By: Bob VogelIssue: Sports Section: Collaborator Profile
Pushing the Realm of Possibility One Adventure at a Time
World T.E.A.M. Sports (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) is a non-profit organization that creates inclusive adventures that assemble athletes with disabilities together with non-disabled athletes to form soul-stirring experiences. The team nature, combined with the adventures themselves break down barriers, change the way the participants and the world view disability, and shows how teamwork and adaptation enable people to accomplish goals that are far beyond what was thought to be possible.
Founded in 1993, World T.E.A.M. Sports (WTS) has a long and impressive list of adventures that have focused on a goal, and pushed the realm of possibility including: “AXA World Ride 95,” which features a core group of 5-disabled cyclists and 10,000 or more day-ride participants that rode around the world, covering 13,000 miles and 16 countries in 7 months; “Face of America,” a series of bike rides that include civilian riders with a core group of disabled and non-disabled U.S. veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on a ride from Washington, DC to Gettysburg, PA; “Return to Kilimanjaro” in which 7 mentally challenged athletes along with 15 coaches climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro the world’s highest freestanding mountain; and the "Coastal Team Challenge," an 8-day, 85-mile sea kayak trip from Anacortes, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia that featured a core group of U.S. and Canadian soldiers with disabilities.
An example of the unique nature of a WTS event is a 2-day adventure race called the Adventure TEAM Challenge, held for the past 3 years in the Rocky Mountains near Eagle, Colorado. The event is made up of 5-person teams - each team must have two disabled athletes, and one of the athletes must be a wheelchair user - referred to as a para (for paraplegic).
The event is the brainchild of WTS board member Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest and the other Seven Summits. “I was doing the Primal Quest adventure race in 2003. There were rumors floating around that our team wouldn’t make it past the first day. In the end, out of 80 teams we were among the 44 teams that finished. After that race I thought, "Hey with the emerging technology and the team aspect there is no reason that disabled people can’t compete in races like this.’ Especially the way my team supported me through tricky spots, by good communication.”
Weihenmayer worked with WTS and 7-time World Adventure Race champion Ian Admonson to create an adventure race similar to the Primal Quest but shortened to a weekend event that is accessible to an average weekend warrior, while creating the same sense of adventure. This writer (a paraplegic) was invited to compete in the 2008 Adventure TEAM Challenge. As a longtime “armchair fan” of adventure racing, this was a dream come true. Looking around at the pre-race meeting it was clear that Weihenmayer and Admonson had accomplished something amazing. The teams were made up of all spectrums of the sport from casual weekend warriors (I put myself in this category) to world-class adventure racers and paralympic athletes. As the race director, Admonson and said the goal of the event was the same as any other adventure race; we would be tested physically, mentally, and at times be in perceived danger, but hopefully not real danger. And if he did his job properly we would at times be cursing his name. The race lived up to all he had promised and then some.
The race consisted of 20 miles of mountain biking - paras rode “one-off” adaptive mountain bikes, (3-wheel hand peddle bikes with disc brakes, a wide range of gearing and capable of going anywhere a mountain bike goes). Blind racers peddled on the back seat of tandem mountain bikes and amputees used custom leg and arm prosthetics designed specifically for cycling. The event also included 16-miles of white-water rafting, a rock climbing and repelling section, and each team needed to get up to the top of a 100-foot high cliff - on a trail that was steep and covered with loose gravel and sagebrush. Once at the top they clipped into a zip-line for a high speed descent across the river. One of the challenges for each team was figuring out the best way to get their para up to the zip-line, teams coming from behind learned from mistakes - or successes the leaders made. The final section of the race was 15 miles of trekking and orienteering for two team members while the remaining 3 raced, raft on raft down the final 6-mile section of river.
