Welcome to our series of interviews with American adventure racing teams who participated in the World's Toughest Race Eco-Challenge: Fiji! This 11-day adventure race took place in September 2019 and will premiere on Amazon Prime on August 14th, 2020. Check out USARA's dedicated Eco-Challenge: Fiji page for interviews from other teams and additional material concerning the race!
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Dan Abel, the captain of Team Able Abels (#44). Our team consists of me, my two daughters Ashley and Lauren. Our team assistant crew (TAC) is Allison Abel, my wife and Ashley and Lauren’s mom. The Abels are originally from Orange County California but have lived in Boise Idaho for the past 8 years. Our fifth teammate was Fletcher Hamel from Salt Lake City.
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
I am the father of Ashley and Lauren and have been adventure racing for over 20 years. During that time I finished Eco-Challenge: New Zealand (2001), Eco-Challenge: Fiji (2002) and Primal Quest Badlands, (2009). In addition to expedition length adventure races, DI have competed in multiple one day races all over the US. Ashley and Lauren grew up watching merace. Once they were old enough, they also participated in some shorter adventure races and loved it! When Eco-Challenge announced they were coming back in 2019, it sounded like the perfect expedition length race for Dad and daughters to tackle together!
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
We spent most of the year training for Eco-Challenge: Fiji by doing smaller orienteering and adventure races, paddling outriggers in California and climbing any mountain we could find!
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?
We were most looking forward to the adventure as a whole. Eco-Challenge is iconic especially for our family and the girls were really excited to get to walk in my footsteps. The girls grew up hearing stories about Fiji, about the sticky mud, the bili-bilis, and the amazing challenges of the jungle. When we found out we Eco-Challenge was going back to Fiji, we were both thrilled and terrified. Ashley and Lauren’s biggest fear was getting lost. Not only did they grow up hearing stories of Dad’s triumphs but also his defeats: the time he slid off a log and broke his shoulder, the time they got so lost they ended up going in a circle, the time his kayak snapped in half because it got caught on a breaking wave. Adventure racing, although our passion, is incredibly daunting. Regardless of our fears, it was our stoke that got us to the start line, and our love for each other and AR that got us every step further.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
Our favorite food was anything fresh. We had a lot of freeze dried food which served its purpose of nutrition but anything we could get fresh was especially delicious. I think our favorite food that we got during this particular race was when a local Fijian cracked open a fresh coconut from a tree and we each got to drink the coconut water and eat the fresh coconut right out of the shell.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
A favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji for us was the few times that we stopped racing and really soaked in what we were doing together as a family. Being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or the middle of the Fijian jungle together as a family was so surreal and we did take a few pauses to really soak that in. We each had different low points during the race - whether that was a bad stomach ache, extreme exhaustion, or heat rash. That is why you have a team, to pick up the slack when you are struggling or having a low point.
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
Before Eco-Challenge: Fiji, I was retired from adventure racing, and my daughters were working or in school full time. Our priority was not adventure racing but when Mark Burnett & Lisa Hennessy announced the return of Eco-Challenge, it sparked fire within all of us and our passion for adventure racing became at the forefront of all our minds. After participating in Eco-Challenge: Fiji we are more passionate and excited to adventure race. We saw what we could accomplish as a family and we want the chance to participate in an expedition adventure race together again.
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
The biggest internal struggle we faced was the battle to keep going. Your body just wants the pain to stop. It’s up to your brain to say, “nope, we press on.” Your body will tell you it can literally not take one more step, but it’s your will that really matters. So we took that next step and then the one after that, and after that and so on. What that taught us was unique for each person. For my daughters, they learned how strong they really are and just how much they can take.
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
After spending an extended period of time in the wildness of Fiji, we had an entirely different perspective on day-to-day life in normal civilization. The bottom line is we can take so much for granted so easily. Everything from clean water to a safe home. Once you have every comfort and security stripped from you in the wild, you look at the world differently. And in a lot of ways it makes life so much simpler.
How would you like fans to interpret your participation in Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you set out to inspire another group of people and do you think you accomplished that?
Lauren and Ashley are responding here: First and foremost we were participating in Eco-Challenge to prove to ourselves that we could do it. It is such a monstrous event that you can’t do it unless you have your own reasons and ultimately want to do it for yourself. For the women of the family, it makes us feel good that we are participating at the top level of a male dominated sport. Not a women’s version or against other women but we are racing against men and doing everything that the men are doing. A lot of times by Day 3 of an adventure race, women’s endurance and mental fortitude start to really come out. It is so empowering to be a woman in this sport and we hope we are an inspiration to other women who want to participate in adventure racing.
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
A space for AR musings from the USARA team and guest authors. Ready to race? Check out the rest of our resources on the USARA homepage.