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A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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Events

Apr 09, 2019

Running For My Son’s Life

The doctors told this family there’s nothing that can be done. This father doesn’t agree, and now he’s running for his son’s life, proving the impossible is possible.

WRITTEN BY

Ryan Richardson

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a rare muscle-wasting disease that is 100% fatal. Because the disease is so rare, funding to find a cure is practically non-existent.

“If I can get through a race that I’m told I’m not supposed to, or I shouldn’t even be at the starting line, it helps give me a mental advantage to take on a disease that has never been cured before.”

Jim wears his heart on his sleeve, and his son on his shoulders.

After suffering a heart attack during Jim’s second attempt at completing the 170 mile (273 km) ultra race at the Grand to Grand Ultra in September 2017, Jim was determined to complete the race on his third attempt. The following year, Jim headed back to G2G where he finally accomplished his three year goal. After seven brutal stages Jim crossed the finish line with his son, Jamesy, on his shoulders.

In 2013, Jamesy, was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. When the Raffone family learned of Jamsey’s terminal diagnosis, the doctors told them that nothing more could be done to help them.

That was either the right thing or the wrong thing to say to the Raffone family. Instead of listening to what the doctors told them, the Raffone family has been doing everything in their power to raise awareness about this deadly disease, and ultimately help to find a cure.

Jim runs along Lake Pukaki at the foot of Mount Cook. Photo by: Ryan Richardson

Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, New Zealand.

The ultra community is a niche community. It’s also an international community. Michael Sandri, the founder of the Alps 2 Ocean Ultra in New Zealand had met Jim while participating in the Grand to Grand Ultra in 2016. Sandri was constantly being asked by other participants, “Why isn’t there an ultra in New Zealand”. He couldn’t think of a good reason why New Zealand doesn’t host an ultra race. With the help of family and friends, he created that race.

Sandri invited Jim to participate in the race’s second annual run. This was an opportunity to spread the word about Duchenne around the other side of the planet. An opportunity that was far too great for Jim to refuse. Even if it meant not having sufficient time to train for the epic 200 mile (323 km) race.

The gravel trails on Stage 3 take their toll on the runners. Photo by: Ryan Richardson

The Alps 2 Ocean Ultra begins at the base of Mount Cook. The course skirts along alpine lakes and ascends up countless mountain ridges and foothills. Eventually descending into the low lying valleys, the course finishes along the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

“Every person who talks to me or asks me about ultra running, I always tell them about JAR of Hope and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.”

Fellow JAR of Hope teammate Bill McCarthy, another Grand to Grand participant, fundraised in support of JAR of Hope. Supporting them in their mission to find a cure for Duchenne. McCarthy had heard about Duchenne for the first time when he saw Jim running at the Grand to Grand Ultra in 2017. Bill was shocked to learn about Duchenne and he thinks about the Raffone family every single day. “What makes Duchenne so unique, is the lack of support and funding from governments and pharmaceutical companies because it’s such a rare disease.”

Left to right. Bill McCarthy (USA), Charlotte Rodier (FR), Jim Raffone (USA), Ian Chidgey (UK). JAR of Hope A2O Ultra 2019 Team Members. Photo by: Ryan Richardson

Despite the support, Jim encourages his teammates to “run their own race”. Fundraising and supporting JAR of Hope before the race is welcomed. Once the gun goes off, that’s all for them.

27 Hours of Suffering.

“why would someone spend almost 30 hours out there on a course? Then I’m able to tell them about my son’s story”

The elite runners at the front of the pack would complete the long stage in just over 10 hours, after 54 miles (88 km) and a ton of climbing, Jim estimated it would take him nearly 30 hours to run the same route. This isn’t about competing for Jim. It’s about a platform. It’s an opportunity to continue raising awareness about Duchenne. “It’s not about being a ‘competitor’. At that point, it’s all about the admiration for this fellow human being and what they’re willing to put themselves through. Then they want to know why, why would someone spend almost 30 hours out there on a course? Then I’m able to tell them about my son’s story.”

Gravel beaches made the technical running on stage 3 even more difficult. Photo by: Ryan Richardson

After running through the night and making one last epic push over a nearby mountain, darkness eventually turned into dawn. Michael Sandri stayed awake through the entire night to ensure he could greet every last participant coming in from the long stage. Sandri greeted Jim with a hug as Jim finally came into camp from his 27 hour day.

Sandri relayed a message from Jim’s family, “One checkpoint at a time captain”.

There would still be many checkpoints to go after the long stage. However, surviving the long stage was a huge victory. The hardest part was over, theoretically.

Jim collapsed into his tent after running over 100 kilometres through New Zealand’s mountainous terrain. Photo by: Ryan Richardson

It’s Not Over Until It’s Over.

The next day was even tougher. There was almost just as much climbing but in a much shorter distance. The climbs were steep and brutal. The time cut-offs were also considerably more strict, so the runners had to be quick.

This race would be tough for Jim, all the way until the end. The end did finally come through. 7 days, 200 miles later, Jim had finally run over the finish line in the small coastal town of Oamaru. The crowd of spectators, participants’ families, and locals, all cheered on Jim as he crossed the finish line. Jim running with his JAR of Hope flag in the air.

