Editorial & Opinion, Wednesday, May 14, 2008
On Sunday May 4, 2008, I made more than 171 friends (pretty good for one weekend). I was lucky enough to be part of the provincial High School Adventure Challenge where I met 57 teams of three from 41 communities across Ontario, along with their coaches, parents, guardians, and a number of volunteers.
As one of the organizers, I joined spectators who braved the unseasonably cold weather at the finish line, cheering wildly for the first team to cross, a male team from Michipicoten High School in Wawa, Off in the Woods – Simard’s Foot Soldiers. They canoed, mountain biked and navigated a series of checkpoints on foot, finishing the full cloverleaf course in just three hours and 25 minutes. We then watched the other 56 teams persevere, with the last team crossing in just over six hours.
It was hard not to be inspired by the competitors who seemed unfazed by the cold, the mud, or the 25-km course, managing to cross the finish line with their teammates, many hand in hand, all smiling. They were the reason we ran the race.
When Lawrence Foster, who led a team to two Eco Challenge victories, told me about teams that were already training for the race this year and we hadn’t announced the event, we had to decide if we would make it happen or not. We had fewer sponsors and less time to pull it off.
In the end, our race was aptly named as it became an adventure and a challenge for the organizers, volunteers, parents, coaches and racers. But we all agree it was worth it.
Every obstacle along our path in making the event happen could be paralleled along the race course: highs and lows, rocky terrain, the need to believe in your teammates, a lot of preparation and hard work, physical and mental exertion, a healthy dose of pain, sections that were downright confusing, and the sheer joy of finishing together.
Veterans of the sport know that once you run one race, you are changed for the better forever. One competitor from an inner-city school from Toronto, Eastern Commerce, when asked what they learned about themselves, wrote that they’d discovered that they don’t have limits – and that the sky is only a checkpoint.
That sentiment was carried throughout the feedback surveys, with racers saying they found out that they were tougher, stronger and more capable than they thought. Teachers and parents called it excellent leadership training.
We had hoped students would enjoy a safe, first step into adventure racing, make lasting friendships, accomplish something memorable, and learn something about themselves and teamwork along the way. Seems they did all of those things, and so did I.
I was so proud of all of the teams: proud of their performance on the course, but even more proud of their spirit and sportsmanship. There were awards for performance, but there were more prizes for those who helped others along the way, showed leadership, or used their problem-solving skills on the course. From tuning dozens of bikes for competitors the night before or picking up five pounds of garbage on the course, to fixing a bike with a rock or helping someone in need, the competitors shone. Even after they crossed the swamp (a favourite of competitors), or tackled muddy trails, they were glowing (though dirty).
The event of this scale would not have been possible without sponsorship, and in-kind contributions, and I’d like to thank: Algoma U, CTV, Toronto Sun, Dairy Farmers of Canada, Deerhurst Resort, Research In Motion, Paddlefoot.ca, Esprit Rafting, The Sault Star, 99.5 YES FM, Survivorman – Les Stroud, The Adrenaline Project, Velorution, Pictographics, the Canadian Adventure Racing Association, Frontier Adventure Sports and Training, OPP auxiliary, the workshop presenters, race volunteers, Odyssey Production, the Sports Performance Centre, and Lawrence Foster (for letting me be on his team).
Thanks also to those who helped teams get to the event (including parents, schools, teachers and business) and those who paid registration fees for teams they didn’t even know: Algoma Steel, General Insurance Services, GearHeads, Simard Foot and Ankle Clinic, Steve Foster Adventure Productions, Flare Communications, Dr. P. Hergott, Pat Chan, and Dennis Chin.
The most important thank you is to the racers themselves. On the course, it was all up to them. They did something fan-freakin’-tastic (to quote a competitor). Being part of the helicopter generation (with parents always hovering) this is all the more notable. Facing problems, they solved them. Facing decisions, they made them. Facing obstacles, they overcame them. They showed perseverance, leadership, teamwork, skill, endurance and spirit.
We hear a lot about lazy teens spending too much time in front of televisions and video games. Not these teens – they are what leadership is made of. In the not-so-distant future, when they take over the reins of the province, I will again be cheering from the sidelines, this time from a rocking chair, as these leaders continue to inspire me, and show us the way.