Quatsino Sound and Neroutsos Inlet, but this is the first time a local has participated in the show.
Alone has ten contestants vied to last the longest for a prize of $500,000, each surviving alone, several kilometers apart in restricted territories, and providing their own food, shelter, and water. The winner, Zachary Fowler of Maine, lasted 87 days.
For Hanacek it was the challenge and personal growth she was after, more than the prize money.
“There were some very skilled participants in the fold, I knew the odds of winning were still only 10 percent, if not lower when you look at valuable body fat,” said Hanacek, “so I wanted to ensure I had the opportunity of a lifetime to demonstrate my skills to successful survive on the land in a sustainable manner, as a skilled biologist and forester.”
At 5’3”, 125 pounds (she gained 8 lbs for the show), Hanacek was fit and strong on Day 1 of Alone. The scant diet of lake trout and whatever she could forage, (under 1000 calories a day for twelve weeks), left her with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, two broken teeth, edema, hair loss, and a 20-pound weight loss. Two other contestants on either side of her placement, were medically removed from the show when their extreme weight loss brought their Body Mass Index (BMI) under 17, which increases risk of permanent organ damage, stroke, heart attack, osteoporosis and teeth damage. The winner of the show lost 73 pounds in his 87 days.
But Hanacek’s history and experience gave her the skillset to outlast seven other contestants on the show, filmed from May – August 2017, (winter season in S.A.) with temperatures dropping to -14C degrees at her lakeside shelter.
In her final days in Patagonia, the two broken teeth acquired from chewing rose hip seeds, and the potential risk of jaw infection, caused Hanacek to tap out of the game via satellite phone.
“My biggest consideration was being able to return to my family in a healthy state,” said Hanacek, the only mother on the show. “I am extremely grateful for the support from my husband, family and work.”
Along with being a self-professed “bada$$” who shaves her legs on camera with a 10” bowie knife (and she challenged the men to do the same with their facial hair), Hanacek is an example of a high achiever who tackles challenges by putting in the work it takes to succeed. Her accomplishments are diverse: She is a professional biologist and forester, mother, certified fitness trainer, marathon runner, photographer, conference speaker, and writer.
She has worked for Industry, Government, First Nations, NGOs and her own company on environmental assessment projects throughout North America including a Coastal Grizzly Bear habitat study, a book chapter on ecosystem-based management for Pacific Salmon, and Forest Stewardship Certification for the Great Bear Rainforest. She has also been involved in projects in the Antarctica, Europe, the USA and throughout Canada.
Hanacek was born and raised in Port McNeill, daughter of biologist and former North Island Secondary School teacher Hank Hanacek. She graduated from NISS in 1992, receiving the Governor General’s Academic Bronze Medal and a full scholarship to Simon Fraser University. She holds a BSc in Zoology/Animal Biology from SFU, a Forestry Diploma from BCIT and equivalent Forestry Degree from UBC.
In 2007 she married Tyson Mackay, son of Port McNeill Mackay Whale Watching owners Bill and Donna, in a beachside wedding. They have two children, daughter Kaia, age 9, and son Angus, age 6. Hanacek says they love calling the north island home – a place that allows them to be immersed in nature and a wonderful small town with strong community values.
She currently works as the Forest Stewardship Specialist for the Association of BC Forest Professionals, and was previously Managing Director of the Association of Professional Biology for British Columbia. She won the APB President’s Award for exemplary service to professional biology in BC in 2015 and the BC Premier’s Award for her contribution to the 2010 Winter Olympics Forestry Pavilion.
Throughout the Alone show, Hanacek demonstrated a calm determination, strength, and skillset that has made British Columbian residents proud. Her latest Facebook video was viewed over 10,000 times and is filled with comments from hundreds of inspired fans cheering her on. At 78 days, she now holds the record for longest Canadian (the longest of the 5 males before here was 58days) and the longest serving mom on the show (was 57 days before).
On returning home in August 2016, she is back to work full-time and spending precious time with her family and friends. Hanacek had to keep the details of where she had been under wraps until the show was advertised, and not give away any of the storyline, placements, or the winner.
“One of the most stressful parts of doing this show was the confidentially agreement, and potential monetary consequences if you broke the contract,” she said. “My husband had to deal with an increasing barrage of concerned family, friends, and colleagues as time went on….he did manage to convince a few that I was in the CIA – ha!.”
She has already done several interviews and media engagements, and keynote speeches are lining up throughout the province. She was a panel speaker at the Globe 2016 Leadership Summit in February 2016 (with more than 3000 organizations from 50 countries attending); the speaker before her was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
She is also now fortunate to be sponsored by several companies including a well-respected fair trade wool clothing company out of Quebec, due to one of the wool sweaters that served her well on the show. It keeping her warm against the elements, and used pieces to make the hand-tied fake fur fishing flies to catch brook trout (www.laundrymartstuff.com).
What’s next for Megan Hanacek? She is currently implementing several of the lessons learned into her forestry role with ABCFP and will be hosting several weekend wild edibles and survival courses over the next year, including a presentation about her Alone experience on March 11th and 12th in Port McNeill, and a foraging and bush skills course with fellow Alone contestant Carleigh tentatively scheduled for April. Watch her Instagram page at: www.instagram.com/meganhanacek/ and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/megan.hanacek for details.
Hanacek remains close to the 30 contestants from all three seasons, and especially to the five who lasted more than 70 days in Season 3.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience that only a few of us understand in the world,” said Hanacek. “From leaving family, friends and our jobs, to doing the survival to filming it all, to the confidentiality of the storyline, to watching the final edit of the show with everyone else, to the “fame” component of over 2 million people seeing your successes and struggles on national TV it really is a crazy experience – the participants are bonded for life!”
One of her quotes from the show has inspired fans so much that they have been sending it to her and thanking her, and she stands by it:
“I am really appreciative that in the middle of my life I was allowed to have this amount of time by myself to do a bit of life reflection. It’s an immensely powerful thing to be alone and be in solitude… Nature has immense power to it, and when you’re fully immersed in it for a significant amount of time, you really get an appreciation for every minute of every day and how fragile life is. You have to live positively and if you have the right mindset, it is amazing what can be accomplished.”