Adventure Team Challenge brings together able-bodied, disabled athletes for unique event
Levi Reilly lifted Ryan Tinker from a raft Saturday morning, scooping him up as the duo ascended the river bank at the Loma boat launch before Reilly set Tinker in his wheelchair.
It was a gesture made in friendship, even if the pair had only met this weekend. Reilly, from Boston, and Tinker, from Denver, were brought together by the Adventure Team Challenge Colorado this weekend in the Grand Valley.
The event, hosted by nonprofit World T.E.A.M. Sports, brings in 60 athletes from all over the country as 12 teams of five athletes raft, bike and climb in western Colorado. Teams are made up of three able-bodied athletes and two disabled athletes. One of the disabled athletes must use a wheelchair.
The competition continues today at Highline Lake State Park.
The groups started with a rafting race Saturday morning, overseen by professional river guides, that started in the Redlands. The teams navigated the Colorado River, working through rapids and currents before skidding onto the Loma boat launch to the cheers of roughly two dozen spectators.
Reilly and Tinker’s group was the first to touch the shore. Reilly joked he couldn’t feel the left side of his body after being soaked during the ride on the river. Tinker, with a GoPro strapped to his helmet, spent most of the race “catching water” in the back of the raft. Still, for a group of strangers from four different cities, competition brought them together.
“It took about 30 minutes until we figured out our jam,” Reilly said. “It wasn’t like we were really killing it or anything, we just got to the point where we were working really efficiently together.”
Also on the first team finished with rafting was actor and former professional BMX rider Kurt Yaeger, whose Hollywood profile rose with his performance as Greg the Peg in the FX drama “Sons of Anarchy” and a brief appearance in the action movie “Triple 9.”
Yaeger wears a prosthetic below the knee on his left leg, the result of a 2006 motorcycle crash, and said his charity work often includes organizations similar to World T.E.A.M. Sports.
As for the easy chemistry of Yaeger and his teammates? It came the way it does for many groups of guys: trash talk and jokes.
“We were talking smack to each other the whole time and working hard but not taking it seriously,” Yaeger said. “We were all laughing and having fun and I think that’s the whole point. Just us being a bunch of goof-offs and working hard.”
Tinker found out about the event only a week before, but decided he wanted to join when a last-minute spot was available.
“I just kinda said (screw) it and went for it,” Tinker said. “I had no idea what to expect and just jumped in.”
After the rafting, teams were bused to Rabbit Valley and the Kokopelli Trail for a bike race lasting roughly three hours. Able-bodied competitors towed their teammates in wheelchairs on a four-wheeled mountain biking apparatus. Some rode regular sit-down bikes modified so occupants could pedal with their hands. Others were situated head-first, so pedaling looked almost like a swimming motion.
The third portion of the challenge included rock climbing and rappelling around the McDonald Creek Trail head near the Utah border. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton visited with competitors in the evening.
The Adventure Team Challenge Colorado is in its 10th year, having moved around the state for the past decade, including previous stops on the Western Slope.
World T.E.A.M. Sports Director of Advancement Sarah Bell, who helps oversee events and the organization’s fundraising, said Grand Junction offers a distinct backdrop for the Colorado-based event.
“You don’t get anything quite like this elsewhere in Colorado and you definitely don’t get it out East,” Bell said. “It’s more western. That’s the best way I can describe it.”
The organization currently features six events in the United States, with all but the Colorado event on the East Coast. The CANAM Veteran’s Challenge is currently in the development process and would feature an event running from Washington D.C. to Ottawa, Canada.
Bell said although World T.E.A.M. Sports works closely with veterans, disabled competitors are a mix of civilians and former military members.
“The number of disabled veterans we’ve had competing has obviously swelled since the war in Iraq,” Bell said. “They’re not all of our competitors, but they’re a large portion of them.”
Bell said the nonprofit’s unique sports challenges, diverse pool of competitors from across the country and the inclusion of disabled athletes makes it an event unlike any other.
“It really is the only event of its kind, basically,” Bell said. “There’s no other inclusive, adaptive, fully sanctioned event by the (United States Adventure Racing Association) that can bring in all these different people.”