By Richard Rhinehart
Grand Junction, Colorado, September 19, 2013 – A team of five Colorado athletes captured their first Adventure TEAM Challenge championship on Sunday afternoon at McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area near the Utah border.
The Benson Botsford Berserkers, competing in their third Challenge, won the three-day event from World T.E.A.M. Sports, easily outpacing other competing teams from across the country.
“It’s great to see that when we set our minds at accomplishing something, work well as a team, and prepare for the race, we can win the Adventure TEAM Challenge,” said team captain Topher Downham of Boulder.
“This year’s win really reflects on us as a team,” said Jarrod Skulavik of Lakewood. “When we band together and focus on the ATC, we combine our individual greatness to arguably be one of the strongest teams in the competition. Our respect and admiration for one another really keeps us strong, and to boot, we really know how to keep each other smiling.”
All participating teams at the Challenge include two persons with disabilities, one being a wheelchair user. For teams to be successful, they must work together and solve technical issues and problems, ranging from finding checkpoints to efficiently crossing the high desert terrain with a hand cycle.
“To be put in a team, out in the elements, and be told it’s a race, becomes something beyond explanation,” explained John Lintott of Fruita. “We become a unit or machine that has different working parts, and none of those parts have disabilities. We learned this year how to become a single organism.”
Pete Brown of Denver understands the transition a team of athletes must undertake to be successful in an event that has been termed by experienced adventure racers as one of America’s most difficult. “Each year our team has competed in this event, we’ve had a team-oriented goal. Our first year, the goal was just to finish the race, which we did. Our second year, we were really able to build upon what we learned in year one. It really changed the way we looked at the race – we wanted to finish in the top five, and placed third overall. This year, we really wanted to win – we were familiar with the general race course, we knew our strengths and weaknesses and maybe most significant, we knew Lumber Liquidators was taking a year off. It seemed like the stage was set!”
Team Lumber Liquidators, another Colorado-based team, captured the championship for four consecutive years on three courses beginning in 2009. Like the Berserkers, they worked together to overcome obstacles together.
“Pushing ourselves to compete in these types of challenges and events I think makes us stronger in our everyday lives. It helps us to understand the importance of teamwork – to rely on each other and to know when to raise our hands and ask for help,” said Brown.
“Jarrod, John, Pete, and Steve were awesome to race with,” said Downham, a wheelchair athlete who works for the City of Boulder. “They are all great guys who wanted the same thing, victory, and we all pushed it as hard as we could to reach that goal.”
With unprecedented flooding ongoing in Boulder and the Denver area, Downham was in western Colorado at the right time – upon his return following the race, he discovered power had been out at his downtown Boulder condo and he would not have been able to get in or out. Teammate Steve Mestdagh of Boulder left his mountain home west of the city on Thursday evening for the Challenge, barely escaping flooding that temporarily marooned his wife and family at home. Yet, even with the distractions, the team was able to excel.
“For me, it’s about the people,” said Mestdagh of the Challenge. “I get a real high of looking around at camp and talking with more people than I usually talk with in a month.” Explaining that he stutters, Mestdagh notes that “people understand” at the event. “My amputation and stuttering means nothing here. I’m one of the tribe of ‘inconvenienced’ and able bodied people.”
As in previous years, all participating teams finished the Challenge, though some took additional time and effort than the more experienced Berserkers. For these athletes, both able-bodied and disabled, the experience of climbing and rappelling, rafting the Colorado River, mountain biking and route finding was a transformational experience.
“I came away changed, and I hope a better person as a result of meeting everyone,” said Louisville, Kentucky travel and fitness writer Dana McMahan, who covered the event for Women’s Adventure Magazine.
As for 2014, many of the participants plan on returning to again tackle the Challenge, including the Berserkers.
“We definitely plan on defending our title next year,” said Brown. “I think that’ll make it even more exciting and hopefully our team will inspire others to come back next year and push us even harder.”
Sponsors for the 2013 Adventure TEAM Challenge included Fidelity & Guaranty Life, Penske Truck Rental and Timberline Tours. Competing team sponsors included Benson Botsford LLC, Deven’s Recycling Center, Integrated Healthcare Strategies, and the Independence Fund.
World T.E.A.M. Sports is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization chartered in North Carolina and headquartered in Holbrook, New York. Celebrating 20 years in 2013, World T.E.A.M. Sports organizes athletic events for disabled and able bodied citizens – mountain climbing, white water rafting, bicycling, and more.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.