By Erik Weihenmayer
Golden CO, June 7, 2012 – This amazing event keeps getting better and more inspiring! The sixth running of the Adventure TEAM Challengewas the biggest yet, with fourteen teams from around the country. The new location near Fruita, Colorado offered spectacular high desert terrain for an adventure race replete with steep rock walls for climbing and rappelling, world-class mountain bike trails and the spectacular Colorado River cutting through Ruby Horsethief canyon.
This year was also our most diverse field, from seasoned athletes and weekend warriors to total first-timers to adventure. We were also honored to include two teams of injured US Marines all working towards recovery, Based at Camp Pendleton and part of the Warrior Transition Unit – Battalion West. One Marine had lost both legs; others had brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. Most of these guys had never rock climbed, rafted, or mountain biked before so a lot of this was a big learning experience. Despite their challenges, both teams made their unit proud and finished in the front half of the pack. Thanks to Lt. Col. Fullwood for leading these teams.
My friend Mike Somsan with Team Spofit from Phoenix competed this year for the first time. A former Army Captain, Michael was blinded after a drive-by shooting in 1995, and has gone on to become an exceptional athlete. However, he had never ridden a tandem mountain bike nor competed in an adventure race. The ATC pushed him in new ways and left him excited for more.
Another highlight for me is how my team, Lumber Liquidators, has evolved over the four years we’ve worked together. We’re all decent athletes, but it’s our continual improvement in our communication and problem solving which gives us the advantage.
The race started with a skill challenge of fixing a punctured bike tube, followed by a brutal hill climb. After quickly fixing the flat, we dashed out of the challenge right on the heels of Team Fire Strategies and began chugging uphill.
Knowing this was going to be a long steep climb, we worked together to distribute the load. Rob, our navigator, led the way while I grabbed his pack for direction, with my towline connected to Sarah’s handcycle in back. Brett and Skyler towed her on the outside positions and Sarah cranked as hard as she could, all the while steering to avoid rocks. With this system, all five members share the effort on what became an aerobic suffer-fest. Legs burning and lungs busting, we reached the summit and changed roles.
Skyler became my lead man since we train together and he has learned how to quickly communicate to me about obstacles. We were running at a full clip down a rocky jeep trail as Skyler shouted directions like “high knees, shin buster right, big step up, jump!”
Sarah is fearless when it comes to downhills and it was all any of us could do to race after her. At one point, there was a very steep and jumbled section with 2-foot high stairs of rock. Brett and Rob reached out to pick Sarah up to help lift her down safely. But she just yelled “Back away, I’m gonna ride this!” and bounced her way down and left us in a cloud of dust.
For me, the best things in my life have been achieved as part of a great team with everyone working together. I saw a lot of that in the ATC. In the first day, Team Fire Strategies had three flat tires on their hand-crank bike. When they finally ran out of patches, they just said, “screw it” and finished the stage on a flat tire, passing others along the way, and ultimately placing in second place.
Team Atlas Shrugged also deserves a shout out. Teammate Topher Downham, a quadriplegic, competed on a special mountain bike designed for downhills and not uphills. The result was that He flew down all the rocky trails, but on the uphills, his bike had no cranks, so his team had to tow him every bit of the way. Yet despite that, they placed third.
My team did win, for the fourth year with a total time of 6 hours 18 minutes, but the real credit goes to the Team, Who Says I Can’t, our first all-women’s team and all first-timers to ATC, who finished in 11 hours 14 minutes. They toughed it out and won their own race!
This laser focus on teamwork and community required by the ATC is the reason our primary sponsor, Alteryx, stepped up to support four teams. Corporations spend millions of dollars on “team building” programs, trying to strengthen their employee and client culture. Ultimately, many of these short-term efforts fall flat.
The ATC is different. Teams are thrown into one of the most rugged environments in the world and then pushed to step up and live and breathe their values. To succeed, everyone has to cross the finish line together, and to do this, it becomes the ultimate test of problem solving, communication, and how everyone’s egos need to be channeled towards the teams objectives and the ultimate prize.
The ATC is about competing, but it’s more about discovering how to come together as one unified force, which minimizes weaknesses and magnifies strengths, to ultimately do big things in the world that have nothing to do with adventure sports. I’m looking forward to next year and hope we can reach our maximum of twenty teams!
Erik Weihenmayer is the creator of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Adventure TEAM Challenge, sponsored in 2012 by Alteryx. Erik is the first blind person to climb Mount Everest and has participated in World T.E.A.M. Sports events since the Vietnam Challenge in 1999. He makes his home in Golden, Colorado.