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 MSG Jesse Tubb from team US Military (#64). I live in Laurel, MD and I play trumpet in the United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in Washington DC.
What was your adventure racing experience prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Have you participated in previous Eco-Challenges or other adventure races?
I’ve been adventure racing for 9 years and have raced everything from 2hr sprint races with my family to ARWS championship races. This is the first Eco-Challenge I’ve been a part of.
How did your team come together, and how did you train for Eco-Challenge: Fiji?
Two of the four original members on the team had to drop out for work and family issues and I was brought on as a replacement for one of them. None of us had raced together before and had only known of each other through friends or as competitors in previous races.
After the team was solidified, Caitlin and I started to form a team bond by doing a 24 hr race together. During that event, we met Jesse Spangler and raced side by side with him for a good portion of the time. We all got along well, so when another original teammate dropped out only weeks before Eco-Challenge: Fiji was to begin, we were confident that Jesse would be a perfect last minute fit.
Prior to Eco-Challenge: Fiji, the team was able to complete just one weekend training session. This was arranged by our TAC, Kevin, and took place in the hills of West Virginia and western Maryland. The location actually proved to be a perfect training for the non stop rolling hills we faced in Fiji.
What were you most looking forward to at Eco-Challenge: Fiji, and what scared you the most?
The experience that I most looked forward to and feared the most was one in the same...sailing in the beautiful waters surrounding the island.
I was really terrified of getting lost in the open ocean. I was the navigator for that portion and with 330 islands to choose from, my night terrors were filled with images of Tom Hanks and Wilson.
What was your favorite piece of gear and/or clothing and/or food?
We foolishly relied on the grocery stores on the island for most of our food and ended up sustaining ourselves mostly on Tang, ramen noodles and canned fish, sometimes in various combinations with each other. As a result, when we would enter a village and they offered us home cooked food it was such a glorious experience.
In the middle of the night and facing a dangerous level of sleep deprivation while biking, we met a local who offered us his floor for the night. He cooked us a simple flour roll with sugar and some lemon tea. The humility, hospitality and generosity of this local farmer made that meal so special and one we will never forget. That single dish was my favorite food item for sure.
Describe a favorite moment of Eco-Challenge: Fiji, or one where you suffered the most.
My favorite moment was paddling in the ocean and seeing the explosions of bioluminescence when our paddles hit the water.
There were so many moments of immense suffering in this race. There were two stages in particular that were singularly more grueling than any 24 hour race I’ve done before - the mountain bike ride on the muddy ridge line and the slow, oh so slow, swim along the river. The mud along the ridge was so thick we actually had to push our bikes downhill. The rocks in the river were so slippery that we kept falling and getting injured. I ended up gashing my shin and would need stitches at the next medical tent 10 hrs later before continuing on. I will forever have that tattoo on my shin as a reminder of that experience.
After Eco-Challenge: Fiji, would you do another adventure race? Would you do the Eco-Challenge again?
Absolutely and in a heartbeat. I’m applying with an All-Army team for the next one. The body has an amazing ability to forget pain, although answering these questions are doing a good job of reminding me of the suffering I experienced.
What internal struggles did you experience during Eco-Challenge: Fiji? Did you experience any moments of self-reflection and/or growth?
I am an intensely competitive person. I push myself hard, race fast, and dig myself into a deep hole just to see how far I can go. This doesn’t always work well in a team setting. In fact, I’ve had many experiences when racing with a team where it proved to be very problematic, especially when racing with my own kids. There have been moments of clarity about this, sometimes during the race but often not until after the race is done.
Our goal for this race was to finish because we knew the real competitor was the course, not the other teams. This was the first race where I was able to completely let go of chasing teams and focus solely on helping the team cross the finish line. It took years of difficult and brutal self reflection, many failures, and endless determination to improve this imbalance. In doing so, however, it has allowed the truly epic experience of this race to be enough for me. Sometimes it takes breaking through the cocoon to emerge as the man you want to be.
Our team had a near breakdown moment at the waterfall ascent. We had planned to take our time and help each other get our gear assembled correctly, especially since we were all depleted and sleep deprived. The one team member with the most climbing experience took off up the waterfall first without checking in on the rest of us. When I finally clipped in and started climbing the 1000 wall, I realized I was not properly secured. Luckily, a volunteer saw this and came over to help me and after a lot of effort and energy we were able to correct everything. Team tensions were already running high by that point, and I worried that this situation was potentially going to shatter the fragile bond of the team. After we regrouped at the top, we had a team meeting and when confronted, he admitted his mistake, apologized and we vowed to make better team decisions going forward. It was a moment during the race that could have broken the team, but instead made us stronger.
What was re-entry into civilization like, both after the finish line in Fiji and back in your home country?
Each time I finish a difficult race or have an experience where I suffer in some way or another, I’m left with a deeper sense of gratitude. The greater the suffering, the more intense the feeling of gratitude becomes. The amount of suffering I endured during this race gave me a profound level of gratitude that transformed many areas of my life.
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?
I would want them to know that every time you say “there’s no way” to anything, you narrow the limits of your life. Had I not opened the scope of my dreams to include the “impossible”, so much of my life would not have been possible.
Racing Eco-Challenge: Fiji was a dream of mine since I first saw the show as a teenager. It was everything I wanted and needed it to be.
Stay tuned for more from USARA! Visit www.usara.com for more information on adventure racing in the United States.
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