Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Life Lessons from The RAAM

7 days, 18 hours, 16 minutes. 2989.5 miles from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. Approximately 317845 collective calories burned (we won’t go into the amount of calories consumed!). 3 flat tires (1 on the Yukon, two on the motor homes). Countless practical jokes. Almost $95,000 raised for Special Education. These are the numbers of Team Learning4Life’s epic completion of the Race Across America. 

But this method of quantifying our experience is almost completely incapable of really capturing what happened on the road, to our bodies and most importantly, in our hearts. For me (Tony Wilcox), it was such a momentous, life-changing experience that words seem incapable of adequately explaining it. Maybe there’s a song to be written here!

I hope more of us will contribute to this blog for many days to come now that the race is over as we process our experience and try to put our thoughts and feelings into words. During the long, lonely hours on the bike in an event like this, you have time to process, pray, listen…and then process some more. And that is what I did.

The Lord taught us all many lessons during this past week. It was amazing how he would orchestrate a certain situation that would cause each one of us, riders and crew, to be challenged to the point that we were tested as human beings – each of us in a different way based on what HE wanted us to learn or experience. His hand was so evident that many times it was simply overwhelming and humbling. I don’t feel like I will be able to adequately explain, but I’ll do my best. I will probably work through several of these lessons over time and write about them in the blog over the 

coming days and weeks, so keep checking back. Here's my first installment...


“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” - Ecclesiastes 4:12

One of the quickest ways to experience spiritual attack is to attempt something honorable for God like Team Learning4Life is doing. I think one of the best lessons I saw lived out during the RAAM was in regard to our enemy, the devil, and how he opposes such efforts. Not far into our race, it became very apparent that we were participants in a great spiritual battle, a mighty war. We were all engaged in an honorable undertaking that would benefit our Christian school and the children that God loves there. The battlefield was the race course across the United States and the enemy was out in force to try and stop us.

A common tactic that the enemy used against us was to launch a single attack on one of us by feeding lies into a situation to get that rider to believe that the team was somehow against him, not looking out for his best interest or not watching his back. He sought to divide our team like this several times. Feed a lie into a situation where men are fatigued, sleep deprived, hungry and in unfamiliar geography and division can be achieved pretty quickly – even to the point that some of us would want to scrap the entire effort and just go home.

We had one situation where a rider was going out from a transition and specifically told the team, “I only want to do about three miles and if there is any steep climbing, get me out before that.” He was fatigued from being on his second 6-hour shift and we had just been through a particularly hilly area with a lot of steep climbs. He rode off ahead of the shuttle vehicle. Once the team had loaded the previous rider’s bike and got moving in the shuttle again, two of the riders announced that they needed to go to the bathroom (this happens A LOT because we are constantly burning calories on the bike, refueling and rehydrating) so they all agreed to stop at a McDonald’s to do their business quickly and then
 get back on the road to relieve the rider that was out on the road. While the two were in the bathroom, one rider remained in the car (probably sleeping) and the other went in and ordered a bunch of egg mcmuffins for the entire team in the rotation. The two racers emerged from the bathroom within a just a few minutes, but the food wasn’t ready. The staff at this McDonald’s was extremely unorganized and just plain slow. It took about 10 minutes to finally get the food and get back into the shuttle. By the time the team caught up with the rider on the road, he was at the TOP of a LONG, STEEP climb and about 3.5 miles out from where he started. As you can imagine, he was VERY FRUSTRATED. No, strike that…he was PISSED! 

The rider expressed his frustration and tried to be diplomatic, but you have to remember…these are guys that are all tired, ragged and hungry “A” type personalities. The expression of his frustration ended with him slamming his helmet against the Yukon and tempers flaring on behalf of several of the riders in response to his outburst.

“I told you guys I only wanted three miles and less if there was a steep climb!”

“We couldn’t help it. The food took longer than we expected and these guys had to go to the bathroom!”

“So I’m out on the road climbing the hill and you guys are making a McDonald’s run?! You guys abandoned me and I’m dying out here!”

“Look, you need to calm down! We didn’t do it on purpose. We’re sorry!”

And so it went, for about another 20 miles. Tense, tough words between teammates that culminated with one rider relenting in pure frustration, “I don’t deserve to be treated like this! If there was a way to just go home right now, I’d get in the car and start driving!”

