It's a heck of a long way to go to make a point, but sending a message is among the reasons four Southern Californians will set out today from Irvine to bicycle 2,925 miles across the country.
"The message should be," said 69-year-old Mary Brown of Spring Valley, "that people who are 60-plus can still perform at whatever level they make up their minds to do. Age doesn't have to make a difference."
Brown and her three teammates on Team Secure Horizons will be proving that point continually in the next eight days or so during the Race Across America, the transcontinental race that leaves the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 9 a.m. this morning and finishes in Savannah, Ga. The main competition is among 20 solo riders who also will start today. Five more teams will leave Irvine on Sunday.
Team Secure Horizons gets a head start because it is the only entrant in the mixed masters division. Brown and teammate 65-year-old Carmelita Sellers of Redondo Beach are RAAM rookies, the first women over 60 to attempt the event.
The team was put together by 75-year-old Jewett Pattee of Long Beach, who will be riding in his fifth team RAAM. It's also the fifth race for Huntington Beach's Jim Davis, 67.
Pattee, who finished RAAM last year with a team of riders 70 and older, is recovering from prostate cancer that was discovered in 1997 and Davis still fights high blood pressure and high cholesterol. "Every day I'm on my bike I seem to be rejuvenated," Davis said. "It's just amazing to me."
During the race, each rider will be on the bike for 20 to 30 minutes before giving way to a teammate. but that does little to diminish the difficulty of the race. Riders often must battle triple-digit temperatures in the California desert, headwinds and heavy rains elsewhere on the route that cuts through Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia. There's no avoiding the three mountain passes of greater than 9,500 feet in the Rockies.
And then there are the bugs.
"Bugs in Arkansas are unbelievable," Pattee said. "They're so big and the slots in our helmets that let air in also let the bugs in.
"You can't wait to get up to your next rider to get that helmet off so you can slam off the bugs."
Surprisingly perhaps, Pattee didn't have too much trouble finding three other seniors to undertake this journey. Davis, who last rode the race in 1996 as part of another Secure Horizons team, was ready to go again. Pattee met Brown and Sellers at Senior Olympics events.
Brown is a triathlete who has been riding seriously for about five years. Sellers has extensive bicycle racing and touring experience, including a seven-week tour from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., last summer.
Sellers has no doubt the women will hold their own.
"I'm going to brag and be a little chauvinistic," she said. "Women can endure more pain than men. I feel that we two women are going to hang in there fine."
RAAM officials are expecting a competitive solo race this year with four former winners in the field. Defending champion Gerry Tatrai of Australia also won the race in 1993. 1997 champion Wolfgang Fasching of Austria finished second last year despite falling and breaking his collar bone with 50 miles to go. Danny Chew of Pittsburgh won in 1996. And three-time champion Rob Kish (1992, '94, '95) is the ironman of the event: this will be his 14th race and 13th in a row. He set the record of 8 days 3 hours 11 minutes in 1992.
Southern California will host an official Ironman Triathlon next year at Camp Pendleton and those who want to enter the 2.4-mile-swim, 112-mile-bike, 26.2-mile-run event should move fast.
The event was announced Tuesday and by Wednesday morning 30 entries had been received by overnight mail in Ironman North America offices near Toronto.
Mackinnon said the first 1,000 spots in the race, scheduled for May 20 at Camp Pendleton's Del Mar Beach, just north of Oceanside Harbor, will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis. The last 500 will be filled by lottery.
More information and entry information can be found at http://ironmancalifornia.com or by calling (905) 945-6216.
OFF THE WALL
Brian Hawkes of Laguna Hills will defend his title at the 1999 National Outdoor Racquetball Championships today through Sunday at Golden West College.
Among the top players in the sport competing for $10,000 in cash and prizes is Tony Jelso of Ventura, who lost his title to Hawkes last year after winning two years in a row. Admission is free.