Review by Mark Larkworthy
We first featured Zeus Races back in October last year where we expressed how impressed we were at their range of different events on offer (https://quirkyraces.com/2016/11/04/zeus-races-zombie-chase-halloween-2016/). This past weekend they were back with two days of racing including their quirkiest event of the lot, No Fear on Wheels Challenge. We were lucky enough to have our guest reviewer Mark on site to share his in debt thoughts.
This race is designed by Shaun Gash. For those that don’t know him Shaun has been wheelchair bound for over 25 years after an car crash left him paralysed from the chest down. Since then he’s been told there’s many things he won’t be able to do again but Shaun continues to defy the odds and I’m pretty sure the people who have told him those things would be shocked to see what he gets up to at the weekends. Along with his team ‘No Fear On Wheels’ Shaun does a whole host of hugely demanding physical challenges including obstacle course races. He doesn’t just settle for getting round either, Last year he and all his team qualified for the 2016 UK OCR Championships. I digress. (This might happen a lot!)
Teams of 10 strap one member in a wheelchair and aim to get around Zeus’ obstacle course. This challenge is the main event of the Zeus Big Weekend but there’s so much more than just that so I’ll get back to the big race in a bit. More digression….
The weekend starts for some on the Friday night with some of the campers arriving, drinking, partying and generally getting into the Zeus spirit. The event proper begins on the Saturday, this is when the slightly more sane of us arrive. So at 7.30am the wife and I arrive blaring out Thunderstruck just to make sure those camping are aware of our arrival and excitement. There’s a £4 parking fee which unsurprisingly goes to charity. We park up by the camp site and start to unpack. For those that know me you’ll know camping and me just doesn’t happen. Well due to a clerical error (Mainly I forgot to book a hotel and they were all full by the time I remembered) we ended up borrowing a friends tent which was surprisingly spacious and also thrust us straight into the full event vibe.
Now onto the main event…
In 2016 at the first ever No Fear on Wheels Challenge there were only 2 riders that weren’t able bodied, this year we doubled that and my team’Team RunFlex’ were proud if not more than a little nervous about our rider. A tetraplegic called Ben. Ben broke his neck around 6 years ago and is paralysed from the chest down and much like Shaun has been told there are lots of things he can’t do, having met Shaun and Gav (one half of the Zeus organisers, Mark is the other) at a motivational speaking event he started thinking maybe this OCR thing might be a laugh. Anywho, we’ll get back to the wonders of Ben shortly.
Having learnt from last year’s event that trying to tilt a chair back through a 7km mud run destroys your (and everyone else’s) backs I was busy modifying our chair. When I say modifying don’t start picturing a F1 pit lane, welding kits, sparks flying etc. Nope, it’s all basic skills here. A little boy scout knot tying and a huge amount of Gaffa tape to strap to garden patio scraper handles to the back of the chair. Yes, I was a little worried that my handiwork wouldn’t hold up buy after a nervy start it seemed that it was more than up to the job. In fact it was more difficult to remove after the race than put on.
As I finished making our mods Ben rolled up to say hello. Now apart from a couple of Facebook threads none of us had met Ben before and this lad had placed his trust in us all to keep him safe and get him around the course in one piece. I think this is when the thoughts of competing for the massive trophy left us. Our priority was Ben and his safety. Bringing him into the OCR family and giving him the time of his life.
I apologise in advance. To say this experience was emotional is an understatement, I still feel a little choked now just rethinking the event. I even posted a lengthy update on Facebook in an effort to clear my head for this review but I can’t.
So we transferred Ben from his state of the art chair into our, well, not so state of the art chair and rolled down to the event briefing. I gathered our team, attempted my own brief- Ben’s safety first, lets have fun, yadda yadda yadda then we headed to the start.
The smoke grenades flared up and the ‘ZEUS, ZEUS, ZEUS’ chants got louder and louder as each of the teams got released 3 minutes apart. We lined up, had a brief intro from Gav on the mic then the chanting began, no more time for nerves, we were off.
