24 hours of Commemoration

Arizona firefighter David Duarte found motivation at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Championships in the memory of family members killed fighting the fires at the World Trade Center.

By E. Andra Whitworth*
Click for larger image
Setting out
Photo: © Slicky

As he lay sick and aching in the support tent just after midnight in the early morning of September 23, David Duarte battled to prevent the mountain course at Idyllwild, California, from crushing his spirits less than two weeks after the bodies of his brother, two uncles and three cousins had been crushed and buried under the flaming wreckage of what was once the World Trade Center in New York City.

"There were a number of points where I wanted to quit," said Duarte, 32, who raced for Team 24 at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Championships in Idyllwild September 22 - 23. "About 5 p.m. on Saturday, it was really hot and there was no shade and I started cramping really bad. I actually had to get off my bike and sit to the side of the course and hold hot rocks on my thighs to ease the cramps."

"At that point I was cursing the people who rode by, but after awhile it went away I got back on my bike and then I started thinking about what had happened in New York, and the injuries of those in New York and what they have gone through," said Duarte.

"I just felt like my pain was silly and irrelevant compared to those who died and their families' pain."

On the morning of September 11, Duarte, a native New Yorker and fourth-generation firefigher who is himself a 10-year firefighting veteran in Arizona, watched a live broadcast of the terrorist attacks on New York City.

"I watched the whole thing in New York unfold. I was horrified, absolutely in awe at what happened at the World Trade Center; watching it collapse and knowing there were firefighters in there," he says.

As he watched the live coverage, Duarte says he realized that some of those firefighters would probably be family members. Little did he know that by the end of the day he would be in mourning for six immediate relatives and more than 340 members of the his firefighting family.

The loss has been hard for Duarte, who is understandably pained by the events in New York. Although it would be easy for a rider to pull out of a race under such circumstances, he chose to honor his missing family and the fallen firefighters by participating in the 24-Hour Solo World Championships as he was scheduled to do before the tragedy occurred.

"I'm not going to let the attacks or the fear of what might happen run my life," he says.

"I have a particular caring for firefighters because it's my job. It impressed me when I heard the stories about the attack; everyone was running out. But the firefighters were going in. They chose to go in because it's their job," Duarte explains. "That's what I felt like about Idyllwild. I owed it to them to go into the challenge. Quitting is the easiest thing in the world to do. I didn't have the option to quit, for all those who will never see another day or who will never have the option to race."

Indeed, Duarte says that facing the challenge and going through with the race has been therapeutic for him.

"September 11 had a heavy bearing on all the people in the race. We started with three minutes of silence, and it seemed that the people there felt lucky to be alive and to be able to participate. There was an electric atmosphere," he notes.

Click for larger image
The Le Mans start
Photo: © Slicky

"At the start I kissed my wife. I told her the race was for her and my brother and that I'd ride hard," Duarte recalls. "A friend of mine gave me a USA anklet to put on my bike, and on the inside of my jersey, I had a FDNY (Fire Department of New York) patch that I wore for the entire race."

"A number of race staffers knew what had happened and spoke to me before the race. It really made me feel like I wasn't alone. It was an amazing feeling and that helped keep me riding," he says. "Before the race I had been glued to the TV. It was really good for me to get away from the radio and away from the television for a little while."

Despite a hard time on the track and a midnight sickness that forced him to rest for several hours, Duarte is proud of his 28th-place finish in his first World Championship solo race, ahead of Rishi Grewal and Tinker Juarez.

"Tinker is one of the nicest people. I met him at Winter Park during a race and I was climbing and Tinker was behind me giving me the encouragement to get up the hill. But it did feel good to beat him," chuckles Duarte. "About midnight I got sick and I was emotionally and physically hurt. I felt like I had let everybody down; my family, my team and the race staffers. At that point I didn't know that Tinker and Rishi had quit, but eventually I got back on my bike and went back out."

"There was something in that mountain that beat Tinker and Rishi, but it didn't beat me and it didn't beat Team 24; and when you're talking about racers as high caliber as Tinker and Rishi, that really meant a lot that I could go back out," said Duarte.

As any racer knows, a good finish demands pain, but Duarte is emphatic that the physical pain of riding is no comparison to the pain he and his family feel from the terrorist attacks.

"What I lost and my family lost will never be brought back. After a race, no matter how hard or how bad I cramp and crash, it will get better," he says. "With my family and my family of firefighters, it will never be the same. I will never be able to do a second round of something with the people that I lost."

"It's what motivated me at Idyllwild and will motivate me in races to come. It doesn't matter how bad I'm hurting or how bad I'm doing, I going to start looking at how fortunate I am to even have the opportunity to push myself that far."

Duarte will race again in the solo category at 24 Hours of Moab, scheduled for October 13 - 14.

