By Richard Rhinehart
Grand Junction, Colorado, September 30, 2016 – Under picture-perfect sunny skies September 25, the 11 teams competing in national non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports’ tenth annual Adventure Team Challenge Colorado paddled to the sandy Highline Lake shore and triumphantly passed underneath the arched finish line.
For many of the participating adaptive and able-bodied athletes, the conclusion of the three stage race in western Colorado’s Highline Lake State Park was a moment for heartfelt celebration and cheer. Yet, as everyone departed for homes across the continent a few hours later, athletes and volunteers recognized with pride and satisfaction they had been part of something exceptional.
During the long weekend, the athletes had successfully completed stages at Highline Lake and in the Bureau of Land Management’s McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, just east of the Utah state line. Considered by experienced adventure sports athletes to be one of the most demanding adventure races in the United States, the Challenge sends teams of five athletes, two being adaptive, one a wheelchair user, into the high desert terrain.
This year’s stages included hiking, off-road bicycling, rafting on the 173-acre Highline Lake and a ten mile float along the swift-moving Colorado River. Athletes also climbed rocks and used maps and orienteering to successfully navigate the course. The Challenge is not a showcase for individual athleticism, but an opportunity for athletes of all abilities and backgrounds to work together through innovation, cooperation and ingenious teamwork. Reaching goals is possible for these teams of men and women when they work supportively together.
Designed by Eco Challenge finisher Billy Mattison of Vail, the 2016 course saw athletes transferring from bicycles and hand cycles to rafts provided by partner Timberline Tours. A low-level zip line offered one technical challenge, as did rocky and sandy single track trails, unfamiliar high desert terrain and a climb to the top of a surprisingly slick red sandstone spire. With many athletes meeting for the first time on the evening prior to the Prologue, teams had to quickly learn each members’ strengths and weaknesses.
As unsettled weather moved into western Colorado the morning of September 23, athletes that afternoon and the following day benefited from the cooler afternoon temperatures, but they also had to manage occasional rain showers and gusty winds. The early fall storm dampened the dust on the trails, but left muddy sections and puddles to negotiate.
Fortunately, September 25 dawned warm and sunny, allowing athletes to enjoy their final stage of the Challenge. Hiking, bicycling and rafting at the popular state park north of Loma, the athletes showed they had mastered the race’s cooperative team nature and finished as coordinated, supportive teams.
This year’s Challenge included a September 22 welcome talk in Grand Junction by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr., and visits to the Highline Lake camp by Third District Congressional Representative Scott Tipton and Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office Director Luis Benitez. Each came away impressed with the participating athletes and a greater understanding of the incredible spirit of adaptive sports.
The 2016 Adventure Team Challenge Colorado from World T.E.A.M. Sports was supported through partnerships from American Portfolios Financial Services, Audubon Orthotic & Prosthetic Services, Devens Recycling Center, Ernst & Young, James Benson, LIM Innovations, Napier Park Global Capital, Pearl Meyer, Penske Truck Rental, Presidential Worldwide Transportation, Rutgers University – Department of Athletics, Sila Solutions Group, and Timberline Tours.