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Eight months ago, American Way launched its seventh annual Road Warrior contest to find the ultimate champion of the skies. We spent countless hours sifting through the nearly 1,500 entries, and, after debating endlessly, we whittled down our selections to the five who, in our opinion, embodied the true meaning of a road warrior. The essays of these five individuals pulled at our heartstrings: They made us laugh (about the best way to treat a jellyfish sting and the making of new friends in Egypt over rounds of mysterious drinks), cry (over how a woman’s daughter greeted her at the airport by standing up from her wheelchair and walking for the first time), and even cringe (at a possible tribal attack in Papua New Guinea). After making the difficult finalist selections, we left it up to you, our readers, to vote online for who you felt should be crowned as the victor. Four weeks and 14,226 votes later, you chose your grand-prize winner.

But before revealing whom you selected, we wanted to reward our winners for all their hard work. (They deserve a little R&R, right?) And, so, treating them like the true celebrities they are, we rolled out the red carpet and turned the spotlight on them for a change by whisking them away to the exclusive Caribe Hilton in the hallowed historic city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where movie stars old (Clark Gable and Marlene Dietrich) and new (Eva Longoria Parker and Jennifer Lopez) have come for years to escape their busy lives. And channeling old-school glamour of days past, each one of our winners lived up to — and beyond — his or her star potential. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, please, for our 2008 Road Warrior winners.

Photography: Sean McCormick. Photo assistant: Austin Lochheed. Styling: Tammy Theis/Independent Artists Agency. Styling assistant: Brenda Gomez. Hair and makeup: Al Tidwell/Kim Dawson Agency. Location: Caribe Hilton, San Juan.Pool area of the Caribe Hilton, San Juan

Grand-Prize Winner Shannon Kenitz

Prize package: Two million Hilton HHonors bonus points and one million AAdvantage bonus miles

Occupation: Executive director of the International Hyperbarics Association

Home base:Madison, Wisconsin

Road-warrior philosophy: Cherish your travel and embrace the unknown.

Best lesson learned as a road warrior: Make every trip count, and know that there’s a purpose to what you’re doing even if you don’t know what it is at the time.

Best piece of advice for a beginner road warrior: Always carry a pair of flip-flops, and always be kind to the airline employees.

Favorite destination:Las Vegas! Favorite route: Madison to Chicago to Orange County, California; or Chicago to Los Angeles. Favorite airport bar: Chili’s bar at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Favorite hotel: The Venetian, Las Vegas. Best minifridge snack: Peanut M&M’s and a cold bottle of Miller Lite. Can’t travel without: Photos of my daughters and a black braided bracelet with a heart charm bearing their names. Strangest souvenir ever purchased: A cowboy hat off the head of a real live cowboy in Vegas. Best way to beat jet lag: Get into a hyperbaric oxygen -chamber! Longest time spent away from home: 47 days. Most number of trips in one month: Nine. Conquer nervousness by: Having a shot of Patrón Silver tequila. Nostalgic for: The escalator where I saw my daughter Grace get up out of her wheelchair and walk for the very first time. Favorite gadget: My BlackBerry. I’m lost without it. Unwind by: Snuggling on my couch with Lily and Grace and watching the Disney Channel. If I weren’t a road warrior, I’d be: A stay-at-home mom, attending PTO meetings.

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Second-Prize Winner Kathy Fox Frisbie

Prize package: A Bose Lifestyle 48 home entertainment system, a Bose Wave music system, a pair of Bose QuietComfort 3 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones, an American Airlines Vacations five-night trip for two to the Hilton Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica, and a Panasonic Toughbook W7 laptop computer

Occupation: Vice president of education and accreditation, ATI Enterprises

Home base: Flower Mound, Texas

Road-warrior philosophy: This ain’t my first “road-eo.”

Best lesson learned as a road warrior:We are road warriors because we have to be in control. … But my best lesson I learned in a hurricane in Cabo San Lucas: Sometimes, you just have to let go.

Best piece of advice for a beginner road warrior: Stuff that one-quart baggie, baby. Favorite destination: Anywhere that I get to be alone with my husband. Easiest airport to navigate: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Terminal D. Most difficult airport to navigate: Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Favorite hotel: A tie between the Four Seasons Hotel Miami and Wynn Las Vegas. Best minifridge snack: Diet Coke. Can’t travel without: My three-ounce plastic containers. Strangest souvenir ever purchased: Fudgee-O cookies, the best chocolate cookie in the world. They can be purchased only in Canada. Most recent trip: Cincinnati for work, Toronto for pleasure. Most number of trips in one month: 12. Conquer nervousness by: Eating chocolate. Nostalgic for: The days before business casual at the office, when women wore suits and heels, and men wore ties. Favorite gadget: My GPS. Obsessed with: I’m an Aries … where do I start? My husband, pleasing my boss, Sex and the City, Sour Skittles, buying clothes for my niece, ABBA … Unwind by: Running. If I weren’t a road warrior, I’d be: A Zamboni driver. Seriously. They have a cool job. All they have to worry about is making concentric circles on the ice!

