Badwater 1999 is not over for some of us. Myself and fellow running friend Louise Cooper-Lovelace still have to complete our journey to the top of Mt Whitney. We will complete our dream on Sept.18th, 1999 and anyone who would like to join us is welcome. We will meet at PJ’s diner (next to the Dow Villa Motel) in Lone Pine at 4:30am on the 18th. Not only will we climb the mountain to complete our journey for the causes but also to honor a young girl named Colby who lost her life to cancer while we were running the Badwater course. Those who watched the”48 Hours” coverage on Louise also saw the story about this amazing young child; her courage, strength and determination touched many. We will carry her beautiful spirit with us to the summit and sign her name in the logbook for she is one of the heroes of this year’s Badwater race. Afterwards, on Sunday Sept.19th, we’ll travel back to LA and celebrate the completion of our quest at Louise’s house. We will also celebrate our Birthdays, which both fall during this week.
Beyond covering the 135 miles of the Badwater course we set out to raise $200,000 for Breast Cancer Research and Paralysis Research. Both causes are very close to our heart. Donations are still being sent to The Christopher Reeve Paralysis foundation, with a 50/50 split to support both causes. (Donations can be made on-line on behalf of Louise and myself at www.paralysis.org).
On the eve of the Badwater 1999 race I am in my hotel room with crewmembers running around trying to get the vans ready for the morning. Marshall Ulrich is getting a massage from my sister Julie. The sky is turning black, the wind is picking up, and the sand is starting to blow. The wind is so powerful it is rocking the vans back and forth. Lightening comes along with the downpours of hail and rain. This is the desert? I tell Marshall to take a look outside; I saw that look on his face. Shit!
What will they do if this keeps up? The roads will all be closed, the course will be flooded. This doesn’t happen in the desert. I turn to Marshall and I ask him “if this happened during the race would you stop and get in your van?” “He replied, “well I think I would.” Not more than 5 seconds later Marshall’s crew member Gary said, “he’s full of it.” He knows that most would get out of the storm and stop until it passes, but there is no way Marshall would stop. HMMMMM I think to myself what would I do?
The next morning everything looks like it is a go. We all head to the start -282 ft. below sea level but we’re stopped by officials just before the turn off. Sorry they say, “the road to Badwater is closed, the race is going to start 17 miles in another direction.” What? This can’t be! This won’t be the Badwater course; it won’t be going from the lowest to the highest. I think to myself, “we can’t have this.” But, I am happy when we arrive 17 miles down the road and learn that several of the runners feel as I do. We want the Badwater course not an alternate route. However, I understand why others just want to get going and I will respect whatever the race officials decide. The decision is that we will wait until 10:00am…until the road to Badwater is cleared and opened. It will be a 4-hour delay.
9:50am. My sister Julie gathers our crew and Louise’s crew together. Holding hands, we form a large circle and Julie leads a prayer for all of us and for all of those who are running and crewing. She leaves us all in tears with beautiful word’s that touch each of our souls. Adam Bookspan, a race walker, plays the national anthem on his trumpet and once again some are brought to tears by the beauty of his talent.
We all cheer and the gun goes off. I grab Louise’s hand and squeeze it tight, close my eyes and wish her a safe journey. I know she is going to have an amazing race, she has my lucky number, 7, on her chest. I enjoy running the first several miles with all the guys who I have run this road with before…the conversations, the laughs, jokes, and the words of wisdom. The energy in this desert, on this day and everyday, is like nothing I have experienced anywhere else in the world.
I soon find myself running right next to Noel Hannah of Ireland. I give him a hard time; earlier this year we chased each other through the Sahara desert for days. He asks what music I’m listening to…poor guy had to listen to me sing my way through the Sahara. Only this race is different because Noel is smiling a lot more – his beautiful wife is riding in the car next to us, she is one of his crewmembers.
The storm hits me about 43 miles into the course; where ever you happen to be on the course, you see it coming. I think about Marshall who is ahead of me and I smile. The lightening scares me a bit; I don’t want the crew out on the road with me. The winds come again; the sand hits my legs and it hurts. There is a runner in front of me. He looks back several times to see if I’m going to catch him and he keeps running. I think that if he can run in this wind I should be able to run as well. But I realize that I am walking as fast as he is running so I just continue to walk. Soon I see Marshall up ahead. Just 2 weeks prior, he lived one of his biggest dreams…to complete the Badwater course self-contained. He is the first to accomplish this. How did he recover so quickly? How does this man do it? I have never met anyone with the same the strength and endurance that this man has. I see the look on his face, he is tired but he will recover yet again… he will be back to pass me soon enough. He usually does. This is what he does best.
We reach the mountains roads during the night. It’s cool out I think,..the heat has not been a factor for me this year; it’s the humidity that makes it different. Climbing, climbing I feel great. I love this place I keep saying to myself. It is like no other place on earth. Why is this? The crew and I are having a lot of fun together. I send them back to see how Louise is doing. I learn she is doing awesome!
Steve and Art came flying past me into Panamint Springs. I’m sticking to my plan. Run 4 min. then walk 4 min. Let them go, let them go. I ask David, “who is that?” He says, “Art and Steve.” I say, “that little shit.” Art had told me last year that if I was going to run the race again his plan would be to stay on my heels to the finish. I smile as I think about the conversations we have had and how happy he is that his wife is here with him. Now I pass them and fly up Father Crowley’s. I have never felt better at this point in the race. Yes, the usual aches and pains but I am having so much fun…just taking it all in.
