Challenge provides a lesson in the beauty of an underdog

COLUMN: High School Adventure Challenge in its third year

A love of the underdog gives us hope for ourselves.

I often find myself rooting for the underdog. Whether it is the sports team with the odds stacked against them, or the unlikely new celebrity found on Britain’s got talent, I am cheering wildly from the sidelines.

Their perseverance stirs our souls, tells us that we can pursue our dreams too, and that just maybe, we too will have the opportunity to realize our dreams.

The third annual Provincial High School Adventure Challenge unexpectedly captured my imagination in this way, when the youngest team to compete won the event. High school competitors from across Ontario, canoed, mountain biked, and trekked in teams of three, through the wilderness around Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, hosted by Algoma University. Banana Splits from Widdifield Secondary School of North Bay crossed the finish line after only 2 hours 59 minutes on the course.

Nathan Swain–age 15, Greg Bourdon–age 16, and Adam Bullock–age 15 shared a prize package of over $2,000, including Blackberry Pearls for each competitor, donated by Research In Motion, a free adventure race entry to any Frontier Adventure Sports and Training event, custom technical shirts from Axis Gear, award plaques and ultimate bragging rights across the province for their stellar win.

Foreshadowing their outcome in the competitor registration database, they wrote: “We train at our specialties 23 hours a day. No one will come close. Go home while you still can.” I should add that they listed their athletic specialties as: “Dragon Slayer, participant in the world’s longest Hopscotch game, National watermelon seed spitter, and Olympic Orange peeler” among others. (In reality, Nathan was a provincial power tumbler, turned runner, and Adam and Greg played a variety a team sports along with cross-country running and skiing).

Perhaps along with perseverance, we can chalk up a sense of humour (including an ability to laugh at themselves) as a key ingredient that attracts us to underdogs.

Sault and area teams also did us proud–proving again that northern teams are no underdog at this event.

Algoma Bicycle Company of Sir James Dunn came second in the male category with a time of 3:00. Their team was captained by Jesse Wetzl, along with Jack Carlyle and George Payne. Third place in the male category went to Andrew Barbeau (captain), Jarret Cummings, and Spencer Hogan, called JASZ – PUC, a team sponsored by PUC Services Inc.

First place in the co-ed category went to another sponsored team that lives in Goulais River, Men with Baggage – Lock City Dairies. Sophie Kargl captained the crew along with Korah Collegiate schoolmate Garrett Roth, and Matt Fitton from Sir James Dunn.

The northern domination th two Wawa female teams from Michipicoten High School taking second and third place in the category. Captain Jack’s Bush Babies sponsored by Purvis Marine Ltd finished at 4:20, including racers Jocelyn Sager, Rachael Amos, and Natasha Belisle. The Radicals – Simard’s New Foot Soldiers, placed third with a time of 4:46. Their team was Elsa Trovarello, Tiana Bugyra, and Courtney Binda.

Last year’s overall champion was also of Wawa, similarly sponsored by Dave Simard Foot and Ankle Clinic.

Sponsors are more important for the northern teams because of the extra travel and accommodation costs, and one third of this year’s entries were sponsored by individuals and businesses. Supporters included: Pat Chan, Survivorman -Les Stroud, Simard Foot & Ankle Clinic, Dennis Chin,

Dr. Carmen Sicoly & Dr. Eric Piscopo, Purvis Marine Limited, Dr. P. Hergott, PUC Services Inc., Celliant, Ray Zahab, Lock City Dairies, Christie Simon, Algoma Bicycle Company, and two anonymous donors. Perhaps they also root for underdogs.

Two final underdog teams also caught my eye. Team Shake and Bake, of Lakefield District Secondary School won the CTV Spirit Award for their race perseverance. They tipped their canoe just 50 feet into the first leg of the race, swam to shore, composed themselves, and then raced hard to capture ninth place in the male division. The final underdog team, the McDirty’s, were last to cross the finish line, but they did so smiling, with a time of 5:42.

A total of 53 high schools, including students from 39 communities and cities across Ontario participated in the event at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville. Some racers had never been in a canoe or been outside an urban centre before. The event creator, two-time Eco Challenge winner Lawrence Foster, acknowledged that you don’t need a lot of training to do well, but you do need a winning attitude.

Proving their winning attitudes, the two 15 year olds and one 16 year old of Widdifield High, smiled proudly, yet shyly, as they got up on stage to accept their prizes. I was lucky enough to be there, cheering for them, and the underdogs in all of us.

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