Wow. It wasn’t until that moment that one of us realized the gravity of the situation and called everyone together to pray. Others at home had already been praying because one of the riders had sent a text message back to the crew that things weren’t going well out on the road. So all of these angry, frustrated men gathered in a circle, allowed humility to reign and we prayed. We prayed AGAINST the enemy, his subjects, their works and effects. We prayed AGAINST doubt, fear, anger, anxiety, pride and selfishness. We prayed FOR unity, peace, forgiveness, understanding and love.

What happened over the next few miles was simply miraculous. God’s grace was showered upon the team, humility was embraced and forgiveness reigned amongst the 5 men on that rotation. You would have had to be there to fully understand what happened, but it was amazing. Within 20 or 30 minutes, there was a beautiful spirit of camaraderie, grace and unity back amongst us, even up ahead amongst the other riders and the crew. Miraculous.A similar event happened to me when I was riding somewhere out in Indiana or Illinois, I can’t really remember where. I had told the guys that I felt like I was going to have to go to the bathroom (I think there is a pattern developing here). Think about it for a minute: there aren’t ALWAYS bathrooms available out on the open road! I thought I was feeling well enough to make it through the next 7 mile leg, so I started riding and the shuttle drove to wait for me 7 miles ahead.

At about mile 3, I was having a serious problem. I told the navigator in the “follow vehicle” (this is the vehicle that drives very slowly behind the rider to protect them from traffic and to navigate the route) to call up to the team ahead and tell them to take me out at 4 or 5 miles because I was in distress. I could barely move the bike 5 mph and was suffering tremendous discomfort. I felt miserable and was in serious trouble out in the middle of nowhere. They made the call, but somehow the message wasn’t communicated with enough urgency, passion or seriousness to the team. They responded by saying something to the effect of “Tell him to hold it. We’re too far up the road and there’s nowhere to do a good transition between here and there.”

That was the WRONG answer. It set off a chain of lies I started believing and telling myself like…

“This isn’t a team. This is a group of individual cowboys.”

“They don’t have my back.”

“They don’t care about me.”

“I don’t need them.”

"They are LAZY and SELFISH!"

“Screw them! I’ll just ride the rest of the way to Annapolis by myself!”

I ended up making it to a gas station with a restroom at mile 5 just in time and did my business. When I got back on the bike, I rode hard, fast and ANGRILY to the transition at mile 7 and just blew right by them without a word. I rode another 3 miles before I had cooled off enough to even be in their presence. They had leap-frogged me ahead and so I decided I better stop to do the transition. I got back in the shuttle and rode in silence, not speaking with any of them for the next half hour or so. With the things I was thinking and wanting to say, I decided it was better to just keep my mouth shut until I could sort through my feelings. They had no idea what was wrong.

I prayed for God's wisdom and words and peace before I finally was able to talk to a couple of the guys and expressed my feelings as delicately as I could. Apologies were made, forgiveness was asked for and given. Relationships were reconciled, but not without some banged up feelings and tough, honest talk.

 I saw through both of these examples and many others why the Lord admonished us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and how important this is in keeping relationships strong and intact. By holding onto Christ’s example of humility, grace and forgiveness, each time we encountered a situation like this, we were able to solve it, STAY UNITED AS A TEAM and move forward. Because we were unified we were not able to be broken by the enemy and we each learned an important lesson about how we rely on each other in a race like this and in life. Truly, a cord of three strands cannot be broken…and a cord of 5 strands is even better.

This is just ONE of MANY lessons learned during the course of our 7 and ½ days in the RAAM. I am SO GLAD I chose to participate and SO THANKFUL for the wonders that God revealed to us all during this time. He made me a better person, a better husband, a better father, a better Christ-follower and a better man through this amazing event. He deepened and forged friendships with other men (and women) that I will value until my dying day. May HE receive the glory for what we have accomplished and may HIS name be praised forever.

Tony Wilcox
Team Learning4Life RACER
Proud 2011 Race Across America FINISHER


Liz Clarke said...

So true, all of these things. We experienced many trials on the road, and it was ONLY with God's help that we came out the other side, reconciled to each other and to Him, and better people for it. So happy to hear how much money you raised! Praise God!

Lynn Richards said...

Thank you for expressing so beautifully the roughness and grace you all experienced during this crazy race. Thank you for pushing through the attacks for our children. I don't think I can ever express what this means to us as parents. It's an amazing thing when so many lives can be changed with 8 men and a crew.
I can't wait to hear the song that comes from it.