Not just a sport

Merrell Adventure Addicts Expedition Africa 57

Merrell Adventure Addicts at Expedition Africa 2012. Photo: Kelvin Trautman

For me adventure racing is not just a sport. It has become a way of life. I love the outdoors. I love pushing to the limits. I love battling the odds and succeeding. I love a challenge. I love spending time with my mates. I love the mental solitude. Adventure racing gives me all this and way more.

I came from a paddling background where I competed for 16 years. While paddling I did a very limited amount of running and only did a small amount of mountain biking in the later years. I had always heard of adventuring racing and aspired to compete in it. The opportunity arose to do an AR sprint race in March 2004 with two of my close friends. I loved it and have not looked back since.

Adventure racing is a sport that many aspire to do, but few do due to the perceptions of difficulty. For me it is a mental attitude more than anything else. You can do it because you believe you can do it. It does not require you to be this super-fit athlete. It does require you to have some competence in the three main disciplines: trail running, mountain biking and paddling. Yes, you will get lost when you start out. Yes, you will get tired and sore. But the more you do, the more you gain the experience and it becomes a way of life.

Many a time in a race we are faced with challenging situations. Time and experience has taught me to stay calm, relaxed and the solution will present itself. For me the sport is a metaphor for life. Once you make the mental switch you begin to understand that anything is possible.

Start by doing the many AR sprint races around the country (right), move onto the 60-150 km events and then finally tackle the big expedition races. These are the ultimate sporting events in the world, rather galaxy. So grab a few mates and
get out there.

Post-race Emotions
I think each adventure race is a spiritual journey for each person that competes. You learn and discover new things about yourself; you re-look and adjust your outlook on all things, from life in general to small issues; and you definitely come out of each race with a new philosophy on how to tackle things. Bimbache Extreme ARWS 2009
It broke me; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It made me stronger. It recharged me. It re-ignited my passion for the outdoors. The sense of achievement was overwhelming. This is why I do this fantastic sport. XPD Tasmania 2011
Seeing their joy and happiness at overcoming something that seemed so daunting at the start and their passion for adventure racing being ignited, made me realise again why I love this sport so much. It teaches you that anything is possible if you let your mind believe it. It allows you to get back to nature and away from the stresses of the modern world. Expedition Africa 2012

Give Life A Nudge
“Adventure racing is addictive… it sucks you in and enters your very soul. Most people think doing an expedition-length adventure race is pure madness, but for us it is the ultimate challenge. Doing an expedition-length adventure race is like compressing a year’s worth of emotions and experiences into 140 hours. During a race you will experience amazing highs and lows, you’ll feel the best and worst you have ever felt, you’ll feel totally in control and powerless in the space of a minute, you’ll laugh, cry and giggle like never before, your strengths and weaknesses as an individual and as a teammate will be laid bare before your eyes and you’ll be pushed to your physical, emotional and spiritual limits. However, once you achieve the goal of getting to the finish line with your team intact you’ll feel invincible and like you’ve given life a damn good nudge. Adventure racing teaches you never to give up and that the body and mind are capable of incredible things.” Debbie Chambers, Team Macpac Girls On Top

Originally published in the January/February 2013 issue.


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About Graham Bird

Graham Bird is the captain and manager of The Merrell Adventure Addicts, South Africa's most successful adventure racing team. He was one of SA’s top canoeists from 1990 to 2006, winning 28 South African titles and being selected for 14 national teams (seven as captain). Graham now focuses his energies on competing in adventure racing and also competes in numerous running, mountain biking, canoeing and multisport events around the country, regularly finishing in the top 5% of these races.

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