Okay folks, get ready for one of those inspiring and heartwarming stories that begins with normal people setting out to accomplish the impossible and ends in physical and mental grind that will test the human spirit.
Meet (most of) the Fighting Tortugas! Front (L-R) Amelia Guffey, Jacob Guffey, Bryan Piper, Mark McCormick & Sandy Shawver. Back: Darryl Cunningham, Cali Storer, Mollie Smith, Cami Guffey, Heather Guffey, Jason Guffey, Shiloh Guffey, & Mike Guffey.
This little pack of intrepid warriors fought through more adversity than most teams to cross the Ragnar Florida Keys finish line in Key West & earn those medals. Here’s how it all unfolded from Cali’s perspective.
We all met as a team for the first time on the evening of Thursday the 6th, to discuss details and break bread together. We were mostly a family team, but there were several people we hadn’t met. Besides myself, there was my dad, my mom’s sister, Sandy (aka “the fun aunt”) two of my sisters, Shiloh & Cami, their husbands, Jason & Jacob, who talked their sisters, Mollie & Heather into running and their other sister Amelia and their dad into being our drivers. To fill out the remaining spots we had 3 of Jacob’s co-workers who turned out to be really awesome and fun guys!
January 7 5:30am – The six runners and driver for Van 1 were on the road headed to the start line. After check in, safety briefing and packet pick-up, we had time for a few pictures on the beach before our first runner started. Jason was our first runner so he got to race the sunrise! (BTW Shiloh, Cami & I had all played on this beach before, way back in 1995 when we came for the Orange Bowl Parade with the band.)
They start the relay teams in waves and we had the 7:30am start, which meant the sun was coming up and the weather was great.
The Runners of Van 1, Me, Piper, Joe Cox, Jason, Shiloh & Mark. Mike was our driver, so it was great to have him along.
So while we’re waiting for the gun to go off, the official was getting the crowd pumped up and he started asking a few trivia questions. I won a cute Ragnar necklace because I knew what the first Ragnar and when it was run. (Wasatch Back 2004 for those who were wondering.)
And we’re off! Jason did awesome, he pumped out 3.3 miles at a faster pace than we expected, and he felt great afterward.
Mark handing off to me for my first leg. Mark knocked it out of the park too. Those two guys were smoking.
My first 4.8 miles were awesome. I felt good, found a pace I liked and just cruised. I wasn’t as fast as the guys, but it was still a great run. Then I passed off to Joe, who really burned up the road.
Joe passed off to Shiloh to also came in under pace and feeling good.
And then Shiloh passed off to Piper, who was the last runner from our van.
By the time we went to meet up with our other van and hand off to them we were under pace and everyone was feeling great!
Cami’s cool Yoda tatoo gave her an extra edge on the long runs.
Let me just tell you, the Fighting Tortugas may not have been the fastest, but we sure had the best team spirit. As evidenced by Heather & Cami above and Sandy below.
Piper came in and handed off to Mollie and we (Van 1) were done for a while.
Van 2 was already decorated and sporting their mascot on the top, so we figured we’d better get moving and make the Tortuga Express 1 up to snuff.
We thought it would be fun to write our mileage on the van and then mark them off as we went along.
And finally a chance to rest. We drove over to the next exchange, which happened to be at the Homestead Speedway, dropped our tarp and made our beds. Unfortunately I think Shiloh was the only one who got any real sleep. They were running go-karts on the test track and it was LOUD! But at least we got to lie down for a little while and rest and that always helps. I got a message from the babysitters that afternoon that Gideon was throwing up and running a fever. There wasn’t much I could do but wish them luck and pray for my baby. (My niece Emily was also sick.)
It was fun meeting up with the other van and hearing their stories of the road. Like my dad taking a wrong turn and adding and extra mile to his leg and losing the turtle off the top while driving down the highway. (Amazingly the turtle survived & regained his place of honor on the top of the van for the rest of the race.)
So Jacob was our final runner. His first leg was 8.3 miles and the last mile and a half of that was around the track at the speedway. He said it was the longest mile and a half of his life. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it. He was seriously superman.
There was lots of fun stuff going on at the speedway including a volunteer dressed as a fairy “blessing” the feet of the runners as she directed them past. (Sadly I didn’t get pictures of that. She showed up after we left. But don’t worry, you’ll get to see photos of that eventually, it was my mom.)
And here he comes like a champ!
So this is supposed to be a photo of the exchange in the speedway as Jacob hands it back over to Jason, but somehow the baton (in this case a slap bracelet) got dropped and both of them bent down for it, so I missed everything.