The first part of the course is easy going just to give a little space and then came the first of the obstacles, an inclined wall. The team worked like a finely tuned machine. Without any practice or training everyone was in place. Ben was out of the chair and sliding up the wall in no time, next up another inclined wall, this one taller. Again we got Ben up but with the extra height and no harness I made the call to slide him back down and into his chair. Later he told me he reckons we could have done it. What a legend! Next up the Wrongens Double Dip Mountains (Or some such name). Here’s another beautiful thing about Zeus, obstacles are built in honour of racing teams so the Wrongens Mountain had a bright orange ‘W’ along it’s main ridges, there we’re also flags and banners from all sorts of clubs posted around the course and village along with their own Zeus branding. This obstacle involved water dips and slippery climbs and as we had no harness on Ben, nor did I want him wet just yet as we had the whole course to go and I wanted him to complete as much as possible before getting to cold to continue we skipped this too. When I say we skipped it what actually happened was Ben watched us all clamber over it and get soaked before getting him back to the chair.
Muddy trails followed. Our confidence grew, Ben’s confidence in us grew, the jokes and laughter started getting louder. I think there was some football banter at one point and our pace got faster. I openly admit we didn’t have the right kit to get Ben through a lot of the obstacles and ended up skipping several. Our planning stage was a little rushed and some parts (like a harness) were forgotten. That along with not knowing if this kind of event would appeal to Ben made us concentrate more on getting him though the trails than over all of the obstacles. There were some that he simple wouldn’t have been able to do like the rig however he was taken through it so he could at least see what we see as we swing from the scaffold.
More trails and more running, by having to take alternate routes now and again we actually ended up adding an extra kilometre to our route but each time anyone looked back to check on Ben they were met with a beaming smile. He went quiet at one point while we all squashed through a narrow passage. He explained later that he had gotten a little emotional, as a child he used to run cross country through woods just like these and this was the first time since that he’d even been close to that. Wow!
We eventually cleared the woods and hit the mulchy ground of the MotoCross track, steep hills and wood chippings make for some sapping running at the best of times but while pushing/pulling a wheelchair! Oh my lord!!!
Finally we rolled up to the finishing straight and were actually asked to slow down so a photographer could get into place. Yep we were flying. The PA sparked up in the event village announcing the first team in. We were a little shocked but I guess missing so many obstacles meant we skipped by those teams in front of us. Rolling across the finish line we collected our medals and had the obligatory photo’s before helping Ben back to his regular chair and awaiting the results.
Now winning the No Fear Challenge isn’t about being fastest. Nor is it something any of us were even focused on. Before Ben came on board we wanted to win and wanted it bad. Having Ben join the team changed our focus completely to his safety, I’m not even sure if any of the team had even given the trophy a thought. Anywho, another digression and I hope my last. The winners are decided by the race directors and marshals. Due to the nature of the event running marshals had been provided to accompany each team and to stop them if needed for safety reasons. Because we had Ben we were allocated 3 running marshals who were absolutely fantastic. I’m sure that like us each team felt they had grown from 10 to 12 or 13.
Once all of the teams had returned I can only assume the marshals and organisers gathered and discussed their teams before coming to a final decision. At this time we were deep in conversation with Ben over how we can improve for next year and even what other events we could do with him.
Finally we were ushered back to the event village for the big announcement. Gathered at the back and waiting to applaud the winners it was a little shocking to hear our team’s name being called out. We sent Ben up to collect the trophy which is the biggest thing I think I’ve ever seen.
Each team had their own challenges and their own goals. Ours was to get Ben through safely and to hopefully bring another member into the OCR family. I’m pretty sure we did that. It wasn’t until a few hours later when chatting with teamies with a few drinks that it finally dawned on us what we’d done.
For me the No Fear on Wheels Challenge wasn’t about obstacles nor the terrain but the pure challenge of the team event and pushing ourselves to keep Ben safe while giving him the best time we could. I cannot tell you how much this feeling beats those of my personal race goals. Roll on 2018 and defending our title.