Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Playing Field is Even

This past weekend I participated in what was labeled as the Real Deal Inclusive Adventure Race. At first I thought this might mean that all my drinks and food were built into the price of admission and that I would not have to open my wallet for the entire weekend. And although this was ultimately true, the "inclusive" descriptor was meant to relate how this adventure race would be centered around teams that had at least 2 "disabled" team members.

As usual, I was teamed up with super blind dude Erik as I had been for our previous year of adventure racing back in 2003 (see Influence of a Blind Dude below). However each team was also required to have one paraplegic athlete as well as one "able bodied" athlete (typically blind or amputee). Our para athlete for the race was a wonderful paralympic downhill gold medalist named Sarah Will. It was clear during our initial training day that Sarah was as solid as they come. Although she weighs 90 lbs soaking wet, she has a dogged determination and ability to just knuckle down and get her task done. I was proud to have her on my team.

The weekend was a wonderful mix of athletes...many very accomplished in the world of paralympics...all there to compete and share a love for adventure and camaraderie. Throughout the two day event, the teams were required to race through the mountains of Colorado on such disciplines as white water rafting, mountain biking, climbing, rappelling and cross country navigating. All of these activities are individually quite fun...but even more so when you are required to go full out race mode and stack each of them into 48 hours on very little sleep. This is the nature of adventure racing and for some twisted's a hoot.

Going into the 2nd day of the race our team, Lumbar Liquidators (who generously anteed up our $10,000 entry fee) held a 35 second lead over the 2nd place Powerbar team. At this point all we had to do was paddle strong on the early morning white water section and then successfully navigate a 12 mile orienteering course. Just prior to entering the morning paddle the race director told the teams that we could choose any 2 of our team members to do the 12 mile mountain run. This was good news for us as we felt confident that my teammate Rob and I would be quite capable of cruising fast through the mountains while quickly finding the subsequent 'checkpoints' along the way. Surely we would be able to run most of the course and with our navigational skills honed from years spent mountaineering and adventure racing there would hardly be a team that could challenge us. We had it wrapped up. And then, just to boost our confidence we saw upon exiting the rafts and heading out on the course that the Powerbar team was sending out their "able bodied" athlete who was a woman named Amy that was a very accomplished Ironman amputee. She had a below the knee amputation and one of those sweet bionic looking prosthetics...and man, she could fly on that thing. But come could a one legged woman and her teammate beat Rob and I in the mountains?

About 4 miles into an uphill slog Rob and I had yet to be able to shake the Powerbar team. They just kept right on top of us...following our every move. As our GPS and maps were telling us that were closing in on our checkpoint, Rob decided to ascend up a narrow creek drainage to inspect whether the checkpoint was hidden away in the ravine. I continued up the ridge towards where my GPS was pointing me. After a few minutes it became clear that I was headed in the right direction and Rob was not. About this time, Powerbar blew past me on their way to the appropriate checkpoint about a half mile around the ridge. I ran back to the point I last saw Rob and began to vain. I stood there for what felt like an hour...scanning the horizon for Rob, waiting to catch a glimpse of him. Then it was clear that the only option for me was to head to the checkpoint and hope that Rob figured out his misdirection and reoriented. 30 minutes later Rob appeared down in the valley. The rules of adventure racing state that team members must always be in sight of each other, so clearly we had already screwed up...which meant that I was required to sit at the checkpoint and wait for Rob to ascend the hill up to me before we could both head back down towards the finish line. As Rob finally reached me, it was clear that he had expended ALOT of energy while lost and then climbing up to my position. His face lost all emotion as the second he reached me after 20 minutes of running uphill I immediately forced him into a powersprint back down the hill.

We ran the remaining 9 miles to the finish only to finish 4 minutes behind the Powerbar team. It made for an exciting race and will make for some really good TV in the fall when NBC airs the Jeep World of Sports which will feature the Real Deal Inclusive Adventure Race.

A wonderful lesson was learned...we all come to the field with the same tools. Its just that some of us use our tools in more effective ways than others. We got beat by a one legged woman in a race through the mountains. I love it!
Check out the Denver Post article on the race.