Berserkers Two-Peat as Colorado’s Adventure Team Challenge Champions

By Richard Rhinehart

September 18, Rancho del Rio, Colorado: It was only a minute, but one minute over six hours of competition was enough for the Boulder, Colorado-based Berserkers to repeat as champion of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ September 12-14 Adventure Team Challenge.

Assisting an athlete at the Challenge.

Teamwork at the Adventure Team Challenge from World T.E.A.M. Sports is the key to success. Photograph by Chelsea Roberson.

As final standings of combined overall times were announced at the Rancho del Rio resort by race director Billy Mattison, the excitement grew as he counted down from the tenth place team to the first. At the end, the Berserkers managed to hold off the surging Bootleggers team and claimed their second victory in as many years. The Bootleggers nearly overcame a 12 minute deficit on Sunday in a remarkable effort to deny the Berserkers of their championship.

Two other teams – the Green Machines and Purple Rain – tied in their timing between the two days of competition, coming in about 25 minutes after the top two teams. The tenth place Mercenaries completed the two day competition at more than two hours behind the top teams.

High in the rugged Gore Range northwest of Vail, teams of disabled and able-bodied athletes competed together through stages that included rafting the Colorado River, riding mountain bikes and hand cycles across rocky terrain, and climbing sheer granite cliffs. With each team of five including two athletes with disabilities – one being a wheelchair user – strategy, planning and close cooperation was the key to successfully completing each stage.

Billy Mattison provides instructions to teams.

Race Director Billy Mattison provides instructions to athletes at the start of Stage One on Saturday. Photograph by Brian Gliba.

Since 2007, the annual Challenge provides an inclusive adventure for disabled and able-bodied participants. The athletes with disabilities not only experience the excitement of outdoor sports, but also are a moving inspiration to other participants and to the public, who see that the disabled can meet challenges beyond anyone’s imagination.

The Challenge returned to the remote Rancho del Rio resort alongside the Colorado River this year, after two years at McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction. Although half the participants for this year’s Challenge came from Colorado, other athletes traveled from states as distant as Massachusetts, Virginia, Illinois, Florida, Minnesota, California and New Brunswick, Canada. Disabilities for athletes included amputees, paralysis, blindness and other injuries, with several participants being injured veterans.

Downhill start on Saturday.

Teams had a fast start on Saturday from the top of a mountain. Photograph by Brian Gliba.

The Challenge began the evening of September 11 with the annual commemorative dinner in Eagle. Charlie Huebner, the Chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee was warmly welcomed by the participants as keynote speaker. Serving as the senior manager for all U.S. Olympic programs, Charlie served previously as the executive director for the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes and three years as the coordinator of communications for Arizona Governor Rose Mofford.

The following day, after traveling to Rancho del Rio northwest of Eagle, the Challenge began with an afternoon prologue. Teams were seeded for Saturday’s competition through a short prologue, which also provided an opportunity for teams to test towing systems for the paraplegic athletes using hand cycles.

On Saturday, teams were transported 1,680 vertical feet above the small settlement of Radium for a fast-paced downhill start on bicycles and hand cycles. Beginning at 8,550 feet above sea level on a sunny ridge overlooking the shadowy Colorado River canyon, teams descended nearly six miles on a rocky dirt road at blinding speeds to the river crossing at 6,870 feet.

Climbing a steep hill required teamwork.

Teams ascend a steep hill near Radium. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart.

Following their descent, teams climbed 70 vertical feet, pushing and pulling their hand cycle athlete up a steep, slippery incline east of Radium. Using fixed ropes and plenty of muscle power, the teams reached the top of the hill, and then set off on a cross-country journey along confusing tracks and trails south of the Colorado River.

By early afternoon, teams followed a track to a launching point on the Colorado River, where waiting rafts from Timberline Tours guided them to their next challenge. About two miles downstream in a granite-walled canyon, a ropes course set on the rocky bluffs overlooking Radium Hot Springs provided a natural climbing gym for the teams. Here, the paraplegic athletes were sent across the Colorado River on a zip line before teams were able to return by raft to camp at Rancho del Rio.

Rafting on the Colorado River.

Teams raft on the Colorado River, guided by Timberline Tours guides. Photograph by Chelsea Roberson.

In the bright sunshine of early Sunday morning, teams set off on rafts from the camp. As they traveled west to State Bridge, the teams stopped at check points along the Colorado River. At the junction of the Piney River, teams headed south, reaching an old homestead and another check point. At this lonely, abandoned homestead, teams were directed to a challenge of “making fire” – starting a small campfire and bringing a can of water to boil before being permitted to continue.

Rappeling along the Colorado River.

Teams selected a member to rappel from the top of a granite outcrop to the Colorado River. Photograph by Chelsea Roberson.

Returning to the Bureau of Land Management boat launching ramp on the south side of the Colorado River at State Bridge, the teams climbed onto their waiting bicycles and hand cycles for a fast-paced ride back to Rancho del Rio. This journey mostly followed the current Trough Road, but also took a section of the abandoned original road, presenting riders with some technical riding.

At Rancho del Rio, teams arrived to cheers. At the finish line, friends, family and staff welcomed the athletes to a well-deserved celebratory lunch.

The 2014 Adventure Team Challenge Colorado was supported through sponsorships and partnerships from Pearl Meyer & Partners, Benson Botsford LLC, Devens Recycling Center, Front Street Re, The Independence Fund, INTEGRATED Healthcare Strategies, Oregon Adaptive Sports and Timberline Tours. Additional support was provided by James Benson and George Puskar.

Van Brinson, the CEO and President for World T.E.A.M. Sports, announced September 14 that the Challenge will return to Rancho del Rio in early September, 2015.

Full Team Results for the Challenge
Team Name / Day 1 Time / Rank Day 1 / Day 2 Time / Rank Day 2 / Total Time / Overall Rank
The Berserkers / 3:57 / 1 / 2:21 / 5 / 6:18 / 1
Bootleggers / 4:10 / 3 / 2:09 / 1 / 6:19 / 2
Green Machines / 4:28 / 5 / 2:16 / 3 / 6:44 / 3
Purple Rain / 4:22 / 4 / 2:22 / 6 / 6:44 / 3
Red Dawn / 4:09 / 2 / 2:26 / 7 / 7:05 / 5
Orange Pumpkin Spice / 4:59 / 7 / 2:13 / 2 / 7:12 / 6
Bionic Warriors / 4:59 / 7 / 2:20 / 4 / 7:19 / 7
Pearl Meyer Pentastar / 4:43 / 6 / 2:39 / 9 / 7:22 / 8
Rocky Mountain Blues / 5:19 / 9 / 2:29 / 8 / 7:48 / 9
Mercenaries / 5:42 / 10 / 2:49 / 10 / 8:31 / 10

Preparing for the following day's stage.

Team members prepare at camp for the following day’s stage. Photograph by Victor Henderson.

Pushing a bike up a steep hill.

Some team members chose to push their mountain bikes up the steeper hills. Photograph by Brian Gliba.

Riding the zip line across the Colorado River.

Paraplegic team members rode a zip line across the Colorado River. Photograph by Chelsea Roberson.

Towing an athlete along the course.

Athletes in hand cycles were towed on hills on the course. Photograph by Brian Gliba.

Waiting bikes and hand cycles.

Bikes and hand cycles were staged along the course for teams to pick up after completing a segment. Photograph by Victor Henderson.

Finish on Sunday, September 14.

Teams, friends, staff and volunteers cheer on the arrival of the final team at the Adventure Team Challenge finish on Sunday, September 14. Photograph by Richard Rhinehart.