It took everything he had to cross that finish line. Yet, he somehow mustered up the energy to steal the crowd’s attention for just a little longer. Standing underneath the finish line banner, Jim had shared his son’s story.

The story isn’t over yet. Jim is on a mission to grow his JAR of Hope team, to bring them back to the races he has already run. Jim hopes to take JAR of Hope and his son’s story to Ultra races on all 7 continents.

To learn more about Duchenne muscular dystrophy and JAR of Hope, visit https://jarofhope.org/

This story originally featured on Ryan Richardson’s blog.

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Events

Sep 25, 2019

A New Home for Mountain Biking in India

The first mountain biking competition in Ladakh is a symbol for the youth culture to ride big and dream bigger.

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WRITTEN BY

Tenzin Jamphel

I have come a long way from wondering what a “dual suspension” bike is, to organizing the very first Mountain Bike festival in Leh, Ladakh, my home in the Himalaya. It has only been two and a half years since I first picked a Scott XC mountain bike based purely on the brand name and the appealing neon colour. My knowledge of that bike was limited to it being just an expensive cycle. Fast forward to the present situation, where I have been tucked up in my bed for weeks due to a jump gone wrong while riding a “dual suspension” bike. My passion for this growing sport has gotten the better of me, or so it would seem.

Vilayat Ali on the newly built Pump track in Leh, Ladakh.

The dream of the first mountain biking event in Ladakh was envisioned by many riders who had visited this mountainous region in Northern India in the past. Vinay Menon, India’s pioneering free-rider, who had made quite a few rounds to the Ladakh mountains in the past few years, was excited about the prospect of bringing the first-ever event to life and exposing an entirely new generation to a sport that he and I both love. Vinay honored us by getting his hands dirty to build the tracks for the competition.

Vinay Menon demonstrating a jump for the spectators.

Some might say the event location is on sacred ground. I acquired use of the land, which the locals refer to as “Disko Valley”, from a local monastery. Although at first glance the land appeared to be nothing more than a dump area filled with trash and shattered glass bottles, I could see past all of that to the true potential of the space. My company, which I co-founded with two of my friends Tundup Gyatso and Urgyan Skaldan, is an MTB-based travel company in Leh – hence the name Unexplored Ladakh. My colleagues and I held high hopes for the local riding culture and the sport to become something bigger. Our initiative started to gain attention when an MTB magazine from China showed interest in us and decided to support us in manifesting our vision. And to our luck, the local tourism department felt the same and decide to aid us in funding this event.

Rinku Thakur on a final Downhill race run.

The idea was to transform this barren land into a “skills” bike park that would essentially become a playground for the locals to come to get an understanding of the sport. By making this park inclusive to all ages and genders, who hoped to aid in developing a strong MTB culture in Ladakh.

A local girl rides the Pump course.

The very first mountain biking festival in Ladakh represents the changing times in Ladakh’s social structure. It is a physical representation of the changing mindset of the youth here and the possibilities of seeing a bigger picture rather than following the status quo. The main idea for this event flourished with the specific goal of encouraging the locals, especially the younger generation, to get involved in this sport and also to develop the region into a top mountain biking destination in the country.

Junior competitors racing on the Downhill track.

When I first dropped in on a full-speed ride down one of the newly built trails, I couldn’t help but wonder why we did not do this earlier. We have an abundant supply of landscape that you could say is perfectly designed for mountain biking and yet any seed of a riding culture has been repressed until now. Today, preparations for the festival are in full swing with Vinay’s helpful hands and knowledge guiding us along in building the Downhill track and also a Pump track. I would have never imagined this in Ladakh.

Winners of the Downhill race stand at the podium.

The festival is a two-day event consisting of multiple competitions and workshops. It stands as an introductory event leading up to other prominent events this season like the Suru Boulder Fest, Ladakh Marathon and The North Quest Challenge. Next to these more established events, I can’t help but feel a little intimidated, given the fact that we are the new players in the festival lineup and also of the nature of our sport within the hierarchy of sports in India.

The first day of the event is purely based as an introduction of the sport to the locals. We also teach MTB essentials like bike maintenance and basic repair knowledge. The second day is focused more on the competition side of things with a short-track Downhill competition open to both local and outside riders, and a Pump track challenge held as well.

A glow of excitement rushes through me as I write this, as I can still picture one particular young kid riding his bike with immense joy on one of our brand new Downhill course features. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tackling a giant, scary jump in a few years.

Urgyan Skaldan on a final Downhill race run.

I personally take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that I did not even know how to adjust my saddle post a few years back and now I am one of the first generation riders in Ladakh, which now has its very first MTB festival. This growing community of riders represents the possibility of a thriving culture in Ladakh in the coming years that I believe will take the Mountain Biking circuit in the country by storm in the next few years.

Learn more about Tenzin’s efforts to build a thriving MTB culture in Ladakh

Feature Image: Vinay Menon catches air on the Downhill race track

Photos by Praveen Jayakaran.

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