Crewin’ for “Cry Tuff”

Crew for 2001 finisher Rick Nawrocki

Damn! I can’t even run down my street.Bad knees, pins in my ankle, still smoking, and just out of shape. How the heck can I crew and then try to summit Whitney? All I did was send some jokes over the net to try to cheer him up. Hadn’t seen the guy in 27 years. His brother, Rob and I have been friends for years and he told me about Ricks bone marrow transplant. In the course of sending jokes I mentioned how cold it was in Ohio and Rick said, “If you’re looking for some heat, I do this little thing called Badwater out in Death Valley, maybe you would like to crew for me.” That was back in March!

Sounded fun. Buy some cool equipment. Hang out with friends. See death valley and the top of Whitney. Wrong! The experience was 100 times more enriching, exciting, and rewarding than I could ever imagine!

I thought the idea of summiting Whitney was the big treat, crewing was just something to do until you got there. Wrong again! In fact, who was I kidding? I was in no shape to climb a mountain like that! Well, I still bought cool stuff just in case. I joked with Rick that I was doing altitude training in Ohio by “smoking on the roof”. OK, I did quit smoking for the trip and remain a non-smoker still.

Two weeks before the race I ruptured my left calf muscle jumping off a diving board. How the heck could I crew? I couldn’t even walk. But I cant let Rick down! Besides, compared to what he went through battling cancer, I felt like such a wimp! OK, summiting Mt. Whitney was probably out, so I had all this cool equipment that I would never use and felt cheated. I would just go out and do my best as a crew member.

Saturday before the race, still limping and wondering if this is such a good idea, My brother calls, ” Dad died this morning”. What the hell do I do? Dad’s time was due and we were all prepared for this day for a long time. Rick is counting on me to help him reach his goal. Dad would want me to go, I am sure. My Brother and I put together a service for the following Sunday to give relatives time to plan and off I flew to Vegas. Rick and Rob lost their Dad years ago and knew what I was feeling. I also arrived in Furnace creek on my 49th B’day!

Rick was the best at getting Rob and I prepared for what was ahead.Even though I felt like the Jamaican bobsled team compared to what I saw going on with other crews.

At this point reviewing the race would be pointless to all of you who participated in any way. The whole experience was about so many other things than winning. (Even though the winners were incredible, and congratulations!) Seeing Death valley at 3 mph with no sleep over 51 hours puts an emotional perspective on things too.

Most importantly, I never felt cheated by not being able to try to summit the mountain, Crewing was “the treat”. Being with Rick seeing his highs and lows, watching two brothers love and support of each other, meeting and getting support from so many of you. The best examples of the human spirit, the will to succceed, the drive to achieve, was never more apparent to me as in that dessert. I think often of the last mile of the race. After trudging up Portal Rd., Rick turned to Rob and I and said,” Guys, I need to do the last one alone.” To be sitting at that finish when Rick came running over the top through the tape into his brothers arms with all of you cheering still chokes me up as I write this.

Lisa, David, Marshall, what a privelage to have met you and spent some time walking with you. You all were truly the inspiration that helped Rick accomplish his goal. Your experience and knowledge were great for Rob and I in showing us how to better support Rick Rick and Rob, thanks for letting me join you, I love you guys. I would do this again in a heartbeat. Dad, we did it!

To read Rick Nawrocki’s account, click here.