Army supports Ultra-Challenge Wheelchair Marathoners
by Jenni Ragland –
RACERS AND SUPPORT teams enjoy a hot meal at the Army canteen.
Determined and inspiring are two words that describe the 21 athletes who participated in the annual Ultra-Challenge Wheelchair Marathon from Fairbanks to Anchorage.
Traveling along the Glenn Highway—battling heat, rain, bugs and summer traffic (which means lots of tourists)—added to the challenge these racers endured as they completed each leg of the 267-mile journey in wheelchairs or using handcycles.
Keeping the athletes healthy throughout the 267-mile race was the challenge faced by the support crew. For the first time The Salvation Army was invited to help support the event, preparing breakfast and lunch from the emergency disaster services (EDS) canteen for the racers and crew, totaling 75.
Rising each morning at 4:00, Major Brian Beveridge, EDS coordinator for the Alaska Division, started the coffee brewing. Following shortly after, Jennifer Blossom, a volunteer who took vacation time to participate, and Major Bob Rudd, Alaska divisional commander, completed the canteen crew. Their task each day was to prepare breakfast for the racers and crew, clean up, pack up and get on the road to arrive at the lunch staging area—sometimes nothing more than a gravel turnout—so that lunch was ready when the racers and crew arrived. Since the racers traveled at their own speed, lunch sometimes lasted up to three hours.
According to race director, Heather Plucinski, “It’s been a struggle over the years for the Ultra-Challenge to provide hot, nutritious meals for our athletes but because of The Salvation Army’s involvement this year, it really improved the athletes’ ability to compete.” Plucinski continued, “I received excellent feedback on the quality of the food, and it really has brought a new level of professionalism to the race.”
From the Army’s perspective, the event was a win-win situation. Not only was this helpful as a training mission, but it also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the Army’s mission of service to others.