By Richard Rhinehart
Grand Junction, Colorado, July 17, 2013 – One of the greatest adventures for adaptive athletes is the annual Adventure TEAM Challenge in western Colorado. For many with disabilities, competing against other teams of disabled and able-bodied participants in the two day event from World T.E.A.M. Sports is a positive and inspiring experience.
Steve Mestdagh, an adaptive athlete from Boulder, Colorado participated in the 2012 Challenge. Recruited for the Challenge to complete a Denver-based team, Mestdagh was impressed by what he saw and experienced. “Meeting disabled people like myself and being amazed at what they are able to do” showed Mestdagh that the Challenge is unique. “Meeting new people was the best. I could feel the love in the air.”
To be held September 13-15 in the scenic McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction near the Utah state line, the non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports brings together teams of five persons for the Challenge. Each team includes two persons with disabilities, one being a wheelchair user. Since the inaugural Challenge in 2007, disabilities of participating athletes have ranged from individuals who are missing limbs to veterans with PTSD and TBI to blind and quadriplegic athletes. For many of the athletes with disabilities, the Challenge provides an initial opportunity to get outdoors and off pavement into a wilderness environment.
Teams competing in the Challenge include corporate sponsored teams, military teams and private teams of friends and colleagues. Many corporate teams use the Challenge as an opportunity to develop close relationships with clients in a challenging outdoor sporting event, as well as provide support for disabled athletes. Other teams look to the Challenge as an opportunity to build teamwork and a strong innovative relationship between colleagues.
Cooperation and team building is a key to success at the Challenge, in which teams pedal mountain bikes across rocky, steep trails, paddle the Colorado River through remote sandstone canyons and navigate by map and compass across the desert of the high Colorado Plateau. Throughout the course, additional challenges, such as rock climbing, rappelling and a zip line, add adventure and excitement for team members.
Designed and managed by experienced adventure sports athlete Billy Mattison of Vail, the Adventure TEAM Challenge course traverses miles of remote desert south of Interstate Highway 70 in a region prospected by uranium miners during the 1950s. Today, this land is a part of a large public recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Balancing difficulties and safety considerations for the course, Mattison creates a route that will challenge experienced adventure athletes but is not too difficult for adaptive athletes. With each team including one member who is a wheelchair user, the course must allow for teams to tow or push a cart or a “one off” hand cycle. In the deep red sand of the desert, this is not always easy. But in 2012, the first year for the Challenge at the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, all 14 teams completed the course. More importantly, the participants were satisfied with their accomplishment.
“I trained hard prior to this event, enjoyed getting ready and I am glad I did,” said Gina Utegg, an adaptive athlete from Tewksbury, Massachusetts. “The challenge was physically demanding, but so worthwhile.”
Corporate, military and private teams are encouraged to register today for the September Challenge. There is a maximum of 20 teams permitted in the 2013 Challenge. Once a team has registered, it can begin fundraising to meet the team registration fee. This fee covers all expenses for the team during the Challenge, including camping, food and safety, but not lodging prior to the event or transportation. World T.E.A.M. Sports does provide assistance to teams seeking to fill one or two positions, including adaptive athletes.
For all associated with the Adventure TEAM Challenge, the inclusive event changes perceptions of what persons with disabilities can accomplish in an outdoor athletic competition.
Kimberly Hands, a Challenge volunteer, found she was captivated by the 2012 event. Working with the athletes during the weekend greatly impressed her. “Seeing the teams work together to overcome obstacles,” said the Wheaton, Illinois resident, “There is nothing like it.”
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.