By Andy Hughes
Running, canoeing, and biking are familiar sights in Rockford’s scenic downtown . . . but never quite like this. The Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Race took over Rockford on Saturday as hundreds of adventurous participants scattered to several parks and trails throughout the community. Each two-person team travelled by foot, bike, and canoe to checkpoints as far west as Merrell Trail and east to Myers Lake Park, facing physical and mental challenges along the way.
In addition to the miles of trail biking and city running, competitors found themselves maneuvering tandem kayaks through an obstacle course near the dam, kicking coconuts across a field while stilt walking Rogue River Park, guessing shoe prices at the Footwear Depot, memorizing pictures in a match game through Rogue River Nature Trail, and lugging 35-pound jerry cans full of water at Richardson Sowerby Park. Racers, split into two groups, had to complete as many checkpoints and challenges as possible in either their four- or six-hour time limits.
When asked why Rockford was chosen to host the event, race director Mark VanTongeren said, “As a trail runner and mountain biker, I believe Rockford’s Luton Park and Merrell Trails are two of the best in West Michigan. We knew that the beautiful Rogue River paddle and your downtown, with so many nice parks, would provide a perfect venue for the start and finish as well.” Mark also mentioned that in a 2012 survey regarding future event locations, “Racers listed Rockford as their top choice.” It is evident that the effort and care that has gone into developing and maintaining Rockford’s natural resources is paying off, and others are taking notice. Mark hinted at more to look forward to by concluding, “I’m sure we will be back to Rockford in the future.”
On top of the sweat, dirt, and smiles, the race also managed to increase financial support and awareness for a worthy cause. 20 Liters, a Grand Rapids-based non-profit, was the beneficiary of the money raised through registration fees and additional donations. 20 Liters is committed to providing clean water to
communities throughout the African country of Rwanda. To date, 20 Liters and its volunteers have already provided safe drinking water, through the use of water filtration and harvesting systems, to roughly 28,000 people over a 4-year span and plan for that number to grow exponentially in the next few years. The jerry can challenge was added to the race to give participants a feel for the realities of living in Rwanda, where people often travel several miles each day to collect jerry cans of tainted water from rivers or ponds because they have no other source.
As a volunteer for 20 Liters myself, I can attest to the impact this humanitarian organization has on the people of Rwanda. As a member of the water team deployed to Rwanda in 2011, I remember vividly as a woman came dancing from her dirt home, hugging us all as we approached. As the translator explained to us, her three small children were always dangerously sick with waterborne illnesses, but the filter she had received from 20 Liters the year prior had changed everything. Now, as a result, the children were able to attend school and help around the small family farm.
Although races tend to have only one victor, I would argue that there were many winners in Saturday’s event. The city of Rockford was showcased as one of the premier destinations for enjoying nature, exercising, eating, shopping, and relaxing. Participants of all different backgrounds and skill levels enjoyed the challenge and camaraderie of their adventures together. The charity partner, 20 Liters, raised awareness and funds to support its cause of bringing clean water to communities in Rwanda that desperately need it. That being said, Saturday’s event was a victory for all involved.
For more information on 20 Liters and the work being done in Rwanda, please visit www.20liters.org.
To find out more about events from Michigan Adventure Racing, go to http://grurbanadventurerace.com.
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