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Racing for a difference

Ian Cropp
Vail, CO Colorado
SPT triathletes1 KA 8-21-07
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The sales pitch to be a member of the Impact Racing triathlon team might not sell a ketchup popsicle to anyone wearing white gloves.

After all, the last thing any triathlete wants to do following daily intense training sessions is work just as hard to find sponsors, especially when the sponsorship doesn’t even help them.

“For anyone who wanted to be on the team, they had to put in $500 of their own money, and then try to raise $1,500,” said Toni Axelrod, one of five member of the Impact Racing squad, which competes to raise funds for First Descents, a local charity for young adults with cancer. “That was the minimum requirement to get involved. We didn’t say, ‘Hey, come on the team, you’ll get a free jersey and a discount on the bike.'”

“You have to be engaged and invested,” said Amber Moran, who conceived the team concept with Axelrod. “It’s a lot of work.”

Even before they began competing in the Xterra off-road triathlon series, the Impact Racing members had a feeling it would be well worth it.

“We thought it would be more meaningful instead of just racing for us,” Moran said. “It was something to race for and create awareness for.”

Axelrod, who had competed in triathlons before, said the concept reenergized her desire to race. In the early stages, when the team had to get everything in order, the high energy level was a necessity.

“The hard part was trying to have a full-time job and trying to fundraise and train,” Axelrod said. “We though that maybe our goals were too ambitious.”

The ambition, however, was what attracted plenty of sponsors into Impact Racing’s corner.

Moran said they approached Jim “The Pope” Popec, of Mountain Pedaler, with the team idea and were pleasantly surprised with his reaction.

“We told him and he immediately jumped on, and that got a lot of things going,” Moran said.

“It was a natural,” Popec said. “They’re not thinking of themselves. They’re doing something to help other people, and if I can help them out, then that’s great.”

The team ” which also includes Courtney Gregory, Mayalen Noriega and Shayne Methvin ” then approached Tony O’Rourke at Beaver Creek Resort Company and Peter Dann, of East West Resorts, and got some more commitments. As more people became involved, a bit of the weight was lifted off the team’s shoulders, but a different weight moved in.

“One good pressure was that our sponsors expected us to do well,” Moran said. “Descente, who sponsored our clothing, invited us all to come down and have a fitting. We went to their corporate offices and they had racks of clothes for us to try on.”

“It showed that people were going to take us seriously,” Axelrod said.

“We looked at each other and though, ‘Oh my god, we’ve really gotta do well,'” Moran said.

To help with their training, Axelrod and Moran hired professional triathlete Josiah Middaugh.

“That way we didn’t have to think about what our program would be. It was kind of done for us and we had to make the time to do it,” Moran said.

The Xterra series, which features a 1.5-kilometer swim, a 30 kilometer mountain bike and an 11 kilometer trail run, started in the spring, with impressive results for Impact Racing.

Gregory, who hadn’t raced in triathlons before, was a natural and qualified for the upcoming U.S. Nationals, despite being in one of the hardest age groups, 30-34. (Athletes earn spots based on cumulative points from series races). Moran, with top finishes in her ago group, also qualified. And Axelrod, well, she’s the team ringer.

Axelrod placed first among amateur female racers in the New Jersey and Crested Butte races, and second at regional championships in Alabama and Utah. The results qualified Axelrod for the world championships in Hawaii later this fall, where she’ll be joined by teammates who didn’t qualify, but purchased spots in the race.

When the team went to visit the First Descents camp, it left an indelible mark.

“They were amazing,” Axelrod said. “Just to hear their stories. One camper had a super-rare form of cancer and that was gong to be the only week all year he’d have off from his treatment. Some kids are in remission, some (currently) have cancer and some are untreatable. Talk about motivation.”

Axelrod draws on the experience when she’s competing.

“The races are challenging ” three to four hours long, but for me, anytime I start to feel rundown or exhausted, I realize we’re raising money for First Descents. What they are going through … it makes you think, ‘Come on, this is a race. This is so minimal. The amount of pain you are feeling compared to the people you’re raising money for.’ That’s been a huge incentive for me to keep going.”

Moran, on the other hand, looks to the campers during the arduous training sessions.

“For me, I think about that when I’m training and think, ‘Oh, I don’ want to get out there again,'” she said.

By the end of the season, Impact Racing expects to donate about $6,000 worth of cash and services to First Descents, as well as other various charities yet-to-be determined. Noriega, who is currently in England looking to set the world record with a relay team for crossing the English Channel, is also raising money for corrective cleft palate surgery.

“We know it’s not a huge dollar amount,” Axelrod said of the $6,000, “but it’s coming from nothing. We’re just handing a charity money out of the blue.”

And if Impact Racing keeps up its winning ways ” a thanks to sponsors, Axelrod and Moran said ” there may be more green from out of the blue.

“The more successful we are at doing that, the more successful it’ll be for creating something positive next year,” Moran said.

For more information, check out http://www.impactracing.org, http://www.firstdescents.org or http://www.xterraplanet.com

Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vail

daily.com.


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