This post may be the portion of the #TeamRyder series that proves to be the most difficult to write. And it’s sure to be the longest. There are SO many details I want to share, and so few words to adequately describe the impact of each one. (Catch up on Part 1 here.) And I’d love to highlight each team member individually, but a) I could probably go on forever, even with my limited personal knowledge of them, because they’re that awesome, and b) I’m almost positive they’d hate that because it’s not their desire to be the center of attention. So instead, I’ll stick to a chronological diary of sorts, and you’ll at least catch a glimpse of how incredible the weekend was. (And then you can check out part 3 for my random reflections on the whole experience.)
In the weeks leading up to the race, I swung freely on the pendulum between excitement and panic. I was excited about the opportunity to meet these great people, test my own physical and mental fortitude, and make memories with my family. But I was nervous about everything else… Would Ryan’s back heal in time? Would we recover from our trip to Disneyland quickly enough? Would Ryder be too overwhelmed or afraid to do the Sprint? Would he get hurt? Would he get tired halfway through and give up? Would I get hurt or tired and give up? Would race officials freak out? Would we disappoint our team somehow? In my head, I could see every awful scenario play out because I may not be the strongest or fastest person out there, but I’d earn the Elite prize in worrying if there was such a thing. I kept thinking, “What have I gotten us into?!”
Then, while sitting in church the Sunday before the race, I heard the phrase “mighty right hand” over and over again in my head. When I got home, I googled it and the first verse that came up was Psalms 16:8:
I have set the Lord continually before me; Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
And while that wasn’t the end of my worry, that verse became my battle cry and my prayer, even during the race itself. “God, I don’t know why you brought us all together. I don’t know what we’re doing, but you sure do. You’ve got my little boy by his floppy right hand, and I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN. No weapon formed against us will stand… not even fear.”
At the last minute, a couple of the team members realized that if they ran the Beast on Saturday, they could earn their Trifecta… an incredible feat! So before my family (including my parents) even left Modesto, most of #TeamRyder had already jumped over, rolled under, and climbed through a series of walls, waded waist-deep through freezing water, and climbed a mountain. We drove straight to the Festival grounds to get a glimpse of what we’d face the next day, and were immediately drawn in by the energy and excitement all around us. We stood near the finish line for a while, enjoying the sunshine, cheering for each runner, and analyzing the obstacles we could see.That evening, Priscilla and Patricia cooked a delicious meal and invited us over for dinner. Shortly after we arrived, our weary warriors walked through the door. They were dirty and exhausted from spending nearly ten hours on the course, but they did it! Having the opportunity to hug each one and share a meal was a huge blessing, and helped calm my anxious heart. Some of them presented Ryder with gifts… a patch from Jonathan’s Army unit (and an amazing story to go with it), Operation Enduring Warrior stickers and tattoos, Lodi Police patches, and obstacle course racing gloves from WarriorPak. We didn’t have much time together that night, but it was sweet nonetheless.The next morning, my parents made breakfast, and we headed back to Olympic Valley for the Kids’ Race. I had no doubt Ryder would totally kill it, but I was concerned about Evan. He tends to wimp out quickly when he’s not really motivated. But he surprised all of us by flying right over the first wall and leaving the rest of us in his dust. We had to remind him to slow down and wait for his team, but he was having none of that. He completed every obstacle on his own, and after a brief rest said, “Here Mom, hold my pwotein bar. I’m goin’ back out.” For the sake of timing, he had to wait until we started the Sprint to run his second race. He took a little spill, but with the help of a couple other kids he dusted himself off and kept going. I’m so proud of his determination and enthusiasm!One thing on everyone’s mind that morning was the weather. Saturday was sunny and cool, but pleasant. Sunday, temperatures dropped, the wind picked up, and a storm was expected to blow in. As our start time drew near, officials postponed our heat to allow for a medical helicopter evacuation. So we knew we were in for an adventure, but wait till you see…!
