Guts and teamwork

Could home-run phenom Sammy Sosa outpace two-time U.S. team member Jay Curwen in a triathlon demanding several hours of paddling, biking and running? Probably not (but then again, don’t ask Curwen to go head to head with the Cuban in a home-run challenge, either). Could champion skater Apollo Ono shine using map and compass to navigate a course that calls for hiking, paddling and mountain biking … and that might take up to 12 hours to complete? Don’t think so.

Triathlons and adventure racing favor all-around athletes, not specialists. Think Bruce Jenner or Jackie Joyner-Kersee. But Curwen, a local athlete who’s excelled in national competition, says you don’t have to be the creme de la creme to become a world-class competitor in multisport events.

Consider Olympic hopeful Allison Hardy: The Arden resident was a scholarship swimmer for N.C. State in 1996, when she borrowed someone’s ugly purple bike to try her first triathlon. By her own account, Hardy was not much of a biker and not much of a runner; nonetheless, the rookie won that year’s Triangle Triathlon in Raleigh. Now, after half-a-dozen years of competition, she’s poised to move up in the world standings to give her a shot at the 2004 Olympic team.

And then there’s Curwen, who ran for Christ School and then UNCA. Like Hardy, he succumbed to the multisport lure of triathlons. But Curwen went a step further — adventure racing.

It’s kind of like a triathlon that lasts for days or even weeks and incorporates such varied challenges as horseback riding, rappelling down 60-foot waterfalls, scaling the Alps, and navigating by map and compass at 3 a.m. on maybe two hours’ sleep, says veteran adventure racer Norm Greenberg.

Greenberg and his wife, Tracyn Thayer, have been competing in such events for years; they finished ninth in last fall’s Discovery Channel World Adventure Race Championship, held in Switzerland. It took days to complete that course – especially with Discovery Channel cameras clipped to their shoulders (“We looked like aliens from some science-fiction movie,” Greenberg recalls). Among his vivid memories are the 60,000 feet in elevation changes during the grueling event, mishaps such as Thayer’s sprained ankle (on the very first day), and Twilight Zone twists like a farmer’s stray cow that followed the team for miles in the wee hours one night.

Did we mention that Greenberg designed the course for the Mountain Sports Festival’s adventure race?

Curwen groans good-naturedly on that point: He was a member of the team that won the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s 12-hour adventure race last year. It took them seven hours to complete and left all three with bloodied shins. Curwen recalls having to haul their mountain bikes up the side of a mountain.

“There’s rumors of Norm having us rappelling downtown, but who the heck knows?” says Curwen, highlighting a peculiar aspect of adventure races: The course isn’t revealed until race day, and even then, competitors get sketchy information, requiring teams to navigate by map and compass between checkpoints along the route.

The sport attracted Curwen, he says, “because of the team aspect — the camaraderie that comes from solving problems together.”

Greenberg concurs: “You have to all do [each activity] and all stay together. You have to work together. [And] you have to be multitalented.”

The Asheville race won’t be as taxing as, say, the Eco Challenge held in the jungles of Borneo. Greenberg expects the fastest, most seasoned teams to finish the course — which he’s designed to be beginner-friendly but still a challenge for veterans — in about five hours.

“Some people want to adventure-race to get more in touch with that part of themselves [that] seeks more of a challenge,” muses Greenberg.

And that, in fact, is one of the Mountain Sports Festival’s stated goals: Getting people off that couch and out there enjoying this area’s natural splendors, whatever their skill level.

The RiverLink Triathlon follows a flat-and-fast course along the French Broad River, making it accessible to all skill (and age) levels, organizers say. As for the adventure race … well, it won’t have your team rappelling down City Hall or the BB&T Building, confesses Greenberg, but it’s still guaranteed to get your blood pumping.

Schedule and more info

Triathlon, 1:45 p.m., Sunday, June 2, French Broad River Park.

The Sixth Annual RiverLink Triathlon is a sprint event involving a four-mile run, a five-mile paddle and a 12-mile bicycle leg. The race is held in the French Broad River corridor and provides a fast and flat course suitable for first-time triathletes and veterans alike. Contestants should arrive early (at the latest by 1 p.m. race day), as set-up is required in two separate transition zones before the start. The race proceeds through light-industrial areas and scenic countryside on roads with little traffic. Age group awards are given in 10-year increments; the entry fee includes a race T-shirt.

Registration: The registration fee is $45/individual, $60/team. Those without an existing USA-Triathlon license will need to include a $7 insurance fee per individual. Pre-registration and packet pickup will be available Saturday, June 1, from 3 to 5 p.m. at RiverLink (corner of Lyman Street and Riverside Drive).

Awards: Awards will go to the first three males and females overall and in the following age groups: 19-and-under, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60-up. Awards will go to the top three teams in the following categories: all female, all male and mixed.

Boat rental: A limited number of boats will be available from Southern Waterways (800-849-1970) and the Nantahala Outdoor Center (828-232-0110).

Adventure Race, Sunday, June 2.

The Adventure Race involves up to 12 hours of paddling, hiking, mountain biking and navigating with map and compass. The location and layout of the course will remain a secret until the morning of the event.

Registration: The registration fee is $375 per three-person, co-ed team. The event is limited to 60 teams. Registration forms are available on the Web at or

For more information, call (207) 836-2772, fax (801) 858-2656 or e-mail

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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