Team Odyssey Vows: Go Hard Or Go Home — Competitors To Test Selves Against Nature, Own Limits

DURHAM, N.H. – For ardent runners, the Boston Marathon demands months of training. For two cousins from Chicago and a buddy, it was practice for the 300 miles of glacier walking, rappelling and canoeing they will tackle in an international competition in December.

“We looked at it as kind of preparation, as a workout,” Michael Sawyer said.

Sawyer and Marc Davis of Chicago and Grant Staats of Albany, N.Y., are training with the four other well-honed men and women for the seventh annual Raid Gauloises.

Little-known in the United States, the endurance contest to end all endurance contests will be held Dec. 4-15 in Patagonia, Argentina. Pared down to five members, the self-named Team Odyssey and 39 other groups will test themselves against nature, the clock and the limits of their own abilities.

The competition is a race to complete a pre-set journey whose path is revealed to athletes shortly before they set out. Teams, which must have at least one woman, often forgo sleep to best competitors at camel and horseback riding, caving, mountain biking, parachuting, sky diving, running, paragliding, skiing, navigating through woods, backpacking and kayaking.

French reporter Gerard Fusil created the event in 1989, and previous “raids” have been held in New Zealand, Costa Rica, New Caledonia, Oman, Madagascar and Borneo.

A team is disqualified if it crosses the finish line without all five members.

“The team goes as fast as its slowest person,” said Scott Wurdinger, a University of New Hampshire professor who helps train the Team Odyssey.

Team Odyssey’s motto: Go Hard or Go Home. The team is comprised of:

— Davis, 27, who owns a cleaning business in Chicago, where he coaches high school basketball.

— Aric Liberman, a 24-year-old Navy SEAL, a highly trained volunteer commando, who will study landscape architecture at North Carolina State University in Raleigh when his enlistment ends this fall.

— Juli Lynch of Wales, Wis., 35, a horsewoman earning a doctorate in psychology.

— Don Mann, a 37-year-old Navy SEAL from Myrtle Beach, S.C., based in Norfolk, Va., who has exercised every day since 1979.

— Sarah Mann (no relation to Don Mann), 25, a teacher and firefighter originally from Seattle but who now lives in Wasilla, Alaska.

— Sawyer, 28, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and investment banker in Chicago who helped organize the team.

— Staats, a 35-year-old engineering student at State University of New York-Albany and reserve Navy SEAL.

Only five people per team will be allowed to compete in Argentina, but Team Odyssey’s other two members and coach David Lockett will be at checkpoints for planning and support.

The training began with a day of hiking and canoeing during which team members went 24 hours without sleep.

Lockett acknowledges team members need an extra measure of dedication.

“I wanted people who were frothing at the mouth wanting to do this. It’s not like, `I would like to do this;’ it’s `I need to do this,’ ” he said.

Money for training, equipment and the trip to South American is coming from team members and sponsors including Gatorade and PowerBar.

After the competition, the team plans to donate training equipment to the Boy Scouts of Chicago. If it wins, the team has pledged to give the $50,000 grand prize to charity.

Except for Lynch and Sawyer, team members are single. All agreed preparing for the Raid Gauloises consumes their free time and eats into their sleep and social lives. Lynch, for example, said she gets up at 5 a.m. and goes to sleep at midnight so she can fit in everything. Davis said training cost him a relationship with a woman about whom he was serious. He took it as a lesson.

“That just means she wasn’t right,” he said.

Nonetheless, the seven say they are not doing anything extraordinary. They point out they are all working people with regular lives, albeit, lives on hold.

“We’ve tried to show the everyday working man can get involved in this,” Sawyer said.

Team members predict that exacting multi-day, many-sport events will become a trend of the ’90s.

According to its promotional literature, Raid Gauloises competition offers “full autonomy, a total immersion in a natural environment . . . and a new lifestyle which makes a clean break from the everyday routine of technological society.”

The training also brings group solidarity and accomplishment.

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