August 2, 2010
In late June, we held the 4th annual Adventure Team Challenge (ATC) and it was definitely the best race yet! If you missed my previous blog post, this is a two-day event where each 5-person team has at least two disabled athletes, one of whom is a wheelchair user.
Among the things that made this year’s race so special was the spectacular new location, near Leadville Colorado, the highest township in the country, at 10,200 feet. We mountain biked up steep single-track trails, zip lined across the Arkansas river, and rafted powerful whitewater—all with giant, snowcapped peaks above.
Even better than the setting were the inspiring people. As you can imagine, it took a lot of work to recruit teams, so I came into the race just a little burnt out. However, ATC has a way of re-energizing me. We had a lot of injured military participants this year, and it’s hard to feel burnt out when you witness their amazing efforts.
For example, Army Ranger Matt Nyman—one leg amputated and the other with limited use—mountain biking steep rocky trails. He fell down several times, but kept getting up and pushing on. Then there was Airborne Infantry Sergeant Neil Duncan who lost both legs in a helicopter crash; he peddled the entire course in off-road handcycle…and he had never ridden one before! And Marine Danny Kennedy, shot twice, once in the face, while attending to the injuries of a fellow soldier. After many surgeries, he is still paralyzed on his right side, but completed the entire race with his team (all injured in combat), exhausted yet triumphant.
The highlight for me was a non-military participant, Clarissa Olivares-Pozgaj—just 15 years old. Clarissa is in a wheelchair and has very limited use of her body because of arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that results in stiff joints and abnormal muscle development. Her team, which included her father, designed a bike trailer/chariot with knobby tires and helped tow her across the high country. Her teammate, Ned Harding said, “The chariot was very heavy. None of us knew the difficulty of terrain we would be traveling through. Incredibly tough trails that were much narrower than Clarissa’s wheelbase. It was a ton of work, but totally worth it.”
At the finish line, all the participants and volunteers gave Clarissa and her team a standing ovation. A lot of folks were crying, including Clarissa. Afterwards, I considered all the challenging elements of the course—the whitewater, the zip line, the long paddle—and I asked her dad if they did this kind of crazy stuff a lot. He responded with surprise, “Clarissa’s never been off the pavement.” When I heard that, I teared up too.
Clarissa and her team gave me a great gift that day, since she represents the very reason why I created ATC. It forces all involved to push to their absolute personal limit, to give up ego, and for the individuals to come together to work as a collective force. It's a valuable lesson for athletes, for business, and for living.
Speaking of that, I’m proud to report that our team, Team Lumber Liquidators, won for a second year in a row. After two days of racing, we finished in 8 hours 55 minutes, only beating a determined Team Cisco by 24 minutes. And Team Alteryx—Clarrisa’s team—came in fourth, just 54 minutes behind us!
We had some new strong horses on my team, including Scot Swaney, winner of last year’s 24 Hours of Triathlon, and my colleague, Skyler Williams. We didn’t win on the basis of physical prowess, but because we know how to work together and problem solve.
For instance, after a whitewater section, we had to paddle our raft several miles across Twin Lakes. The equipment list suggested to bring a sail, but it was rather vague. However, our teammate Rob Harsh came prepared with a tarp, two metal poles and some line. His sail was so effective that, when the wind gusted, we were moving so fast across the lake that our raft was leaving a wake. Our teammate Sarah Will commented, “Rob’s sail was brilliant and I could just see the other team’s jealousy when it flew. I felt like a cunning pirate.”
On the running sections, Rob would guide me, while Skyler and Scott helped tow Sarah who was on a handcycle. These trails were steep, narrow, winding, and very rocky—with big drop offs—so it took a ton of focus and coordination to keep Sarah rolling and not flipping over. On really rocky sections Scott carried Sarah, while Skyler hauled the handcycle, and I carried the heavy pack.
The only tough part came during the zip line, which spanned across the Arkansas River and was spectacular. Even though the safety guy tested it beforehand, he was a lot lighter than me and used his own pulley. When I clipped in and started zipping across, I noticed I was going way too fast. The only thing I could do was to keep my legs out in front of me to try and brace my feet against the opposite bank. Not being able to see, it was really scary!
Unfortunately, I came in way too fast and slammed my shin against a rock. My teammate Skyler was 100 yards away on the other bank and said later it sounded like a two by four splitting in half. My leg had a series of gashes from ankle to knee and I was pretty sure it was broken. I couldn't even stand up, so finishing the race seemed doubtful. But it’s amazing what a little first aid and 800 milligrams of ibuprofen can do. I limped through the rest of the day and managed to stay a bit ahead of Team Cisco, who were gunning for us this year. Glitches do happen, but next year, we'll make that section safer.
And yes, we are starting to think about next year! The details are still being worked out but we already have one major new sponsor, Alteryx. They sponsored a team this year and are so excited that the company is committing considerable resources. The 5th edition promises to be bigger and better than ever!
I admit that because ATC was my idea, I am closer to it than most. But these testimonials make it clear that ATC has become a powerful force for everyone involved.
Clarissa is still riding high after her adventure, “I am feeling wonderful since the race and I still can't believe what has been accomplished. This event has been such a great experience for all of us. It has not only shown us good problem solving, but how to truly work together as a team and never to give up. My mom has actually said that she feels that I have matured a lot during the race. I would love to do this ATC over and over again. Right now, I feel that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.”
Chad Martin, a volunteer supporter for Team Alteryx wrote, “This past weekend was something that will forever be one of the best experiences of my life. Even as a spectator to ATC, I quickly realized (once again) that teamwork continues to be a critical life skill no matter the setting. As this was the first time Team Alteryx ever participated in an event like this, our goal was simply to finish the race in one piece. At the end of the two days , we realized that what we had accomplished was so much more.”
My teammate Sarah, who is a paraplegic shared this, “What ATC means the most to me is that some see me as an athlete who does athletic endeavors like this all the time, and I don’t. I would have never imagined that 20 years ago, when I was thinking about all the things I would never be able to participate in again, that I would be back in the wilderness where I am most happy.
I like the fact that there are no trophies but bragging rights only. I was most impressed by Clarissa’s team because it changed my perspective on how strong these teams really are. Even if this was a once in a lifetime event for her, she has done something amazing that her peers may never be able to imagine her doing or never even come close to doing themselves. She can now show them that she stands on top of the mountains and glides with the rivers. This experience helps me learn so much about myself and the love we all share for each other.
I like hanging with you adventure racers types because the embarrassing moments just get thrown out the window and dismissed because we all push our bodies to the breaking point and eventually, well…shit happens, deal with it, done. Some day, my body is going to give out and it means so much that my quality of life has been enhanced by participating in this crazy event. Thanks for the smiles, the mud, the blood, the sweat and the tears!”
Here is a short video with some of the highlights of this years event:
Thanks to Peter Wayne for the great photos!