Jackson County Times

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Local Team Wins “Race Across the West”

Grueling bicycle course ran 863 miles through mountains and desert

The spectacular scenery of the American West was the last thing on Jackson County resident Sam Grave’s mind last week; bicycling in the grueling Race Across the West took precedence. His strategy paid off—he and his three teammates won, setting a new four-man team record.

“I was so tired,” Graves told the TIMES Tuesday afternoon, “I just saw asphalt. My brother Nick asked me if I’d looked around and I just said no.”

Sam and Nick’s parents are Greg and Emma Graves of Greenwood. Sam was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor by the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2004. While he was a sergeant at an Iraqi National Guard compound, a suicide truck bomber struck, killing several Americans and Iraqis. Sam was able to crawl from the rubble that was once a building and rescue six persons.

He transferred that grit to the 863-mile race last week, crossing several mountain ranges and enduring temperatures above 100 degrees—at one point nearing Death Valley in Utah.

The Race Across the West is held each year by the Race Across America Foundation. Graves and his partners called themselves the “Hang Tough Haley Hart” team. They raised money for Haley Hart, the five-year-old daughter of a friend in Tallahassee. She has leukemia, Sam said, and is responding well to treatment, but the therapy and trips to Shands Hospital in Gainesville are expensive.

Sam, 44, lives in Tallahassee as do his relay team members Austin Hofmeister, Halsey Brashear and
Brady Irwin. Sam’s brother, Nick, drove the car following each racer, speaking to the racer by loudspeaker when necessary. Sam works as a technician for Arcadis, an environmental engineering firm.

The race started on June 9 and was scheduled to end June 12, but Sam’s team broke the record and finished on June 11.

“It took us 43 hours and 36 minutes,” Sam said, “beating the previous record of 50 hours. We went through the Sierra Nevada’s and the Rockies. We averaged 19.51 miles per hour. In the desert regions we went through, the temperatures reached 110 degrees. The lowest elevation was 190 feet below sea level near Death Valley, and the highest was 8,500 feet in the Rockies. The course ran from Oceanside, Calif., just north of San Diego, through Arizona, Utah and Colorado to end in Durango, Colo.”

Each of the four relay team members would ride about two hours out of eight hours then have four hours of rest, Sam said, with riders switching out as often as every 30 minutes in the difficult climbs. The course included, statistically, a total of 44,000 feet of climbing.

Sam, a 1992 Marianna High School graduate, said he has stayed in shape since leaving the Army in 2005. He started training for the June race last December. In March, he and his team received training and great encouragement by entering—and winning—the 500-mile “Heart of the South” bicycle race in Birmingham. “We took first place in the four-man team category,” he said.

Sam said he is through racing for now but he may consider perhaps a triathlon or two in the future. He doubts if he will ever participate in the 3,000-mile Race Across America that takes place each June beginning in Oceanside and ending in Annapolis, Md. This year, the winner did it in nine days, Sam said. “I’m sure I will race again at some point in the future…but at the moment there is nothing scheduled.”

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