LOS ANGELES (Aug. 11, 2017) – It might be hard to imagine a bicycle race more iconic than the Tour De France, but in America, there’s one race that’s much more challenging. The Race Across America (RAAM) is not only 30 percent longer than the Tour de France, but it must also be completed in half the time. Finishing it is impressive in its own right – but for a team with an average age of 64, completing it under nine days is unbelievable.
Yet, that’s exactly what Randy Horton and his team did – but not just for glory and the adventure of a lifetime. Randy and his team did it to raise awareness and support for Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) and the warriors it serves.
“It’s true that just reaching the starting line of RAAM requires a lot of work and is half the battle,” Randy said. “When you take that first pedal stroke, the adventure begins. While we were waiting for the signal to start, I noticed beach sand on the ground before us and many bicycle tire marks. As we rode across the U.S., the symbolism became clearer to me why those tire marks were so important. They represented all those who had gone before us, not only on our start day, but those through the years who were at the same spot as us.”
Besides the members of Randy’s team, competitors from 27 countries, including 10 world cycling champions, planned to face 175,000 feet of vertical climb with no days of rest in between. By the time the race ended, each team and competitor expected to have ridden 3,000 miles. Coast to coast – from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland.
“We had a script in our minds about how the race would play out,” said Michael Hunter, one of Randy’s RAAM teammates. “None of that happened. It was horrible at times, but mostly it was exhilarating. We overcame predictions that we would not finish. We made friends. In daylight, we saw the beauty of America’s wilderness – the California and Arizona deserts, Monument Valley, Wolf Creek Pass, a beautiful dust storm, the Mississippi, and of course Gettysburg. We finished after a beautiful sunrise in a beautiful town – it wasn’t in our race script, but in some ways, it was better.”
Despite moments of beauty, very real challenges hit Team Honor Warriors early in the race.
“The heat took its toll on two of our riders,” Randy said. “They couldn’t finish the climb to Flagstaff, but in their defense, the heat and climbing wiped them out. The follow vehicle took Michael and me to where they were, and we took over. It took more than 12 hours to ride about 100 miles, which is more than double the time it normally takes.”
Each team was allowed supporter vehicles in tow so every four to six hours, riders could eat, shower, change, and rest for their next rotation. However, with two riders down, Randy and Michael took on the lion’s share of the work, while their compatriots recovered. There was even less break time than usual.
“Our most difficult night was the Cuchara Pass,” Randy said. “Michael and I had ridden most of the night before, all day, and we were riding through the pass at about 3 am. We were two dead men riding, but we know enough not to make any decisions when dead tired except just to keep pedaling. That was our last tough night. From then on, we stayed focused to get to the finish line in under nine days, which makes you an official finisher of the RAAM. We found the strength we needed and continued. After all, our veterans deserve our best efforts.”
It’s effort that Randy has been giving for years, with a connection to WWP that started back in 2013, when he desired to give back to a country that had given so much to him. In his view, WWP was a perfect fit.
“When we returned from Vietnam in 1971, we were not treated fairly by many who enjoyed the benefits of living in the United States,” Randy explained. “The mission of Wounded Warrior Project is to honor and empower Wounded Warriors. It fit perfectly within what I thought was missing when we returned from Vietnam. My first effort was to ride my bike alone and unassisted across the U.S., raising awareness and money for our veterans.”
Randy's first cross-country bicycle adventure was not without its own challenges, but compared to the RAAM, it was a cakewalk.
“It is surprising how badly things can fall apart but still feel like fun,” Michael said. “It was a surprise to feel the grit of a storm blowing dust in my eyes and feeling myself grinning. I was surprised that I liked Kansas. What was good about Team Honor Warriors? We didn’t quit. What was good about MY RAAM experience? It was all good. I’m glad I did it, even if our plan went to hell.”
When Team Honor Warriors finally reached Maryland, they not only made the cut off for completion, they came in first in their age division. With that one race successfully finished, and trophies and medals to prove it, Michael and Randy are already looking ahead to the next race – though not for another two years or so.
“I hope someday to see an American team comprised of all wounded warriors,” Michael said. “I would be honored to be their crew. A team could be assembled to inspire more respect and admiration for all of our service people.”
Despite the long planning, logistical challenges, and the deep physical toll, Randy was crystal clear in why he participated in the race and would do it all again.
“Wounded Warrior Project has always been committed to our warriors and helped in profound ways,” Randy said. “In their growth, they have adjusted when needed, but always kept the focus where it should be: on the veterans they’re serving.
“In talking to fellow Vietnam vets, I have discovered the greatest injuries occurred in a place where it is not evidenced by a physical scar, but by emotional scars that are very difficult to deal with. And that’s an area where Wounded Warrior Project has always been focused and aware. They have addressed this evident shortfall and help in many ways to enrich and empower our veterans achieve true independence. And that’s why we pedaled… and pedaled… and pedaled. Giving back was its own reward.”
To learn more about how WWP’s programs and services connect, serve, and empower wounded warriors, visit http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org.
Contact: Mattison Brooks – Public Relations
About Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) connects, serves, and empowers wounded warriors. Read more at http://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org/about-us.