For the first time in race history, athletes with permanent physical disabilities attempted the iconic Smoke ‘n Fire mountain bike race, taking on more than 420 miles of self-supported bikepacking throughout Idaho, Sept. 9-13.
The team was comprised of Willie Stewart, an above-the-elbow amputee; Andre Kajlich, a double leg amputee; Lucas Onan, born with an underdeveloped left arm; Mohamed Lahna, born without a left femur; and Mark Andrews and Anthony Skeesick, members of Mission43.
Riders had five days to complete a remote loop of gravel, single-track and Forest Service roads, climbing more than 40,000 feet and passing through areas near Boise, Ketchum, Stanley, Deadwood Reservoir, Garden Valley and Bogus Basin. Significant portions of the trail, including a climb near Titus Lake, are unrideable and required athletes to hike-a-bike for upwards of 15 hours.
“There’s a lot of danger components that come from riding with a disability, but the more dangerous thing is doing nothing,” Stewart said. “This race was an experiment of leadership and how we function under duress.”
Smoke ‘n Fire is known for pushing the limits of those who attempt it. This year more than a third of the 66 total riders were unable to complete the race due to equipment or physical failure. Of the four CAF athletes attempting the race, Onan was the only one to cross the finish line along with Andrews and Skeesick from Mission43.
“I knew there would be some suffering, but that’s part of the fun,” Onan said. “It’s about figuring out where your limits are and pushing through them.”
Smoke ‘n Fire Race Director Norb DeKerchove said he hopes to see more adaptive athletes take on bikepacking challenges in the future as a way to continue to grow the inclusivity of the sport around the world.
“The ultimate goal of CAF-Idaho is to make this a destination state for adaptive sports,” said Jennifer Skeesick, director of CAF-Idaho. “This was an opportunity to showcase that not only is the state excited to host more of these athletes, but we’re ready. We often think things have to be perfectly engineered for people with physical disabilities, but in reality, we just have to be creative and dive in.”
In addition to putting themselves through an extreme test of endurance, members of the CAF Smoke ‘n Fire team hope to raise $40,000 for the 2020 CAF Community Challenge to empower the dreams of challenged athletes around the world. To donate, visit http://support.challengedathletes.org/goto/SmokeNFire.