Divas surmount wind and accidents to win again | VailDaily.com

Divas surmount wind and accidents to win again

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Daily Linda Guerrette, front, leads the Border to Border Divas " Tristen Grant, right, Kim Fields, Left, and Deb Decrausaz, back " through the finish line of the Race Across America last week in Atlantic City, N.J. The Divas were once again the first all-female team to finish the 3, 032-mile race with a time of 7 days, 15 hours and 11 minutes.

VAIL ” Last week, Linda Guerrette wrapped up a hat trick of victories in Race Across America.

The 48-year-old Edwards resident rode 3,042 miles from Oceanside, Calif., to Atlantic City, N.J., with fellow 2005 women’s team champion rider Deb Decrausaz, Eagle cyclist Kim Fields and California cyclist Tristen Grant. The Border to Border Divas were only one of two all-women’s teams competing in the event, and finished in 7 days, 15 hours and 11 minutes.

It was Guerrette’s third two-wheel journey across the country leading a women’s team to victory and raising close to $25,000 for Border to Border, an organization launched by Vail’s Joel Fritz to raise money to fight pediatric AIDS. In total, Divas teams have raised $75,000, but for Guerrette, this victory ” despite the obstacles leading up to it ” was the sweetest.

“There were a lot of obstacles, but in a lot of ways, it was the best one. Because we overcame them all,” she said. “The experience of having done it before, understanding it more and appreciating it more made this one special.”

Guerrette approached the race with a few mental advantages. She knew the dynamics and strategy of breaking into two, two-women teams pedaling for 4 to 5 hours at a time, she knew what sort of food intake was required to maintain enough energy throughout the journey, and she knew how to sleep on command.

Newborn sleep schedule

As the race was a first for Grant and Fields ” who were paired up for riding shifts ” they weren’t able to force their bodies into such determined repose.

“We’d get back to the coach and you’re in a panic because you know you only have two hours to sleep, then get up, eat and be ready to go again,” Fields said. “So Tristen and I laid there and after a while, I’d look over and say, ‘You’re not asleep are you?’ It was hard to calm your body down. At one point, I was in Utah chasing down this other team of guys and I thought, ‘OK. I’ll ride as hard as I possibly can. Then I’ll pass out later.’ But it didn’t work.”

Fields said she went three days without sleeping a wink. Once a half an hour of sleep enveloped her, it felt like eight.

“My body got used to the cycle,” she said. “Finally I could come in, have something to eat, and fall asleep. My body was resting, but I never went into that deep sleep.”

Sleep deprivation wasn’t the only challenge of the ride. On the first day, Guerrette’s bike was blown off the top of the team van and the rear wheel was destroyed, forcing her to ride one of the spares. But the most leering antagonist for the Divas in seven and a half days of pedaling came in the form of Kansas.

The Land of Oz

First of all, when the Divas hit the flat roads of Kansas, cross winds were so strong that Grant was blown down with her bike. Lightning and tornados struck the plains all around them as they pedaled. Then Decrausaz and Guerrette, while riding into one of their exchange areas, hooked handle bars, collided hard, and were forced to go to the hospital.

“The front wheel of one bike has to overlap the real wheel of the other bike,” Guerrette explained. “We tried to thread the needle too closely. We hit the deck hard. I shattered my helmet. In the last two years, Deb has shattered both arms crashing, and they were worried about internal bleeding. I landed on my hip, and I wanted to make sure the hardware I have in there from another crash was OK.”

The women’s’ visit to the hospital in the middle of the night provided a rare situation for the ER staff in Pratt, Kan.

“They looked at us and asked what’s the matter,” Guerrette said. “We told them what we were doing and they just kept shaking their heads at us. They said with CAT scans and everything it could take a day. We told them we had less than three hours.”

Meanwhile, Fields and Grant took an extended, 8-hour shift of riding.

“It’s such a fog,” Fields said of the shift. “I don’t know when we jumped up. We had just made an attempt to get into our sleep cycle, then all of a sudden, we were up and going. We tried to pace ourselves. I really don’t remember much. I have vague memories of riding through these corn fields at night on these country roads.”

With a massage therapist as part of the Divas’ support crew, Guerrette and Decrausaz were amazingly unhindered from their crash for the following days on the road. While Grant came down with some form of respiratory bacteria she feared was pneumonia and went to the hospital in Ohio, the team kept cranking, and persevered to the finish, averaging what amounted to be about 16.8 mph.

Die demons, die

“Across the country, we faced our demons and overcame all of them,” Guerrette said, adding that her insecurity was having to do a lot of climbing on her bike, Decrausaz’s was descending and a fear of falling, and Grant’s and Field’s was simply a concern of maintaining the mental toughness necessary to finish.

When Guerrette initially asked Fields to be part of the team a year ago, Fields politely declined. After some thought, she decided it was an opportunity she didn’t want to pass up.

“I’d never used my abilities as a cyclist to do something for somebody else,” Fields said. “That was my motivation behind the race ” to raise money for Border to Border. Plus, I thought, you can do anything for a week.”

In retrospect, the week felt longer than most. But Fields wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“It’s like having a child,” she said. “If you’ve gone through childbirth, it’s just like that. The process hurts, but you forget about it. You just remember the joy of the whole experience. I’m so grateful for it. I loved it. And I left a winner.”

Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 748-2936 or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado

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