A crucial part of the race was reading the course directions and rules and figuring out how to use them in your favor. At one point, following the zip-line, I figured out it was faster for me to swim downriver in the calm - but frigid - waters and join my team in the raft, rather than have them paddle upriver to get me, a move that temporarily jumped us from 8th to 3rd place. At another point I decided it would be faster for me to paddle the mandatory “rubber ducky kayak,” while most teams opted to tow. A half-mile later, after being flipped in big rapids and repeatedly getting sucked underwater, spun like a washing machine and spit downstream I definitely “perceived” I was in danger and stayed in the big raft after that
The sponsor and leader of our team was WTS Board member and CEO of American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. Lon Dolber. Dolber participates in many WTS events, American Portfolios is a sponsor and he encourages his employees to participate in WTS events. “I tell my employees if you take part in a WTS event you think you are doing it to help out, and you are. But in the end you find you receive much more than you give. Think about it, they probably wouldn’t do an adventure like this in the first place if it weren’t for volunteering, and they meet people with various disabilities and learn about their lives. The cool thing is they will take this knowledge with them and share it with other people. They also take the experience back to the office and get to share the experience and the pride of having a great time and doing something socially responsible which is very important for our company.” Dolber added, “The nature of these events is such thatcommunication is crucial so you learn a great deal about the members of your team. You struggle together, you laugh, and in the end you see that we have more in common than differences.
2009 Face of America bike ride from Bethesda, Maryland to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Army Lt. Colonel Gregory Gadson grts some help from his team up one of the many long hills communication is crucial so you learn a great deal about the members of your team. You struggle together, you laugh, and in the end you see that we have more in common than difference.
communication is crucial so you learn a great deal about the members of your team. You struggle together, you laugh, and in the end you see that we have more in common than difference
Plus when a volunteer does a World T.E.A.M. Sports event they get out there and push themselves to the limit and suddenly get a boost from somebody that is missing a leg or is paralyzed and we see it really is a team and we all rely on each other,” said Dolber.
“In society,” said Dolber, “people are curious about disability, but we are taught at an early age that it is not polite to look or ask. Before I started doing WTS events I had never been around a person that was missing a leg or somebody who was paralyzed. Doing WTS events has taught me a lot about different disabilities.”
Sarah Will is a coveted athlete for any team considering the Adventure TEAM Challenge. Paralyzed in a ski accident in 1988, Will learned adaptive skiing (mono-skiing) the following year and went on to win 12 Paralympics Gold Medals. “The Adventure TEAM Challenge is fun, and requires teamwork, problem solving skills and the ability to put your trust in other people. In order for a team to be successful each person must communicate their strengths and weaknesses so the team will know who will be best at which part of the course,” says Will. She goes on, “The same holds true of communicating about the disability - how can your team help you through a particular section? How can you help your team through a particular section? I’m light, if you tow me on this section, or carry me on that section we can make up some time - my arms are strong, I can climb that section myself.” In 2009 Will joined Weihenmayer, and top notch adventure racers Brett Landin, Rob Harsh and Ben Witherell on the Lumber Liquidators team to take top honors edging out Freedom Team For Life by just 4 seconds after two full days of racing
Will points to another key in successful adventure racing, as well as business - mental toughness. “Being mentally strong and working together as a team to lift each others spirit and endurance during the toughest parts of the race makes all the difference. This is important in business and in life,”
she said. Dolber agrees, “The mountains, the ocean, and endurance distances, equalize everybody. To be successful you need to work together as a team. All of these things require a lot of willpower and endurance, just like running a business. Like a WTS event, each day in business is a test of endurance and you have to keep your goals in sight and work with your team to get to your goal.”
The Adventure TEAM Challenge is something that is bound to catch on in a big way—the same way that offering 5K and 10K races created an explosion in the running world, while offering shorter more attainable triathlon distances created an explosion in that sport. The average weekend warrior or wheelchair athlete can now go out and compete on the same playing field as a world class adventure racer. Admonson agreed and said, what the world of adventure racing needs now is for the media to get a hold of it. As soon as the event gets some serious television time, Admonson predicts it will take off.
But there is one thing television won’t be able to capture, and this holds true for all World T.E.A.M. events; at the end of a day of pushing your physical and mental limits, you are both tired and excited, and something magical happens. Egos drop, preconceived notions fall away and the scenery, sights, smells, and interactions with fellow participants seem to come through raw and unfiltered, the way they did when we were kids, before we developed our egos and preconceived notions. That is a priceless feeling.
Bob Vogel is an independent writer. For more information on World T.E.A.M. Sports including the 2010 schedule of events, log on to: