In 2010, Ann Lantz and I competed in the bicycle race, Race Across the West (RAW) as part of a 4 woman team who, set a record for the race. RAW is a shorter version of Race Across AMerica (RAAM), which follows the same route as RAAM but is a mere 800 miles, starting in Oceanside, CA and ending in Durango, Colorado. The moment we crossed the finish of RAW in 2010, Ann and I knew we were destined for the complete race, the whole enchilada, the Full Monte, the 3000 mile behemoth, RAAM. How to get ourselves there and what to do along the way was our biggest unknown.
First, we defined our goal, or in this case, goals. Ann (who, not surprisingly, is a world class athlete, trainer, coach, mother, and inductee in the Colorado Sportswoman Hall of Fame) and I (who is none of the above except the mother part) both felt that if we were going to compete, not merely participate, in this male dominated and younger person oriented event, we wanted to make a statement to as many women of our age as we could. We wanted to make an impact, we wanted to inspire others to become active and throw it down with the best of the best. To do that, we needed to form a team. We needed two additional women of, or very close to, our age, who were not afraid of competing, who could commit to the training that was involved and could help to spread our message. We hit a couple of rough spots along the way and had some personnel changes but eventually found our compadres in adventure.
Enter teammate number three, Amy Shonstrom. Amy is a soft spoken, rock solid competitor who, in her early 60’s, has no intention to stop . . . anything. She is a real estate professional with Perry & CO and an athlete extraordinaire. Amy works hard and plays even harder. She leapt at the chance to be part of the team and jumped into training with two feet and one oar (Amy is a champion rower), she was always positive, always working, always stepping it up.
Next, we found Dina Hannah. We found Dina through the grapevine, short though it may be, of cyclists who knew her story and her work ethic. Dina was the perfect athlete to complete our circle in that, not only could she crush it on a bike, but she had a back story that fit with our mission. Nine years ago, Dina was an obese couch potato of a woman, who saw the light when she broke her foot while walking due to her obese frame. She was told by her doctor that she needed to lose weight and so, as part of an office challenge, she jumped on a bike. Fast forward over 100 pounds of weight loss and many bikes later, she is a top competitor in the state of Utah and was perfect to complete our team.
Along the way, we knew that we wanted an avenue to not only spread our message but to influence as many people in Colorado as we could. We began to interview nonprofit entities to see which would fit best with our goals. As if heaven sent, we connected with LiveWell Colorado whose mission statement alone encompassed our intent. Thus was born a very fulfilling partnership that has flourished over the past 18 months and has given us, as a team, even more direction and fire to compete and complete the event of a lifetime as Team 411, Love, Sweat & Gears.
On June 16, 2012, after 18 months of fundraising, interviewing, training, and dirty houses, we made our way to the start line of RAAM in Oceanside, CA. Armed with 4 racers, 14 crew members (including a two person media crew to document our experience, a crew chief, a massage therapist who also cooked, a bike mechanic, an RV driver/jack of all trades, additional drivers and navigators), a news team from NBC Nightly News, one support van, one Audi (donated by McDonald Audi), one gigantic 40 foot RV, and enough food to feed a small army, which we sort of actually had, we pushed off onto the first portion of the route, headed from breezy, sunny San Diego to the stiflingly hot Mojave Desert.
I can give you memories and highlights from each of the 12 states we traveled through and each section of roadway we pedaled and it still would pale to our actual experience. We watched the country evolve from the sandy barren desert and gradually increase in growth and greenery (and humidity) along the way eastward. The terrain went from the long steady climbs in Southern Colorado to the short but incredibly intense peaks of the Appalachians. Interestingly enough, the road kill also evolved from snakes, bunnies and squirrels, to armadillos, toads, and possum. We encountered 110 degree heat with 55 mile an hour cross winds that knocked Ann to the pavement in Kansas and freezing mist and fog in West Virginia.
We rode day and night, seeing Monument Valley at dawn and Missouri at sunset. We rested (tried to do something akin to sleeping but that never really happened) in the RV, rinsed out our cycling kits and wore them over and over and. . . well, you get the idea. We were greeted at several time stations along the way by women who had found us on Facebook and had been following our progress and were inspired to get out, move around, and embrace an active lifestyle. We buried a van in the desert sand, had a vehicle flat tire, a bike flat tire, and a few bike parts scattered along the road. Through it all we pushed, we sweated, and we loved every last moment. We crossed the finish line in Annapolis, after being chased by a deer in the last 2 miles of the race, in 7 days 36 minutes as the first place women’s team recording the second fastest woman’s time in RAAM history, a full day ahead of the second place team.
To say this was the ride of lifetime is truly an understatement. It was more than a ride; it was a life changing experience from the moment the idea appeared, through the details of the race, the fundraising efforts, and the support of the unbelievable people at LiveWell Colorado. We cannot express enough our gratitude to LiveWell Colorado for their support as we attained something remarkable, to compete as a team, see the country from the saddle of a bicycle, provide something for the people of our state, and show what women can do – at any age.
Best to All,
Love, Sweat & Gears