By Richard Rhinehart
Grand Junction, Colorado, September 4, 2013 – Quadriplegic athlete Topher Downham is looking forward to non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports’ September 13-15 Adventure TEAM Challenge near Grand Junction.
Eighteen years ago, the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks’ Outreach Coordinator went for a late night swim in a friend’s pool. “I did a shallow dive, hit the water, put my arms to my side, thinking I’d glide to the other side,” Downham recalls. “Instead, I hit the bottom and instantly became paralyzed.”
“I grew up in Lander, a small town in central Wyoming in the Wind River Range,” Downham explains. “Spent a lot of time in the outdoors growing up, and haven’t spent much time inside since.”
Refusing to limit his activities owing to his injury, Downham actively seeks new experiences and new sports. “I love to ski and water ski. I’m infatuated with sailing right now.” Having raced downhill quad mountain bikes in Japan, Downham accepted an opportunity to cycle in the Netherlands for a month with a friend. “We did it unsupported, although he carried most of my equipment except for the camera equipment and my wheelchair, which I bungeed to the back of my hand cycle. We camped most nights and learned to accept being wet and stinky most of the time because of the constant rain.”
Participating as a member of Colorado-based Team Berserkers, Downham will be competing in his third Adventure TEAM Challenge, to be held in scenic McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. Joining Downham is Peter Brown and Jarrod Skullavik of Denver, John Lintott of Fruita, and Steve Mestdagh of Boulder. “Our whole team is passionate about this race and what it stands for,” said Downham.
“This race is one of the greatest events I’ve ever been a part of,” agreed Skullavik. “I constantly pontificate about how it changes your life, not in a cliché way, but more in a rewarding way that makes you appreciate the goodness in people and the power of team, especially a team of just plain good people.”
Team founder Brown points to the 2012 Challenge as a sign that his team is well-conditioned. “Watching Topher fly down the downhill portion of the first day last year while we pursued on foot way behind him,” is encouraging to the creative director and father of two. The team completed the race in third place last year and is an early favorite to win this year.
One reason is the addition of Mestdagh to the team in 2012. An accomplished rock climber who lost part of a leg during a climbing accident, Mestdagh made the climbing segment of the Challenge look easy. “He was so graceful,” Downham remembers. “It was like watching a mountain goat maneuver up the cliffs.”
Mesa County athlete Lintott is also well-regarded by Downham, who calls him a “phenomenal workhorse.” “The only reason I was able to keep up with him is because I was tied to his bike. I think we’ll tie a hamburger on a stick in front of him just out of his reach this year to make him go even faster.”
In its seventh year, the Challenge is one of the non-profit’s most popular events, offering competing teams river rafting, climbing, mountain biking and hiking segments. “Working together as a team of athletes with and without disabilities through an extremely grueling competition really gives a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie,” said Downham. “It was a really tough race. I can’t believe we’re doing it again.”
For persons with disabilities who are considering sports, Downham is reassuring. “If there’s something you want to do, find a way to do it,” he said. “Pushing my limits, being in the outdoors, and not listening to other people’s yammering about what I can and can’t do…that’s what has kept a smile on my face these last 18 years with a disability.”
The Adventure TEAM Challenge from World T.E.A.M. Sports is sponsored by Fidelity & Guaranty Life, Penske Truck Rental and Timberline Tours. Celebrating 20 years in 2013, World T.E.A.M. Sports creates inclusive sporting events for disabled and able-bodied athletes.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.