100 miles…I see the time a crewmember’s watch. I don’t like to wear a watch, I find that I look at it too much. Just over 22 hours! Wow, at this point I’m still feeling great.
115 miles…the sun is directly overhead and it feels much hotter today. I’m beginning to feel weak. It’s not important what happened, it just happened. We drop my flag and go to the hotel in Lone Pine. We stay there awhile and then we head back to my flag. Meantime Art and Steve pass me again. Back on the road again, I’m moving slowly… this is all I can do. Marshall greets me on the road we give each other the well-known look. He passes me and we both continue on. Once again I think about how strong this man is. I think about Louise. I find out that Eric Clifton is heading up towards the finish. This is good news. I knew he could do it and am thrilled for him. Louise has our friend Nurse Karen on her crew. She comes to check on me. Angelica is close behind me now. She knows I’m just ahead and I can feel that she is trying to catch. I’m doing the best I can.
The start of the Portal road…I am ready to take on the last 13 miles to the finish. Nurse Karen gives the ok. The body goes through such phases, this will pass I’m sure of it. I move slowly. This is ok…we are far ahead of our pace. Angelica closes in. Tears fill my eyes…not because she is passing me but because of the respect I have for her as a fellow competitor and athlete. We take the time to give each other a hug. I tell her to go for it. I think my crew is expecting me to go after her. I’m doing the best I can.
7 miles from the finish, Nurse Karen suggests that I stop. She says, “you have nothing more to prove out here.” I listen to her words. I think of the promise I made to myself and other’s…by continuing the race I would be breaking that promise. To continue with the race would be a poor decision. I stop. Sad yes, what happened is not important.
6:30am the next morning I wake up and look at one of my crewmembers. He sees the look in my eyes and says, “you want to go to the top, don’t you?” I said, “yes, I’ve got to go to the top. We’re all going to the top; we’re going to finish what we started. I may be disqualified as an official competitor, but the #1 goal was always just to finish.
8:30am…I’m back to where my flag was dropped. I move slowly. I laugh with my crew. We congratulate others who are coming down the mountain. Denise is on her way down with Ben; she broke 48 hours. I am so proud of her and this accomplishment and realize how happy I am to be here. Race officials drive past us as we make our way to the finish. I see tears in their eyes. I hear the words; “you have a lot of heart.”
My good friend and crewmember, David, left earlier this morning to summit Whitney. I see him get out of a truck and walk towards me. He says, “I couldn’t do it, I had to finish with you and our team…and then I am going to take your race number, 35, to the summit…you are going all the way to the top. (This didn’t sink in until the next day when he showed up scared and bruised from doing just that…getting my race #35 to the summit, 14,496ft. above sea level…the highest he’d ever been.) I round the corner to the finish line…I can see it. I gather my crew and we join hands. It’s here! I feel the same elation that I did the year before and the year before that. This is Badwater and this is the finish. I raised my arms and look up to sky and say, “thank you for getting us here!” I gather my crew…we share a group hug and wipe the tears of joy from our eyes. Together, as Team Dreamchasers, we completed this journey through the desert…and our race for the cures. It’s a journey that will live in our souls forever. I am presented with a pancake the size of a large pizza. I sit and the reflections begin…and will never end.
Badwater is beyond a race of 135 miles. For those of you that have run or driven the course, crewed for a runner or sat and listened in on some of the race stories, know this to be true. I have had the privilege of racing all over the world; there is no other race that touches me like this one. No other event is talked about by the competitors and crews like Badwater. So what is Badwater? It’s beyond compare. It’s a spiritual journey for all. It’s a union of people that have an unspoken respect, admiration and love for each other. It’s a personal quest for each and every person that is involved, whether they are in Death Valley or somewhere else cheering us on. It’s a family full of loving, caring, sharing and giving. It’s God’s country, whatever you make of it. It’s Ben and Denise, the Major, Marshall, Art, Steve, Chris Moon, Dan Jenson, Cathy Tibbets, Noel Hannah, Adam Bookspan, Brian Manley, Scott Weber, Bill Mennard, the Twins. It’s Louise. It’s all of us runners and crews who are out there sharing our spirit in one way or another…and leaving our footprints in the sand.
I finished in over 48 hours, with over 16 hours of down time. Whether you made it to the finish or not it takes courage, commitment and dedication just to make it to the start. We all witnessed what this event is all about. Be it runner or crew you have a story to tell of how Badwater and beyond touched you and moved your soul to dance and you are forever changed.
I thank all of you for this experience. The crews Louise and I had were wonderful. They traveled from all over the USA to be a part of Team Dreamchasers; without them this would not have been possible. Thank you…Hi-Tec, The North Face, Contageware and my good friend Jim Johnson for making this dream turn into a reality. A special thanks to the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation for there continued support and assistance.
I leave you with one final thought. Many have expressed interest in continuing our quest for racing for the cures. Please don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance. If you can touch and save just one person and continue the race for the cures then it makes the journey all worthwhile. Let’s all continue to work together, as one big, happy family.
***To my crew: I am forever grateful to you for taking time away from your jobs, families and personal responsibilities to share this life changing experience. I realize now just how much this has all meant to each and every one of you. From all of the letters that I’ve received I understand that the journey was worthwhile… and in some ways is only beginning.