August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine

August 2010 Edition - Radish Magazine


Thunder Rolls

Adventure racing tests brains and brawn

By Laurel Darren

Gerry Voelliger extinguishes fires for a living. But in 1997, the Bettendorf fire

chief decided to fan the flames of adventure racing by founding his own local

event, the Thunder Rolls. The event is not just a test of pure athletic ability. Like

all adventure races, the competition also includes elements of navigation, endurance,

basic survival skills and the ability to think in stressful situations.

Now in its eighth year, the Thunder Rolls Adventure Race

will rumble through the Boy Scout Camp Lowden, in Oregon,

Ill., Aug. 28. The field of competitors has grown from 12 teams

at its inception to 76 teams, the maximum allowable. The race

involves paddling, trail running, mountain biking, navigation,

coasteering, pack rafting and rope work over courses of 50 or 100

miles through state forests, parks and private land.

Additionally, Voelliger introduces Thunder Rolls racers to

an appreciation of local history. “I try to include sections of terrain

in the Thunder Rolls where people can be educated about our culture,”

Voelliger says. “So around here, I try to use the Black Hawk

historic sites and the Mississippi River Valley.”

Adventure racing leads competitors to different checkpoints

along many mixed terrains including over land, across water, and up or down rock

faces. Most races have between 30 and 50 checkpoints, which racers find via course

maps issued at the beginning of the event. Checkpoints at Thunder Rolls are often

located at historical markers.

This year the goal of Thunder Rolls is for racers to follow the trails, waterways

and migration routes of the Sauk and Fox Indians of the 1800s in Northern

Illinois’ Rock River Valley. Camp Lowden, where the event will take place, is near

Stillman Valley, the first site of the Black Hawk Wars in 1832.

Thunder Rolls was inspired by, and patterned after, the Eco-Challenge

— a multiday expedition race that’s been aired nationally by MTV, ESPN, the

Discovery Channel and the USA Network.

“We are the only adventure race in the country where this course is uniquely

challenging for the experienced, but not so hard that newcomers cannot finish,”

says Russ Hart, a local runner who has doubled as an adventure racer for the last

decade. “Last year, all of the teams finished and that is why they come back.”

This year’s Thunder Rolls race features segments of 12 or 24 hours. Prizes

are awarded to the top three teams in each division: coed, same gender or masters.

Thunder Rolls also is the Midwest Regional Qualifier for the national championships

of the United States Adventure Racing Association.

“Some of the best teams put together in the sport have come out of our

Adventure Racing camp we hold each year,” Voelliger says of the April tuneup

for Thunder Rolls. “People come in and realize that there are others they can be


Competitors in the 2009 Thunder Rolls

Adventure Race put their skills to the test.

(Photos by Greg Boll)

teammates with, which is so important to Adventure Racing.”

For the novice, the sport essentially consists of two- or three-person teams,

with one person specializing in navigation, one in reasoning skills in adverse conditions,

and still another in athletic skills. Along with navigating skills and finding

checkpoint stops, racers must also have a grip on their nutrition, as depleting your

body can work against you both physically and mentally.

“Nutrition is so huge in this sport,” Hart says. “There also seems to be

a high number of people who encounter hyperkalemia, which is drinking too

much water.”

“You have to learn to balance caloric intake and be aware of how your mind

and body feel,” Voelliger adds. “Your teammates must always be aware of how you

feel and how they feel. If someone breaks mentally, it can be a long day.”

Although adventure racing sounds tough, Thunder Rolls provides volunteers

who have many years of personal experience to share. “We are totally blessed to

have Janelle Swanberg, Ron and Sue Stonitsch, Bart Roberts, Francis Fitzgerald,

and Ryan Voelliger as a part of the crew behind the scenes,” says Hart.

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