Dashed dreams, valiant effort

Endurance race proves too much for Colorado athletes

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Russ Garrity and his mates on Team Summit spent three nights in a chilly swamp in Northern Ontario before they acknowledged the inevitable -- they weren't going to complete the Eco Challenge North American Championships.

"It was a brutal race," Garrity said Friday. "The magnitude of the race came crashing down on us."

Garrity, who lives near Blacktail Mountain in South Routt County, competed on a team with Captain Michael "Patch" Doyle of Breckenridge, Rebecca Burnett of Broomfield and Steven Daniel of Denver. Among the four, they have logged numerous marathons and other endurance races. But they met their match in the form of hypothermia before they had completed more than a third of the 250-plus-mile race near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

"We were lost in a swamp for a couple of days, with our feet wet the entire time. My three teammates suffered from hypothermia. Other than that, it was just a great experience," Garrity said, his wry sense of humor intact.

The Eco Challenge North American Championships is affiliated with the international version of the event that is televised. The contestants were required to navigate their way over the waters of Lake Superior, through dense forests on foot and on mountain bikes. Contestants had to be adept at rock climbing. They were even required to paddle upstream in the Quebec River.

The top two teams in the race were both captained by natives of the Sault Ste. Marie area.

Team Salomon Canada, captained by Lawrence Foster, won the race by completing the course in four days, 20 hours and 21 minutes. Foster reported getting just three hours and 15 minutes of sleep during that time.

Second place Algoma's Water Tower Inn was captained by Trisha Westin. Westin and Foster are romantically involved as well as being rivals.

Members of both teams reported having hallucinations along the course.

The race began July 20 and was scheduled to continue through Sunday as teams struggled to the finish line. Competitors were still on the course Friday afternoon while Garrity and his teammates were flying home.

Garrity said his team was stunned when it got its first look at the course map, shortly before the race began. They were expecting the course to be about 400 kilometers long, and discovered it was 500 kilometers.

The early part of the race forced them to ford chest-deep streams.

"There were times when we had to swim with our packs on," Garrity said.

The Eco Challenge event was established in 1992 by Mark Burnett, also known as the producer of the "Survivor" TV series. It was based on similar multi-day events in New Zealand and Europe. Burnett's events span more days and offer less staff support for the athletes. Eco Challenge events place a high premium on teamwork to get through the grueling course.

During a July 4 training session for the Eco Challenge, Garrity expressed firm optimism that his group could finish the race. But the reality of the event proved to be more than the veteran endurance athletes had bargained for.

Two of his teammates were able to pull out of their hypothermia, he said, but the third was not. It became clear they were in a medical emergency and took the only option available to them -- they called for medical assistance.

"I'm bummed, but I'm not depressed," Garrity said. "I'm really proud that we just went for something pretty spectacular."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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