Third-Prize Winner

Louis Roden

Prize package:An American Airlines Vacations three-night trip for two to the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, Bahamas, and a Panasonic Toughbook W7 laptop computer

Occupation: CEO and founder of Inspirational Leadership, a leadership training and development company

Home base:San Diego

Road-warrior philosophy: Everyone you meet on your journey is a gift; treat them as such.

Best lesson learned as a road warrior: The world is a small place; look for hope or bring hope yourself.

Best piece of advice for a beginner road warrior: Smile a lot and lighten up — your real status is in your heart, not in your wallet.

Favorite destination:Home, San Diego! Easiest airport to navigate: John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. Wish I could use it more. Most difficult airport to navigate: That’s easy — Los Angeles International Airport. Favorite route: Any route that has a great in-flight crew. Favorite airport bar: The T.G.I. Friday’s at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It’s easy to get to, and they have a piano player. Favorite hotel: Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok, Thailand. The service is impeccable, and they always know me. Favorite minifridge snack: Johnnie Walker Black. Restaurant you keep going back to: Station Sushi in Solana Beach, California. It’s my favorite sushi ever, and I’ve looked. Can’t travel without: Notes and pictures from my two little boys. Strangest souvenir ever purchased: Sinister-looking metal-wire toy robots from a beach vendor in Phuket, Thailand. Security was not amused. Most recent trip: San Juan, Puerto Rico. Best way to beat jet lag: Orient to your destination time. If it’s daytime, stay up. If it’s nighttime, sleep. It’s hard, but it works. Longest time spent away from home: 30 days. Most number of trips in a month: Six, covering five countries on three continents. Conquer nervousness by: Music. Nostalgic for: My father’s voice. Favorite gadget: My webcam and computer so I can talk with my sons when I travel. Obsessed with: Conversation and meeting new people. If I weren’t a road warrior, I’d be: A stay-at-home dad!

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Third-Prize Winner

Daniel Melchiorre

Prize package: An American Airlines Vacations three-night trip for two to the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, Bahamas, and a Panasonic Toughbook W7 laptop computer

Occupation: Performance and revenue optimization, Worldhotels

Home base:Solana Beach, California

Road-warrior philosophy: Stay loyal and ye shall be rewarded.

Best lesson learned as a road warrior: Get to the airport early.

Best piece of advice for a beginner road warrior: Wear loafers. Favorite destination: Home. Easiest airport to navigate: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Most difficult airport to navigate: London Heathrow Airport. Favorite route: Anything nonstop. Favorite airport bar: Admirals Club at New York John F. Kennedy International Airport. Favorite hotel: Graves 601 Hotel, Minneapolis. Best minifridge snack: Dewar’s. Restaurant you keep going back to: Tamboo in Rincón, Puerto Rico. Can’t travel without: My laptop. Strangest souvenir ever purchased: Cheese curds. Most recent trip: Orlando. Best way to beat jet lag: Ambien CR. Longest time spent away from home: 90 days. Most number of trips in one month: 10. Conquer nervousness by: Not overanalyzing — just do it! Nostalgic for: Postcards. Favorite gadget: BlackBerry. Obsessed with: Finding the Cash Cab in New York City and surfing (waves, not the Internet). Unwind by: Spending time with friends and family. If I weren’t a road warrior, I’d be: Cranky.

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Third-Prize Winner

Michael Berumen

Prize package: An American Airlines Vacations three-night trip for two to the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, Bahamas, and a Panasonic Toughbook W7 laptop computer

Occupation: Marine biologist

Home base:Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Road-warrior philosophy: Travel is an experience that should broaden your appreciation for other people, places, and cultures. An open mind toward these things helps you understand your own point of view better.

Best lesson learned as a road warrior: Don’t eat Mexican food in Dublin pubs.

Best piece of advice for a beginner road warrior: If you want things to be exactly as they are at home, stay at home.

Favorite destination: Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Easiest airport to -navigate: Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Most difficult airport to navigate: Interterminal transfer at London Heathrow Airport. Favorite route: Los Angeles to London Heathrow on AA. Favorite airport bar: Los Angeles International Airport Flagship Lounge. Favorite hotel: Sofitel on Moorea in French Polynesia. Best minifridge snack: I never open those things. Restaurant you keep going back to: The Captain Kidd in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Can’t travel without: My MacBook Air. Strangest souvenir ever purchased: Duk-Duk dolls from Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Most recent trip: Seven-week research trip to Saudi Arabia, Australia, and New Zealand. Best way to beat -jet lag: Resist the urge to take a nap, and get outside during the day. Longest time spent away from home: Three and a half months. Most number of trips in one month: 13 countries. Conquer nervousness by: Walking up and down several flights of stairs. Nostalgic for: The pre-TSA [Transportation Security Administration] “security theater” days. Favorite gadget: iPod/iPhone. Obsessed with: Fish. Unwind by: Playing Guitar Hero. If I weren’t a road warrior, I’d: Have a life.

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