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!
I’m Anne Lord Bailey of Team UNBROKEN (#63). I live in Asheville, North Carolina and work as an Innovation Specialist and Pharmacist Provider for the Western North Carolina VA Health Care System.
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
Zero. Zilch. Zip. Nada. In fact, no one on our team had adventure racing experience. Crazy, right?!
Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
I/we have not.
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
Gretchen Evans, a retired Command Sergeant Major, never takes a challenge lightly. When someone introduced to her the idea of getting a team together to compete in Eco-Challenge: Fiji, she not only said yes, but she also said, “I’ll pull together a group of people that no one would ever pick to do this.” Gretchen and Hal have known each other most of their lives and are like family. Hal invited Cale, a friend from many years who lived in Texas. Keith and Gretchen are connected through a non-profit organization called NoBarriers. I knew Gretchen from the VA in Asheville. She hosted a book club centered around bridging the gap between Veterans and civilians and invited me to join. We are a group of ragamuffins - each with at least one “disability,” joined together by one woman who believed we could all do more than we ourselves - or anyone else - thought we could do.
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?
We were all looking forward to toeing the start line, side-by-side with some of the most elite athletes in the world, to show people with disabilities that they can still have a seat at the table. We knew we represented so many more people than we could possibly count - from all backgrounds and walks of life. How crazy is that?!
What was most terrifying was the unknown. We’d trained as hard as we knew how to train. We’d asked as many questions and talked to as many people as we thought we could. We also knew that the race itself would be almost impossible for the best of the best. We were stepping into the arena of The World’s Toughest Race with unique challenges, as individuals and as a team.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
That is an EXCELLENT question, considering the sheer amount of gear required to pull off something like this.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
My favorite moment was probably that moment at the end of one leg or challenge and the beginning of another. Whether it was something brand new or something we were going back to, it was a moment of relief to continue forward and a moment of excitement to see what was next.
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
100%. No doubt.
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
I would say the biggest struggles happened in moments of uncertainty. Are we going the right way? Are we asking the right questions? Are we hydrating properly ? I would have an opinion or a sense of what I thought the right answer was, but my next thought was typically, “but who am I to know?”
Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
Absolutely. There’s a cheesy meme going around somewhere that says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” I wholeheartedly agree. To call something like this Race a challenge feels like a gross understatement. I realized as I processed the race, I often deferred - I would defer to my teammates and assume they knew better, but NONE of us had ever done this before. The playing field was more level than I recognized at the time. I’m not saying I necessarily knew better, but I did owe my team my observations and thoughts.
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
It’s such a bizarre experience - to return to a world that kept going as usual while yours was exploded by some of the most amazing moments and experiences of your life - and back-to-back-to-back. It’s hard to put words to something like that.
How would you like fans to interpret your participation in Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
I’d love for them to see my participation - the participation of our whole team - as a reminder that you can do more than you think you can. Take on that challenge that you’ve been considering and maybe a little afraid of facing. Right now, our world feels so upside down and backwards. It’s easy to choose the fetal position and to just - give up. You can’t even imagine the things you might miss. Please - don’t give up. I know it’s hard. It’s hard for Gretchen to wake up and navigate a hearing world. It’s hard for Keith to make sense of life on this side of combat. We each have our own “hard,” but we can do hard things.
Did you set out to inspire another group of people and do you think you accomplished that?
I hope so desperately that people can see in our team the power of Veterans and civilians working together. I also hope that people with disabilities - whatever they may be - find in us a hope of possibility.
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.