This is where Jason handed off to Mark to begin our journey through the Everglades. (Yes, this was the part we had to sign the special alligator waiver for.) We got a message while Jason was running that Amelia (the driver of Van 2) had gotten sick.
Mark ran a killer 4-ish mile leg and then handed off to me. This was around 6:30 pm and also where things started to go wrong. First it was 8.2 miles along a canal road through the Glades at night. That in itself was a terrifying prospect for someone who’s as scared of snakes and alligators as I am. Secondly, when we got to the actual exchange, there were no porta-potties. I took off for an 8 mile run through alligator territory with a very full bladder. I have never been so scared of my own shadow in my life! I was very jumpy and kept turning my music up louder so I couldn’t hear all the noises I’m sure I was imagining. The first couple of miles were pretty good, despite my fears and the fact that we were on a gravel road, so I was sucking down dust every time a van passed. But by about halfway through I started feeling really sick. I thought it was just because I had a full bladder, and as the run went on, it got worse and worse. My head was hurting and I was feeling dizzy and disoriented. Needless to say, it was a very slow 8 miles. By the time I finished, I headed straight for the porta-johns. When we got up to the van, I was feeling relieved just to not have met a gator on the path, but within 20 minutes, I was throwing up.
Thus began one of the longest nights of my life. 2 other guys in our van (Joe and Piper) and our driver, Mike would all end up sick through the night and into the morning with me. By the end of Saturday, Shiloh and Jason would both also be sick (at least they held off until the end of the race.) And in the other van Heather, Sandy and my dad were fighting it too. Anyway I was so sick, I have no photos from overnight. When we were finished running, we drove down to the next exchange at Coral Shores High School. I paid $3 for a shower and spent like an hour in the locker room just trying to feel better. Around 2am, after vomiting for like 6 hours straight, I asked my brother-in-law and his father for a blessing. I was so grateful that they were there. Jason is now in the Bishopric. Mike used to be in the bishopric but now he holds a higher position in the church as a stake Patriarch. I still felt sick but I instantly felt comforted by their blessing and faith. Instead of going down to the next exchange to wait there for our runner, we found a quiet side of the building, spread our tarp and all six of us tried to crash. Of course, there was some up and down with all the people getting sick and around 4:00am, there was a serious discussion about just calling it and trying again next year. But my dad managed to rally the troops and we kept going. (Of course on his very next leg, he jacked his knee up for good and was unable to run his final leg. Shiloh ended up doing it for him, so instead of 3 legs, she ran 4.) We took over from the other van for our final stretch about 9:00am Saturday.
Jason had a daunting 9.3 mile run down 7 mile bridge. But he did awesome! By the time my final run came around, I still wasn’t feeling great. It’s the only run of my life I can honestly say I got sick before, during and after. The worst part was that because I was so dehydrated, I was dizzy like you would not believe and getting cramps in places I didn’t know you could cramp (like wrists, neck and feet.) But I finished it, and promptly vomited again when I was done.
When we crossed the finish line at 6:04 pm, We were about 3 hours and 15 minutes over our projected finish time, but considering all we’d gone through, we felt pretty good about the fact that we’d finished at all. By the time we crossed the finish line Joe Cox was sick again, and sadly stuck in the hotel so he’s not in our final team picture which is a bummer, but what can you do?
After finishing, we walked around Key West for a little while, then loaded up and headed back to Ft. Lauderdale. We got in after 1am and everyone just crashed. My dad didn’t even shower, he just slept in his running clothes, race bib, finisher’s medal and all. (It’s so funny how proud he is of his medal! He’s planning on wearing it to work as soon as he’s back in Idaho!)
Sunday we took it easy. We’d planned on singing in church, but with so many sick people, decided not to infect the entire church, so Cami canceled and we stayed home instead and sat around sharing “war stories” and comparing battle wounds. And laughing of course. Lots of laughter.
All the babies seemed very happy to have their parents back.
Look at sweet Maggie & Parker! What cuties! Around 1pm, Shiloh and Jason loaded up their van with their kids and the other Guffeys (Mike, Heather, Amelia & Mollie) and headed back north to the Carolinas, which were getting a blizzard.
“Not Wounded, Sir, but dead!” That’s pretty much how we felt Sunday, but even with all the illness and adversity, every single member of our team expressed that they were glad that we did it and grateful for the opportunity. They all said they’d do it again, and plans are already in the works for our next Ragnar experience.