Adventure TEAM Challenge success!

To sum it up, this year’s Adventure TEAM Challenge represented true adventure. Billy Mattison, the race director, described adventure as, “Going forward when your destination and future are uncertain and there is risk.” Billy knows about risk and how to minimize it: he has won an Eco-Challenge, co-owns a rafting company (Timberline Tours), and is avalanche director of the Vail ski patrol. His goal was to create a course with acceptable risk, and plenty of challenge.

Over the last few years, we thought we were pushing the envelope by including paraplegic athletes as part of each team. No event had ever included folks with this kind of disability in such a rugged and difficult adventure. Last year we were all inspired by Clarissa Pozgaj, who has a rare neurological disease (arthrogryposis) yet completed the course last year as part of Team Alteryx. After Clarissa showed us what is possible, this year we stepped it up by adding the participation of five quadriplegic athletes. These are folks that, in varying degrees, can move their arms and have limited hand strength.

Due to the exceptional snowpack this year in the mountains, the Colorado River was running at 10,000 CFS, which is three times normal for this time of year. Rather than cancel the whitewater portion of the race, Billy put a member of the US National Rafting Team in each boat as a guide. And each boat with a quadriplegic had an extra guide whose sole job was to keep the persons head above water in case of a flip. I love the fact that not only were the teams facing adversity and problem solving but Billy and his crew had to walk their talk by doing their own problem solving to make the competition possible.

The photo finish was super exciting! After two days of racing, it came down to two teams battling it out, my team, Lumber Liquidators and Team Terrorrific from Alteryx, including Chad Butrick, the amputee from our Soldiers To The Summit Expedition, Seth Arseneau, who is a paraplegic athlete with arms the size of my legs, and Catherine Shenk from Alteryx who had done the Iditabike and is an experienced climber; Michael Maynes, also from Alteryx, and Dana Pickup, from Walmart.

The race started with a tough 1.5-mile footrace along the Colorado River with waist-deep water crossings, and then a 5-mile bike section up a steep rocky uphill and hike-a-bike to the top of a beautiful ridge. Teams had to carry their teammates over a barbed wire fence at altitude, which got everyone’s lungs working to the max. We took an early lead but could feel them breathing down our necks so had to keep the pace up. The day finished with an 11-mile whitewater rafting section that included a zipline across the Colorado River and some fun rock climbing.

The second day became a full on competition! We started with a 4-mile bike ride, then a quick 1-mile hike, and finished with a 17-mile rafting race. This last section required stellar map reading and boating skills to find the checkpoints, which were often hidden in the scrubby terrain off the riverbank. We constantly had to eddy out in the raging current—a missed checkpoint would mean a one-hour penalty.

For an hour and a half, it was neck and neck with the lead changing several times. It literally came down to a paddle stroke as Team Terrorrific edged us out at the boat ramp. Fortunately, we had 28 minutes accrued from the previous day and made no major mistakes so Team Lumber Liquidators retains the overall title for the third year in a row! In total, we spent 6 hours and 36 minutes on the course while some teams were out there for over twelve hours, which I consider even more impressive than our time..

I’m not all that competitive, and beating other teams doesn’t drive me. However, I am thrilled about coming together with good friends (Skyler Williams, Rob Harsh, Brett Landin, and Sarah Will) and becoming the most efficient cohesive team we can be. We responded well to adversity when it struck, which was pretty much the whole race.

I’m very proud of my team and all the other teams, especially first timers, who completed this tough journey. Each team came into the race for different reasons; some working hard to finish proud together and others were gunning to win. Whatever their motivation, each participant exhibited a pioneering mindset and a thirst for living life to the fullest. Despite the uncertainty and risk that comes with adventure, this powerful community isn’t willing to sit on the sidelines allowing the joys and thrills of life to pass them by. Thanks for being a part of this incredible effort and I’m looking forward to “seeing” you next year.

Erik Weihenmayer

Special thanks to Dean Stoeker at Alteryx, Jeff Prouty at the Prouty Project, and Tom Sullivan at Lumber Liquidators.

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