We were pleasantly surprised, and extremely humbled by the heartfelt introduction of our team, given by emcee Robert Lyday. While we stood at the back of the pack, Robert shared Ryder’s story and encouraged everyone to let go of their excuses and fears and go all-in. Then the crowd parted, bagpipes blared through the loudspeakers (a traditional entrance for OEW teams before a race), and everyone reached out to high-five Ryder as we made our way to the front. Ryder has a big personality, but he gets a little shy when the attention is focused solely on him. I could tell he was a little embarrassed but he handled it like a boss, dodging back and forth across the chute, high-fiving and fist-bumping his way to the start line.After posing for photos with a hundred of our closest friends (ha!), we took off.Ryan and I were the only ones on our team who hadn’t yet had the privilege of racing with OEW, but it didn’t take us long to catch on to the methods behind their obstacle madness… offering a knee and then a shoulder to boost someone over a wallwhere another team member was waiting on the other side to help with the dismount.Or forming a human bridge, making it possible to traverse the monkey bars with one arm:Photos are great, and it’s really amazing to witness in person, but it’s a whole other level of awesome to get to participate!
Over the first half of the course, we kept a steady but comfortable pace (well, as comfortable as one can be while climbing a steeeeeeeeeeep hill). Everyone took turns trying the obstacles, and we stopped every once in awhile to catch our breath, grab a snack or drink, and take in the scenery… that is, until Ryder gave us the “What are we waiting for?! Let’s GO!” look, and off we went again.
These two got quite a bit of attention from fellow racers on our journey. I suppose it’s not everyday you find an 8yr old with a sling and a goggle-wearing dog on an obstacle course. 🙂 Right around the halfway mark, the sky grew dark and snow began to fall. It was just a little at first, but eventually we got it all… hail, sleet, rain, and more snow. Since Ryder doesn’t have an ounce of fat on his body, he began to get cold quickly. Team members offered jackets, hats and neck covers, and we even got a spare hand warmer from a passing Ultra Beast competitor. We learned that race officials had closed all water obstacles (because as athletes exited the water, ice immediately formed on their bodies!), and they were disassembling a few wooden obstacles because the wind was breaking them apart. Then we got stopped by an uninformed volunteer who told us Ryder was too young to be on the course, and would have to leave. Thankfully that got resolved quickly (because we had special permission), but since Ryder is a mega rule-follower, it shook his mental focus pretty badly. At this point, our objective turned from a semi-leisurely hike to ensuring Ryder could experience every obstacle and still cross the finish line without needing medical intervention.The last few obstacles were pretty intense! The snow had turned back to sleet, which meant we couldn’t just brush it off and stay warm. And we knew we were thiiiiiiiiiis close to the finish line so the adrenaline was really pumping. When we got to the Slip Wall, Evan and my parents (who had been staying warm inside the ski lodge) noticed Norbie’s head pop up over the top of the wall and rushed out to cheer us on. We had to slap the ropes onto the surface of the wall to crack off the ice, which made me extra grateful that Ryder had been safely hooked into a climbing harness, just in case. (The following photo is not the Slip Wall, but gives glimpse of the conditions… sorta.)I’ll let you watch the Herculean Hoist for yourself… three warriors, three arms, allllllll the feelings.
And then there was the rope climb.
This was the moment when Mama Bear totally lost her junk. I shed a few tears in the weeks prior to the race and here and there across the course, but I ugly cried when my boy smacked that bell. I mean loud, full-body sobs so big my daddy came running over to make sure everything was ok. And the fact is, everything was amazing. Some of it was relief… we were nearly finished and everyone was safe and happy. But also, before Ryder got sick he could fly effortlessly up a rope as easily as he walked on the ground. I hadn’t seen him at the top of a rope in nearly two years, and it was incredibly emotional to be in that atmosphere, surrounded by those people who were just as proud of Ryder as we were, and watch him conquer something that had become a sad reminder of the way things “used to be.”
But he did it! WE did it… and we couldn’t have done it without the selflessness and encouragement of each member of our team.
As soon as Ryder completed the final obstacle, we crossed the finish line where Robert was waiting to hang those hard-earned medals over our necks… a tangible souvenir representing the life-changing journey we had all just taken.It’s still hard to wrap my head around how all this came together. It’s a made-for-TV style story that’s just too good to believe. And I know I told them all a thousand times, but “thank you” will never adequately express the gratitude we feel for this precious, unique new family of ours. Each of them contributed in immeasurable ways to a weekend full of memories and life lessons we will never forget. They did more than just wish us well from afar. They showed up and provided an invaluable morale boost at a time when we were growing more and more weary.
We can’t wait to see them again someday, but until then we’ll be looking for opportunities to pay it forward. AROO!