What do you call a doctor who finishes last in his class? A doctor.
–Gretchen Evans, a 27-year Army veteran and member of Team Unbroken
Gretchen’s quote stayed with me as I binge watched the relaunched Eco-Challenge, also known as “the world’s toughest race” and as I began to prepare for the upcoming Seagull Century bike race. I completed Seagull 15 years ago after 10 hours, 100 miles and coming in almost last. But I did finish and that’s what stood out for me as I remembered that race and as I watched teams spelunk, climb, swim, bike and paddle across Fiji as part of the Eco-Challenge.
My Eco-Challenge binge began with a fun and inspiring We Don’t Quit (WDQ) Adventure Racing Club watch party event celebrating Team Onyx, the first all African-American team to compete in the race. The night began with dream giveaways of gear from Team Onyx, AkunaHikes and products from African-American brands: Sankofa Beer Company and Ticket Falcon. Kofi, WDQ’s founder, also interviewed Sankofa’s and Ticket Falcon’s founders, as well as long-distance trail Triple Crown achiever Will “Akuna” Robinson. I felt proud to see the African-American entrepreneurial excellence on display. Now that I know of these businesses, I have more opportunities to support small businesses run by people who look like me.
After the giveaways I excitedly joined other WDQ members and supporters in watching Team Onyx and 65 other teams from around the world compete for the grand prize of $100,000. Each team’s members had their own unique reasons for competing. Team Onyx Captain Cliff Lyles, an award-winning chef and veteran adventure racer, came out of race retirement to show the world the African-American presence in the sport. He shared, “I started racing in ’99. As I raced on and off for about a 20-year span. In the middle of that I realized that there was no one else who looked like me. And so, I figured that this was the time.” His selection of the name, Team Onyx, represented that intention.
As an African-American gay man and professional ultrarunner who has completed multiple 50k and 100k races, team member Coree Woltering wanted to inspire participation by other people of color and the LGBT community. He said, “I also just want to kind of be a role model for other children of color and, you know, the LGBT community and go out and show them like, hey, there are other people like you out there that are doing events like this, and that would be awesome.”
Samantha “Sam” Scipio, Team Onyx member, design strategist and an ultra-endurance mountain biker, wanted to represent for Black women. She said, “It means a lot to represent Black females. In particular you don’t see much of it in adventure racing. So, I’m happy to show Black people that there are, frankly, Black superheroes. This is the closest we get to being superheroes and inspiring. You want them to believe they could go do something, and the hopeful part of you hopes that you racing in an adventure race in Fiji will do that.”
I may have cried a few times watching Team Onyx and other teams making their way across Fiji. I continue to be in awe of their grit, excitement, positivity, motivation and cooperation. I also felt so moved to watch what felt like pride from the darker-hued Fijians as they met Team Onyx along the way. In one exchange, a Fijian man providing coconut water to all the teams speaks with team member, Chriss Smith, Jr., a retired Navy SEAL and business owner.
Fijian man: “All Black people?”
Chriss: “Yeah! Whole team.”
Fijian man: “Whole team?”
Chriss: First team EVER!
The scene ends with a Fijian woman blessing Chriss’ face before the team leaves for the next leg of the race.
The watch party night ended with a Q&A with Cliff, Coree and Chriss, who also donated two memberships for TridentMindset, his “online mental toughness training program created by Navy SEALs, intelligence operatives, and neuroscientists.”
The team answered questions on topics ranging from how they trained together despite living in different parts of the country, competing on minimal sleep and the impact they hope they have on Black participation in outdoor sports.
You will have to watch for yourself and see how Team Onyx and the 65 other Eco-Challenge teams did. But for Team Onyx, they achieved their goal of showing that the Eco-Challenge and outdoor sports are open to anyone who is motivated.
Said Cliff, “We’re the first African American team to compete in an ultra-endurance expedition race. Regardless of what color, creed or religion you’re from, everyone has a place, everyone has an opportunity, and it’s just having the drive and determination to want to do it.”
How about you? Are you ready to push yourself? Just remember that no matter whether you finish first or last, you will be called an adventure racer.
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To learn more about Team Onyx, go to: https://team-onyx.com/