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 Brett Gravlin and I race with Team Curl (#50). I live in Santa Cruz, CA and I am a recruiter.
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
Prior to the Eco-Challenge, I had never done any sort of adventure race. I saw it on TV way back when and that was my only exposure.
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
Years ago, I applied to the Eco-Challenge when I was in college and actually got in. Unfortunately we couldn’t come up with a corporate sponsor so we had to walk away. Years later, I must have been on a mailing list and got the notification that they were bringing it back. It was always the dream to do, so I got in touch with the craziest person I knew, Justin, and asked him. A week went by with no word. Another week went by and he finally called me up and said let's do this. From there he told me he knew a badass ultrarunner (Jen) and I grabbed my good friend Steven who is generally good at whatever he touches. For our Team Assistant Crew (TAC), Justin knew just the right fit with Jeff who is a paramedic and has experience with these long races. Training for us varied by individual. None of us lived near each other so we spent most of the prep time solo. About once a month we would all get together somewhere and have an adventure either mountain biking, whitewater rafting or outrigger canoeing. My individual training consisted of mountain biking, surfing, crossfit, beach volleyball and walking a really steep hill near my house in the middle of the night.
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?I was most looking forward to suffering with my team and completing something extremely hard. The thing I was most scared of was the climbing and repelling. I don’t have much experience in that arena and add sleep deprivation to it…I was really worried.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
My favorite piece of gear was definitely my sleeping bag which I got to get in at major checkpoints. It felt like staying at the Ritz! So warm and cozy and safe. As for food, I fell in love with cheese quesadillas with rice. It was warm and wholesome and everything I needed. Unfortunately, we could only get those at major checkpoints as well.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
My absolute favorite moment of the race was on the bili-bili. Steven and I were sharing a boat and he was trying to sleep. I accidentally steered us straight into a rock and he woke up with absolute panic on his face. He had no idea where he was or what he was doing. I laughed so hard I cried. He paid me back for that later on in the evening. We were bili-biling in the dark and he steered us into a rock and I went face first off the front of the boat. He pissed himself from laughter and didn’t even ask if I was ok. Delirium had definitely set in at that point.
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
I definitely am hoping to do the next Eco-Challenge. Literally the day the race ended, I started my campaign to be let into the next. So here I am saying PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE race organizers, let Team Curl in!
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
I definitely had a moment of “I can’t do this” in the race. Self doubt crept in and started eating me up. Luckily my team wasn’t having any of it and they picked up my slack and encouraged me to get over the hump. Having them there was the most fulfilling part of the race. As far as self reflection and growth after the race, I feel I learned how to communicate my needs better and really try to understand what my teammates needs are. Sleep deprivation is intense and operating with people nonstop is tough so communication was key.
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
That depends on who you ask. My wife said when I got back I was extremely short, low on patience and running high on testosterone. I of course had a different opinion. I was tired, hungry and happy to see my family. This is still up for debate in my family. One thing for sure that helped with the transition was immediately after the race, we went to New Zealand for a vacation and camper vanned all over the island with the kids. That was a good transition back to normal life. Once back home, it was hit the relax button, surf a ton and contemplate the adventure we just had. I’ll admit though, I did become more direct in dealing with people right after the race. Beating around the bush and politicking wasn’t appealing to me when I returned home. Tell me what you want and I’ll tell you what I need.
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?
Fans of Eco-Challenge should know that I had the dream vacation! You have only one goal to accomplish which is the task directly in front of you. There is no technology, no noise to get in the way and your body and mind are being pushed to the max. Every movement you make has purpose and you get to do all this with an awesome team. Add to all that, you’re in FIJI! I mean what more could you want? As a fully fledged member of Team Curl, we set out to inspire curly haired folks to get out there and share the tangles. I definitely think we maintained our curls the entire race and looked fabulous in the process. We showed the world you don’t have to have straight hair to be an adventure racer.
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
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