Who are Team 24?

Click for larger image
John Moorhouse, Team 24 mastermind
Photo: © Slicky

The first team assembled specifically as an ensemble of solo riders in 24 hour events, Team 24 made a strong showing at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin World Championships September 22 - 23 with a second-place podium finish by Jim Dover of Temecula, California; 20th place for John Moorhouse of Altamonte Springs, Florida; 28th place for David Duarte of Prescott, Arizona, and 12th place for Carrie Edwards of San Francisco.

With primary sponsorship and support from Ellsworth Handcrafted Bicycles Inc., Team 24 has distinguished itself as the first team specializing in 24-hour solo mountain biking events. The team was formed this spring by John Moorhouse, 31, an ultramarathon cyclist who has been racing 24-hour solo events for three years.

"In 1999 I placed fourth in my first 24-hour solo at the Georgia International Horse Park. That race was a turning point for me. I realized that I had potential in that type of event, and that the event itself was growing," said Moorhouse.

As would befit a team of solo riders, Moorhouse started the effort to build the team by himself after years of competing without adequate support.

"The idea came about during the search for increased support as a rider. I noticed that there were many talented 24-hour soloists out there who weren't getting any kind of support. I was in a position where I could extend my sponsorships to other riders," he says.

During the team's first season, Moorhouse successfully recruited four men and one woman for the team. In addition, Moorhouse also rides for Team 24. He expects to recruit more members for the 2002 season and attract a corporate sponsor who will be able to provide full travel and pit support.

"I look for riders with outstanding 24-hour performances, but who are also enthusiastic about what they are doing. They must have a good attitude and be approachable by anyone. They must be able to represent our sponsors well. Last, but not least, they must be willing and able to travel to numerous events across the country," Moorhouse says.

Click for larger image
Tony Ellsworth, left, sponsor and benefactor
Photo: © Slicky

Moorhouse credits his sponsors, particularly Ellsworth, with the success of Team 24.

"Tony Ellsworth and his company have been very supportive of what we are doing. If it weren't for Ellsworth Bicycles, Team 24 would not exist," he says.

Other teammates echo Moorhouse's praise for Ellsworth.

According to Duarte, the integrity of the Ellsworth bikes, the family atmosphere of the company, and Moorhouse's generosity were the reasons he joined Team 24.

"I've been doing 24-hour relays since 1995. This year at Laguna Seca (May 5-6) was my first 24-hour solo race. I had some major problems with my support and ended up at the race with nothing--no money, no equipment, no clothes and no food," recalls Duarte.

"John didn't know me at all but he helped me out and gave me support through the whole race," says Duarte. "I was impressed with John and Tony Ellsworth and the company. It's a tight-knit production family and that is something I dwell on."
Click for larger image
Carrie Edwards, left, with Duarte
Photo: © Slicky

Edwards, 31, of San Francisco, brings the feminine element to Team 24. Edwards has raced mountain bikes for seven years and, in 2000 was the first woman to ever go the full distance at the Crocodile Trophy--a 15-day MTB stage race across Australia. In 2001 she has proven her ability as a 24-hour soloist, with first-place finishes this year at Laguna Seca and Lake Tahoe.

Edwards praises her female competitors and says she believes that women have much to offer the 24-hour events.

"I think women have incredible endurance and it seems to be proven in the solo and endurance racing, as many of the women are in the top 10 in the men's category. I think this is great, as it shows the strength of the women's category even if the athlete pool is small," observes Edwards.

"Also, 24-hour racing has many stepping stones so that people can start out in a less intimidating team category and have fun, then whittle their team size to duo then solo when they are ready," she says. "Sometimes women can be a little more intimidated at trying new competitive sports, so it is nice to have some steps to ease them into it."

As for Moorhouse, he has already witnessed a surge in popularity in ultramarathon cycling and 24-hour racing in particular, and thinks the trend will continue.

"I did my first 24-hour solo event in a field of nine total riders," says Moorhouse. "Last year, that same race had 25 soloists in the men's class alone. I noticed that this season many of the races across North America are selling out and have class limitations on how many riders they can accommodate. Also, with popular names like Tinker Juarez entering the 24-hour ranks, the media has followed them into the sport."

Duarte predicts the same for 24-hour racing.

"It's the future of mountain biking. I appreciate John and Ellsworth and all of our sponsors for all their help. They're on the forefront," he says.

Team 24 receives additional sponsorship from Light and Motion Industries; Viosport.com; Rudy Project Eyewear; Dumonde Tech Lubricants and IE Bikes.

Video clips of 24-hour racing can be viewed online at www.viosport.com.

E. Andra Whitworth is a writer in Athens, Georgia. Her work has been published by the University of Texas Press, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review and the Athens Banner-Herald, where she is a cycling and outdoor features writer.

Index to features