From Lowest to Highest in the 2001 Badwater Ultramarathon

By Rick Nawrocki, Cancer Survivor, and 2000 and 2001 Finisher

Getting to the starting line this year took a lot more than just normal training. Two weeks of high dose Chemo in December & January, followed by a month in UCLA Medical Center in Westwood to receive a Bone Marrow Transplant using my Stem Cells.

I told everyone when asked I thought I was back to about 85% of last year, but what I lacked physically I made up in mental toughness & faith. I was right, but I was off on the %, more like 50%.

The race started and everything fell into place. My crew, Rob (brother) and Al (long time friend) were ready to roll. Our 4x4 Tahoe was loaded with ice and supplies.

At the 1st Check Point I was only 5 minutes off last years time. Check Point 2, I was only a total of 20 minutes behind, then spent another 20 minutes dialing in my clothes & socks for the evening and was off up Townes Pass. At the top of Townes, my quads never hurt so bad, worse by far than after the entire race last year. I thought I might had bitten off more than I was really ready for because I had lost another hour.

But I had to have this goal while in the hospital and recouping. I talked to my crew about maybe having to drop out at Panamint. They said they understood and not to worry about them coming out from Wisconsin and Ohio, they could see I was giving it 100%. They went ahead 1 mile and I said a prayer and asked God for some major help. Within a minute a Van pulled up and turned around. It was Lisa Smith who asked "How ya doing Rick?" She had been in contact with me in the hospital along with many other Badwater racers. I told her, not good, I was thinking of dropping. She said, "No Way, there was still a lot we could do." At the next stop she had my crew get out a chair and iced my quads, then massaged out the lactic acid. 22 minutes later we were back running. She had the crew she was with check with Marshall to see if it would be OK for her to stay stayed with me till Panamint. He said sure. Lisa was a gift from God.We got to Panamint hours ahead of my projected time. We made up the 1:40 minutes I had lost and gained about another 25 minutes. She had my crew get me breakfast and worked on my quads again.

Then she asked David, a photographer and friend, to pace me up Father Crowley's. He and my crew shuttled his van a few miles ahead every hour or so and he gave me reports... Marshall's X amount of miles ahead and would love to walk/run with you, but you have to catch him, he's not going to wait. My only chance was about every 25 minutes Marshall had to stop so his crew could wrap fresh ice on his shins. I think about 5 or 6 hours later, after I made it over the 5,000 ft. marker, I finally saw him!!! Now, I was getting close. I new I would be with him in a while. See, Marshall is another one of my Heroes and this was going to be great.

They gave me a 10 minute rest when I got there. I had a sandwich, pudding and Lisa worked on my quads one more time. Then we were off. We got to Check Point 4 in the late afternoon, and it was still light out. I couldn't believe it. I started 4 hours later this year and still got to Darwin while it was light. We got to watch an unreal sunset. Marshall made me feel so confidant. We talked and joked together, and with our crews. My crew was doing great keeping me fuled with Sustained Energy once an hour. Food in between that, new iced bandannas every other mile and anything else I needed to keep me going strong. It was great!

Around midnight we were taking a 2 minute break & a Big Harley pulls up and this guy yells out, "#81, Ready to Rumble!!!" I couldn't believe it. It was one of my crew from last year, Joe. He flew out from Wisconsin to Arizona, rented a Harley and found us in Death Valley. What a surprise! Around 4 am both Marshall and I decided to take a 30 minute power nap, so we went to our crew vehicles and got some much needed rest. It was my first sleep in about 48 hours.

The sun rose, and we were out by Keeler heading into Lone Pine. We got to LP to the cheers of many. I couldn't believe it, I think it was 8:07 am and I was hoping to get there around 3 pm. We had my brother Rob get us both breakfast at PJ's and decided to eat under a shade tree at the start of the Portal Road.

After we got started again, Marshall still had more in him than me, so I thanked him and Lisa and told them I would see them at the finish. Joe was a great influence to pump me up during those late hours. Going up the Portal road I thought was he a vivid hallucination or had he really pulled up on that Harley? He was really there... LOL. My crew was now using every trick they had learned to keep me pushing up the Portal road. At 51:51:08 I crossed the finish line; 3: 53 minutes faster than last year.I could barely believe it. I almost can't remember feeling joy of this magnitude. We took pictures, got the medal and had to head back down to Lone Pine to get ready for the Summit attempt in the morning.

We decided to go to the post race meeting to see about other runners who might be summiting. More luck we hooked up with Denise, Scott (a climber) & Phil who were going with Shannon. Rob, my brother, was going to try his luck at Whitney in a day. See the rest of us train hard for 50's , 100's or Badwater or have climbed big mountains. Rob was here from Wisconsin but had every ounce of himself ready for the adventure. Al had to fly back to Chicago for a service for his Dad who passed away just days before the race. So, we were doing it in His Honor for Al, but Al was there in spirit! We got to the Summit at 12:30 pm, 5:22 minutes faster than last year. What an achievement, we were so happy. Going down was long and slow with never ending switchbacks, but we got back to the Portal parking lot at dusk. My brother was AWESOME!!! He hiked and had the time of his life with the rest of us, I was so proud of him.

I would like to THANK my Crew, Rob and Al, Lisa, Marshall, Jay and the rest of Marshall's crew. I couldn't have done it without the combined efforts of everyone.

Also, I would like to Thank everyone at SIGNTRONIX where I work for their love and support through all of this. They have been behind me 100%.

This was truly a dream come true. All during my Bone Marrow Transplant all I could think about was getting well and this race. Enlargements of pictures from The 2000 Badwater Ultra Marathon were all over the walls of my hospital room for the entire month. All I can hope is I always have a dream and a goal and never forget, No Matter How Bad Things Get, with Faith and hard work I can always try and give it my best. Lance Armstrong and I had both had a good month and showed Cancer Survivors are not damaged merchandise.

To read crew member Al Parell's account, click here.