…Try three rookie adventure racers!“
When anyone you know signs up to take on a 500km multi discipline expedition race, it’s natural to ask Why. But when none of them has done more than 150km non-stop, it’s more important for them to know the What, the When and the How in order for them to succeed in their endeavour.
These invaluable insights are exactly what experienced racer Don Sims provided for his team in order to get them to the start and then, five days later, elatedly across the finish line of the epic 2017 Expedition Africa event. (The ‘are we there yet?’, ‘am I dead yet?’ and ‘are you !%#^ kidding me?’ questions also came out en route but they got answered with a simple ‘No.’)
As a long time member of South Africa’s most accomplished team – the Merrell Adventure Addicts, who have won Expedition Africa three times and are #7 in the world rankings – Don was nervous to forego the usual all out assault on the podium and instead take on a mentorship role as captain of a team of absolute newbies from East London, including his younger brother Troy. “Coming into this race with 3 novices was a big thing for me. Knowing how much trust and faith these guys and their families had in me didn’t take any pressure off!”
The Merrell Mentored initiative was started last year by the team to encourage more people to dare to tackle this daunting sport. “At some stage we had to let on that us Adventure Racers are not superhuman” says regular team captain Graham Bird with his characteristic twinkle. “We’re not trying to say “we’re all winners”, but if you have a body and a mind you can put them to work together and do incredible things.”
Those who complete these and other extreme endurance events have learnt that what you thought were your limits are merely mirages on the horizon that recede as you approach them.
They may not put it as eloquently, they may instead be rather incoherent for a while, but they all glow with an inner confidence that can then be applied to every aspect of their life. It’s not about running and mountain biking and paddling non-stop for days, it’s about realising what you are capable of. Having a mentor to ease the pressure of navigating through the wilderness, to clarify what to put in your transition boxes, to explain that you should cross a river naked so your clothes will be warm and dry on the other side and to show you how to eat, change, pee and assemble your bike simultaneously, amongst all the other relevant information, makes completing a full expedition race that much more viable for first timers.
The mentor alone cannot carry his team, each member learns the responsibility of getting themself as well as each other through the battle.
“I went through the lowest of lowest but the most amazing highs, so high that the lows were soon forgotten. The team I raced with were phenomenal, I never expected to come out of this with a “race family” but they are by your side every step of the way. To race for the Merrell Mentors was a huge honour. The support we got was amazing building up to the race and during. A dream that I thought was impossible became possible.” Mother of three Michelle Viaene Powell impressed Don with her tenacity and smiles all the way through.
“A year ago I sat watching athletes doing extreme races and believed that that were gifted with special god given abilities to do these insanely difficult races.” Said Dean Findlay, himself a veteran of four half Ironmans. “We crossed the finish line and showed that such beliefs were not true. What ultimately got me across the line, me – an ordinary weekend athlete, was my fellow Team members.”
“Don lead our team like a true champion! He kept us going the whole way and our spirits up, even when we thought we had no more to give. He taught us that the human body can give more and will, if you only keep your mind strong.” Said Troy Sims.
The Merrell Adventure Addicts are no less competitive than before – they head to the USA in August for the AR World Championships – but for Don this expedition sharing and passing on his passion will remain a highlight. “I’m hugely proud of all of them and they’ve definitely earned my respect. This was probably the most emotional finish I’ve had in all my years of racing.”
All that remains to be asked of them all is ‘What next?’
For the Merrell Mentored Team, it’s ‘Who next?’ and ‘Where next?’