By Rick Nawrocki, official finisher
Just left the Oncologist's office & was given the thumbs up to run the race. Levels are going up and things are looking good. Five weeks ago I had experimental liquid radiation & three weeks before that 3.6 million stem cells harvested & frozen for a possible bone marrow transplant in the future. But all I can think of is Death Valley. Non-Hodgkins & B-Cell Lymphoma have to ride in the back seat for this one. Chris Kreyer is coming in from San Diego. We'll pick up the Ford Expedition, load in the two big coolers & get a couple hundred pounds of ice then swing by the airport and pickup our 2nd crew person Joe Steltenkamp from Wisconsin & make final plans.
Lionel Gruen & Francisco Davis just arrived from the West Side, so now the whole crew is here. We'll pack up the SUV and head out for our adventure. Enjoyed the drive through the desert. I took them to Lone Pine and we drove the course in reverse so they could see what we would be doing in the days ahead. Checked in at Furnace Creek & took a swim.
Got up had breakfast, hung around the pool and waited for the race meeting. Was wonderful to see many faces from last year & meet some new one's. Ben Jones totally caught me off guard (at the pre-race meeting) when he asked me to stand & told of my fight with Cancer & my determination to finish the race. We were all invited up on stage for a pre-race picture. It was amazing standing up on the stage and have all the flashes popping for what seemed like a few minutes while all the pictures were being taken. Then back to the room for some foot taping & hopefully some sleep before the 3 am wake up call.
Race Day Drove to the start of the race, took photo's and got ready to run. Adam (Bookspan) played the national anthem & we took off running. I tried to hold back because it was my plan to take it easy till Stovepipe & the first night. Just outside of Stovepipe I realized I had some blisters that would need to be looked at. Lionel, who is an EMT, has never done what us Badwater racers need as far as cutting, draining, re-taping & getting us back running in quick order ... so my prayer was, "God, if you could have Denise Jones (aka "The Blister Queen") around with nothing to do and her blister kit that would be Awesome, Thanks." Well I got into Stovepipe, my crew was getting gas & ice. A man came up to me and asked if I needed any help. I said my feet need some work. Had he seen Denise anywhere??? He said she just left but sit down I'll take care of you. He opened a large kit & started right in on my feet. About five minutes into it I asked his name, he said John Vonhof, my mouth dropped open. The guru of blister care who wrote the book "Fixing Your Feet." I bought the book right after I started Ultra Running. This was a sign, this was going to be a Good Race. Continued up the 5,000 ft. climb to Town Pass & down to Panamint. Other than the car load of midgets, we saw things were going smoothly. Turned out to be our crew but Chris & I swore it was a car load of extra small midgets with a little bitty car.
Went straight to the hospitality room provided by Panamint this year. Normally Ben Jones rents it for the racers out of his pocket. Went in, laid on a bed & let Lionel go to work while the rest of my crew got supplies & my breakfast. Ate scrambled eggs & hash browns while my feet were being worked on. Then Joe said I need to take at least a 20 minute rest. I laid down, closed my eyes and to my surprise got a little nap. Looked at my watch, was right about 20 minutes so jumped up (not really, got up slowly) and walked outside. They were just coming to get me. Now it was another climb to 5,300 ft. past Father Crowley's. This was the most cambered road I ever ran/walked on. Constantly angled to the left, then the right. This is were I came up upon Chris Moon. It was awesome, meeting one of the people I have great respect for.
I myself was running this race for AHA (Athletes Helping Athletes) the Challenged Athletes Foundation. The money I would be raising is a way of helping athletes with a disability gain independence & live a healthy and active lifestyle. Then an extra treat with jet's (Tomcats out of Lemoore Air Force Base) screaming around Owen's dry lake bed. Now down towards the 4th check point and Darwin. The smoke from the forest fires was really starting to get bad. Got to the check point in the late afternoon and my crew went off to get fuel & more ice. Joe stayed with me and kept me in R.F.M. (Relentless Forward Movement) things were still going good & I was having a blast. Around 3 AM is when things started to unravel. My crew pulled together & opened the doors on the crew vehicle & Francisco started the jams. They all were jumping around getting me pumped up in 1/2 mile intervals. This is where my crew really pulled me thru. By sunrise they were getting tired & I was getting my third or forth wind.
We got into Lone Pine and Shannon (Farar-Griefer), Kari (Marchant), Denise & Ben were all there to meet me. These are all some special kind of people. Denise offered to look at my feet, while my crew got me breakfast again. Here I am, beautiful women working on my feet, eating breakfast, 120 miles into the run & Ben nudges me and says, "Isn't this GREAT?" We smiled. Then if it coulden't get any better than that Denise & I made eye contact a few times that said it all. She had helped me so much in the prior year deal with my cancer and I considered her my "Prayer Captain," God really speaks thru her to me like no one on this planet. We both new how important this goal was & how tuff of a road it was to get here, but thru Faith & Hard work I was living my Ultimate Dream ... Our eyes welled up with tears of joy .... and I was off up the Portal Road. It was a tuff 13 miles but I didn't want it to end. My crew worked in unison to keep me moving along. Now I could see the Finish and I started running to finish with a good stride. I DID IT !!! 135 MILES a PR....55:04:18 but that wasn't it. My goal was to take the extra time & not buckle because for me I wanted the Summit.
I got to summit with my Coach (Scott Weber) & his wife Theresa last year & wanted that for myself. For me I needed to go from Lowest to Highest, not just the 135. Now back to Lone Pine for a Filet Mignon dinner, get some things ready for the mountain, and hopefully some rest, before a 3 AM wake up call. Sunday 7-30-2000 Chris, Lionel & I left at 4 AM for the Summit. Joe drove us. He was going to check us out of the hotel & get the vehicle ready for our trip back to Torrance. Francisco was picked up after the race by his wife Cathy because he had to be at work on Sunday. Lionel made it as far as Trail Crest before the altitude really got to him, a valiant attempt on his part, but decided to go back to Trail Camp & wait for us. He knew I needed to keep going to achieve my goal. Chris decided to stay with me, which was nice, since I was getting pretty spacy due to lack of food and water ... a real friend & trooper ... future Ultra Runner ... I think. Chris & I got to the Summit @ 1:52 PM, 79:52 after leaving Badwater.
I would like to thank all the people who helped near the top & at the summit, especially Barbara Elia & her crew. I bonked badly about an hour before the summit, and all the way down due to lack of food. I learned never pack after 135 mile race with no sleep, for an important summit attempt. Figure how many calories & how much water you need from the last lake or run off you can purify from. I definitely learned a lot for next year & Thank God for getting us down safely. Basking in the light of my accomplishment, Rick Nawrocki.