USACE team member aids paraplegic cycling team in Australia's Crocodile Trophy
December 16, 2011
Every October, athletes from around the world flock to the starting line in Carins, Australia, to begin what is known as the hottest, hardest and longest mountain bike race in the world. But for Team Can Be Venture, the 2011 Crocodile Trophy race was not just a physical challenge--it was a testament to their mental fortitude.
The team consisted of two paraplegic hand cyclists Carlos Moleda and Patrick Doak, and able-bodied cyclist Andrew Chafer, along with six family members and friends who served as crew members. Herman Kramer, chief of Information Technology at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District, had the honor of aiding the team in what he calls "an overwhelming experience in humanity."
Team Can Be Venture was supported by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps people with physical disabilities pursue fitness and athletic opportunities.
As a supporter of Challenged Athletes and a friend and neighbor of Moleda and Chafer, Kramer put aside his life in Savannah and devoted two weeks to support the team for a cause he believed in.
Throughout the hills of the rugged Australian Outback, Kramer followed the cyclists in a support vehicle to provide water, food, first aid, navigation, and most importantly, encouragement.
"We basically stayed within five kilometers of the team at all times to make sure they got what they needed, when they needed it," Kramer said. "The whole crew gave them heaps of motivation."
Along the 760-mile, 10-day race, the weather ranged from pouring rain to blistering heat (up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit). The route covered steep inclines, rocky and muddy roads--even several river crossings--which made it extremely difficult to maneuver hand cycles. Long stretches of trail were shrouded with what the Aussie's call "bull dust" -- a fine powder that restricts visibility to a mere three feet when stirred.
At night, the team set up camp and slept in tents on the ground. Kramer even slept in a water-soaked tent one night as a result of a relentless downpour on day two. Then, the next morning, they got up and did it all over again. But each morning brought stronger determination.
"The trip really had a personal impact for me as I witnessed firsthand the preconceived notions that people sometimes have about disabled folks," Kramer said. "Many people look at Patrick and Carlos and probably figure that they aren't really athletic because they are in wheelchairs. But what is interesting to me is that these two guys have accomplished more major athletic milestones or achievements than the majority of people in the world will ever even attempt. They've competed in Race Across America and multiple Ironman Triathlons."
But a race as harsh as the Crocodile Trophy didn't come without its pitfalls. On day six, Doak was forced to stop racing due to severe dehydration and heat exhaustion. The next day, Moleda also had to withdraw due to an infection from an open wound. While the team was disappointed with these unforeseen circumstances, everyone knew what mattered most was protecting their health, especially considering Moleda's plans to compete in yet another Paralympics next year.
However, everyone's spirits remained high for Chafer, their remaining teammate. He persevered for four more excruciating days and crossed the finish line for Team Can Be Venture.
Despite the physical challenges, the team's strong, positive mentality didn't falter--a life lesson that Kramer will always remember.
"I've always heard that having a great attitude goes a long way, and I couldn't agree more after this race," Kramer said. "I watched these guys pedal and crank for 12 to 18 hours--sometimes while it rained all day--but the one constant was their attitude… We each took something away from our 10-day adventure, and for me, it was the re-enforcement of what a positive attitude can do for you and those around you."
"I feel that this was really one of those once in a lifetime opportunities and I am very blessed that my family, friends, co-workers, customers, and management team supported me on this endeavor," Kramer said.