A couple weeks ago, I was part of my very first adventure race. Running, hiking, mountain biking, white water rafting, climbing, zip lining, rappelling… well, you pretty much name it and it was along the way. Even slingshots and blow darts!
Saturday, we started our journey by traveling 22 miles. Sunday morning, we added another 6 miles. What was amazing about this weekend was not the physical journey, for me, it was the incredible personal shift. As physically demanding as the racecourse was, it paled in comparison to the impact my fellow racers have left on me.
Here is the simple truth: I really cannot put into words this experience. I will be here for days writing and never do it justice. There are few things in this world that bring that feeling of change, appreciation, wonder and lifetime linger. If I live another 40 years, there will be no doubt I will speak about, share and reference Adventure TEAM Challenge often.
My life has always been about chasing moments. My life is moved by tangible experience, something I can feel with every sense this body can provide me. That is how I remember, how I change for the better, and how I can share a story, lesson or joke. I have to really feel it.
I spent the weekend camping right next to the Colorado River. During the day I could feel the sun beat down on my back and at night I would shiver, staring at every star so prominent in the cold sky. Surrounded by mountains and the freshest air I’ve felt in ages, the setting was spectacular.
There were ten teams made up of 5 individuals: three able bodied and two disabled, one being in a wheelchair. Disabled is a word that should be removed from the description of the event. These athletes came from all corners of the country with so many different compelling stories, but the one quality everyone had is being able. It was their “disabled” teammates who had the biggest impact on the able-bodied participants and volunteers.
I haven’t spent a lot of time with those who would be considered disabled, but after this weekend, I won’t be able to view the power of the human sprit the same. As exhausted, beaten and cut up as my body was, my mind and heart were being bombarded with inspiration, laughter and new friendships.
My team was made up of four Marines and me. When we were introduced, they said we were all wounded. Pointing at each individually… shot… shot… shot… blown up… then at me… I uttered… emotionally. Solid laugh. I come across people who pretend to be more than the sum of what they are. I live and work in show business so it’s almost a prerequisite. I’m horrible at networking because I hate surface talk. There was no surface talk. These men know exactly who they are, what happened to them, and make no qualms about it. The tip of their pinky finger has been through more fight, pain and recovery than most anyone I know. I often say I get to walk in the shadow of heroes. This weekend I got to team up with them, sweat, bleed, freeze, laugh, eat, sleep, and mostly listen.
Be it the oath I made in my youth or the fact that it’s just where I feel most comfortable, I seem to always gravitate towards people who were in the military. People came from all sorts of backgrounds and lifestyles for this weekend, which was so much more than that. There were no cell phones, Internet or distractions of any kind, just the challenge, the stories, and the individuals fully living a life bigger than themselves. The real stars of the weekend were on the ground. It was the great people that put so much work into making something like Adventure Team Challenge happen and setting up this experience full of moments that change your life forever.
Man, I got extremely lucky to be part of this!
Colorado Adventure Team Challenge brings Together Disabled and Able-Bodied Athletes
By Richard Rhinehart
Eagle, Colorado, September 14, 2015 – Disabled and able-bodied athletes from across the United States are participating in this week’s inclusive Adventure Team Challenge Colorado from national non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports.
Held at the rustic Rancho del Rio resort in the rugged Gore Mountains northeast of Eagle, the Challenge is unique in adventure sports. Each participating team of five athletes includes two athletes with disabilities, one athlete being a wheelchair user. This combination of able-bodied and disabled athletes working together encourages teamwork and cooperation to overcome physical and technical challenges during the three-stage outdoor event.
“The Adventure Team Challenge is a truly unique event,” said World T.E.A.M. Sports CEO and President Van Brinson. “It is the embodiment of a team event. Each member of every team must work together to accomplish the goal. Through two long days of orienteering, mountain biking, hiking, ropes and water events, the teams are challenged at all phases. Every person who participates in this event walks away with a new perspective.”
Participants in the Challenge raft the Colorado River, ride off-road bicycles on rocky, steep trails, climb granite cliffs and use orienteering to find each checkpoint along the course. Teams missing a checkpoint are assigned penalties by the event organizers, Billy and Helene Mattison of Vail, who compile overall times for each team. At the end of the weekend, the team that completes the course in the shortest time overall and does not miss any checkpoints, will be recognized as this year’s champion.
Athletes in the Challenge include military veterans and civilians, many of whom are active in outdoor sports, but who have not previously competed in a team adventure. Disabilities for athletes range from spinal cord injuries that have resulted in full to partial paralysis, amputations, Post-Traumatic Stress and brain injuries.
Although many of the athletes are from Colorado, others are traveling from states from coast to coast. Participating athletes will arrive from California, Oregon, Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas, New York, Missouri, Virginia, Maine, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Teams consist of men and women, ranging in age from 24 to 57, who will camp under the stars at the resort, share meals and work together to successfully complete the Challenge.
Since the first Adventure Team Challenge in 2007, each participating team has completed all stages. Challenges have been held at Rancho del Rio in the Gore Mountains, along the Arkansas River near Leadville, and near the Colorado/Utah state border west of Grand Junction.
Participating adaptive athletes include Jamey Stogsdill of Oregon, who was the first woman to mon-ski the Big Couloir at Montana’s Big Sky Resort in 2014; Army Staff Sergeant Ian Newland, who served two deployments in Iraq and was wounded in action; Massachusetts cyclist Gina Utegg, who was in a serious automobile accident in 2001 that left her with a variety of injuries and ended her corporate career; and Estes Park athlete Dan Marshall, who survived a paralyzing aircraft crash in 2002 and is returning for his second Challenge.
Navy veteran and stand-up comedian PJ Walsh, a recent participant in NBC Television’s American Ninja Warrior competition, will be joining the Marines Team at the competition. As a veteran, Walsh feels he has a duty of honoring servicemen and women who fight for their country. His participation will help honor these veterans, as well as bring attention to the remarkable skills and dedication of disabled and able-bodied veterans.
Team Endless Abilities, who traveled across the United States in the spring of 2012 searching for adaptive sports for athletes with disabilities and filmed a feature documentary film in the process, will be joining together to undertake the Challenge.
The 2015 Adventure Team Challenge Colorado from World T.E.A.M. Sports is supported through sponsors and partners including American Portfolios Financial Services, Audubon Orthotic & Prosthetic Services, Deven’s Recycling, Pearl Meyer & Partners, Skanska USA, TimeCapital and Timberline Sports. Additional financial support is provided by Jim Noland, George Puskar and James Benson.