Thursday, October 8, 2009

Project Athena!!

September 30- October 4: Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim, Project Athena fundraising adventure.

I'm a little at a loss for words on this, but I felt it was necessary to post something. My loss of words may be because I'm not much of a mushy person... and any descriptions in English are just going to come off mushy.

This was an amazing group of people in an amazing setting, all for the purpose of helping others. All the planets aligned; it was the perfect storm.

See? Already I'm getting mushy. Think of any cheesy cliche, and I won't fight you on it. I seriously came back a different person.

The goal:
Cross the Grand Canyon on foot. Twice. From the South Rim to the North on Thursday, and a different route back on Friday. So I was thinking that this will be pretty easy; hiking is just walking, right? After two 10+ hour days with minimal stopping and a new series of blisters that Robyn dubbed "The Toe Hat", I realized that I was wrong.

The cause:
Project Athena, a non-profit that helps women "strive and survive" after medical tragedy/setback by fulfilling an athletic dream. For example, Kerrie Kerkman. She has a degenerative spinal condition, and has already had one spinal fusion- with the possibility of more on the horizon. Her dream was to to not only see the Great Wall in China, but to run the Great Wall marathon. In May 2009, accompanied by Melissa Cleary, she did just that. Project Athena provides funds and support for the "Athenaship Recipients" in these athletic endeavors.

The R2R2R recipient was Sandy Kilburg, aptly nicknamed "Sunshine". Always positive and active, you would never know that she is a breast cancer survivor.

Some of the people:
Melissa Cleary, San Diego firefighter, marathoner (dozens of 'em). Strong and kind, her Project Athena job description is "Angel of Hope". Seriously, it says so on her business card- and after hiking with her, I can't think of a better description. And again, don't think mushy: she's originally from Philly and tells it like it is. She carried packs and weight from damn near everyone.

Robyn Benincasa, San Diego firefighter, world class adventure racer. Strong, fun, and ridiculously modest, she is a founder of Project Athena (job description: "Minister of Dreams"). Anyone who follows adventure racing is aware of Robyn's rockstar status, but she is more down-to-earth than most amateur Cat. 3 road cyclists. Another woman who isn't afraid to tell it like it is, she knew my feet hurt before I did. She took weight and physically pushed, pulled, and dragged us to completion.

Masha Glanville, recently retired from the workforce and world class adventure racer. I didn't get a lot of time with Mosh, but I do know this: she suffers more gracefully than anyone I have ever known. She physically pulled (on a towline) other hikers for dozens of miles.

Florence Debout, French, tiny, and powerful, her Project Athena description is "Commissioner of Courage". Again, not a lot of time with Florence, but her presence is much larger than her compact frame. For example, Florence and Robyn completed RAW this year, and their two-person female team won their division and placed 3rd OVERALL. She is also not one to boast.

Jonea Mounsey, flight nurse, local, hiker extraordinaire, route finder. Another pusher/puller/dragger, Jonea is just an all around cool chick.

Josh Liberman, a professional photog there to document who quickly became one of us, and Jackie Windh, a journalist and photographer there to cover the event for Sleepmonsters, and who has always been one of us.

The "B" Team: abbreviated from "Bitchin'!", this was Wendy, a San Diego firefighter, Erica, the sweetest girl with a contagious laugh, and myself, the ex-crackhead posing as an athlete. We vowed on Day 2 that we would stay together and damnit, we did. Every. Last. Painful. Step. You learn a lot about yourself when you are stripped of all ego, walking in well after everyone else.

There were 22 of us, which would make for a really long blog. The moral is this: go to Project Athena and donate at least a tithe. Or ten bucks, whatever. Click here to do it under my page.

It is a cause worthy of all of your disposable income.

makin' progress

Dennis Grelk and I teamed up on August 29th to do the 12-hour Thunder Rolls AR. We're both in our first year or two of adventure racing, but we get into it like a couple of rabid beavers. Dennis is a great teammate for many reasons, not the least of which are his VW bus and his ability to tow my ass on a bike to the finish line at 26mph-- after 11 hours and 53 minutes of racing. (We finished, according to my watch, with 20 seconds to spare.)

Of note on this race:
1. Two-mile run epilogue, in which teams receive Map 1 of 6 and passport (for marking obtained CPs). Dennis had a pulled Achilles' tendon, so the run was less than fun for his angry foot. Luckily for us, Dennis and I are total geeks (again, great teammate) and had spent the evening before overlaying the existing maps to determine where CP 1 was on the missing map.
That way, we didn't have to stop and plot the UTM coordinates. We were off!

2. Rockin' bike section, in which I was towed for the first time. It was awesome! The only team that caught us was 3-person coed Team Bushwacker, and we all know that they are monsters, so I'm okay with it. Two water crossings by bike.

3. The Tyrolean traverse, during which certain female racers are accused of sounding like birthing water buffalo. Whatever, I think I sounded like a warrior princess. Did I mention that we had to traverse with our bikes?

4. The first orienteering course. We hit the traverse in second place. When we came out of this O-course, we were 16th. We spent 90 minutes on one CP, and still never found it. Yeah, neither of us are navigators. Not at all.

5. The damned paddle, in which all energy stores are completely sapped. The Mississippi is one powerful, angry bitch. A few days before the race, one river town had received 10" of rain in one storm. It took us 3+ hours to get two CPs, but damnit, we got them. God bless 180 Energy drinks and beans- supplied at the boat launch. Thunder Rolls volunteers are awesome.

6. The finish, in which racers are handed an ice cold beer (in a custom Thunder Rolls coozie). The rest of the race was a blur as I clung to Dennis' wheel.