Sadler’s Alaska Challenge

Sadlers 2000

During the summer of 2000, I was looking for an adventure – I was home from my first year of college and even though it was great to be back in AK, I felt discombobulated. I tried to distract myself by filling my days as full as possible by working, coaching soccer, house-sitting, camping, hiking, etc. But I still wanted to find something more. And then I found it: Sadler’s Alaska Challenge.

Back then, it was known as the Sadler’s Midnight Sun Ultra Challenge. A friend was working as an organizer for the event, and mentioned they might have room for one more volunteer. Not knowing much about the race or what I was signing up for, I dove in – adventure here I come!

That’s the adventurous 19-year old me with one of the racers in the fuzzy photo above, pre-digital camera era (um, am I getting old?!).

If you’re not familiar with the event, Sadler’s Alaska Challenge is a 267-mile hand-cycling competition conducted in seven timed stages (the website says it is known as “the Tour de France” of disabled sports).

It was hard not to notice missing limbs and wheelchairs during my first day on the race. By the end, they didn’t even register – all I could see were phenomenal athletes who had experienced the highs and lows of a week-long distance race (in sometimes grueling conditions) and emerged triumphant; because completing 267 miles on a hand-cycle or in a wheel chair is without a doubt, a triumph.

Other memories of my time as a volunteer include:

  • Long days of holding signs along the side of the road or prepping water stations for thirsty racers, then swapping stories around the camp fire.
  • The gray ribbon of road stretching out in front of us for miles and miles, and how quickly the racers burned up those miles.
  • Meeting fascinating people, both volunteers and competitors, from all over the world.
  • Sleeping in the trunk of a car every night (I don’t remember how I ended up car sleeping – I forgot a tent? There wasn’t room in the motor home? It was comfy?).
  • A deep respect for the competitors in the event – they were AMAZING and the level of commitment, effort, and sheer athleticism rivaled elite athletes anywhere.

You can read a much more detailed account (complete with many misadventures) of volunteering here: mission implausible. I loved reading this – fun to see that one of the most memorable racers, Carlos Moleda (a former Navy SEAL who landed in a wheel chair after he was shot during the 1989 invasion of Panama) appears in Suzanne’s blog as well. I think he won the year I volunteered.

Currently, the 2013 racers are probably trying to get a good night’s sleep before the 46.3 mile road race from Ester to Nenana tomorrow. If you want a closer look at the event, Sam Wasson posted photos of stage one here, and hopefully will be adding other stages soon! Results so far available here, and a story by KTUU Ch. 2 here.

The last day of the race is July 21 – course info here. If you have a chance, get out there and cheer!

Author: Gretchen Fauske

I love Anchorage. I love what it is, what it's been, and what I dream it will be. I share my adventures with DJ (my husband), my fabulous family and friends, two frenchies named Grover and Teddy, and now, all of you. If you love Anchorage too, get in touch - guest posts are welcome!