For the last 24 years, the most extreme hand cycling race in the world has been held right here in Alaska. Sadler's Alaska Challenge, now in its 25th year, will be starting for the first time in its history from Seward, Alaska this year, and will draw a group of athletes from all over the world. Athletes representing 8 different countries, including 4 gold medalists who competed at the Paralympics Games in Beijing, China last year, will participate. Originally the race was held from Fairbanks to Anchorage, but this year's course will begin its 257-mile trek from Seward.
Among the elite group will be Kenai's-own, Rick Gilliand, who has been paralyzed from the waist down for the last 10 years, "The VA set me up with a hand cycle and after riding it for a few months, I heard about the world's longest race. The Alaska Challenge, held right here, and decided to set a goal for myself of competing in that event," Gilliand told the Dispatch. This year, Rick says he plans on reaching that goal and has signed up for the race. "The first time I raced was in 2007 and I got hooked after finishing 5th in my category. Then last year I went on the race circuit in the lower 48, and entered three different races going from state to state. At the end of the season, representing Kenai, I'm proud to say I finished 1st in the nation in my age bracket for the long seat division. That's where I picked up the label of the Kenai Kranker. I'm excited that the Challenge will be starting for the first time ever right here on the Kenai Peninsula," said Gilliand.
The Alaska Challenge race is important to different competitors for different reasons. Connecticut's Joe Dowling, for example, has raced in Alaska a handful of times, but he will be celebrating his 70th birthday at this year's race, and he'll be a happy man atop Hatcher's Pass on July 26th. Larry Coutermarsh - who lives in North Pole, AK - has competed in the event since its inauguration and will be racing for his 25th time. "Why not?" says Larry, "You get free entry after 15 years!"
One of the biggest reasons many elite competitors come to Alaska, according to the Kenai Kranker, is because there really is no other event like it anywhere in the world. It's been billed as the "Tour de France" of wheelchair sports, and is the only multi-day, timed stage race in the world for hand cyclists and wheelchair racers. "Combine that with the beauty of Alaska and the kindness and hospitality of the communities visited by the race, and you get a truly memorable experience not to be missed," said Gilliand, who has a passion for health and exercise. The race will begin in Seward on July 20th, and finish atop Hatcher's Pass on July 26th. For details about the event, including stage profiles, and complete roster of racers, visit the event website: www.sadlersakchallenge.org
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