NORWAY — During the last week of June, 10 people, many of them from the Oxford Hills, will depart for Iceland to participate in an 800-plus mile road race.
Jesse Wall, owner of TruStrength Athletics in Norway, said that he and nine members of TruStrength Athletics will travel to Reykjavik, Iceland from June 26 to 30 to participate in the Wow Cyclothon, an 842 mile race around Iceland’s Ring Road that competitors must complete in under 72 hours.
Other members of TruStrength Cycling are Scott Burke, Erik Person, Matt Sunday, Kevin Robichaud, Casey Reynolds, Krissa Emery, Blue Butterfield, Amanda Hemmerich, and Katie Bonawitz.
Wall added that there are two alternates on the team: Mike Parks and Gretchen Johnson.
For Wall and the rest of the group, winning the race isn’t their top priority. Instead, the trip to Iceland serves as a way of experiencing something new and challenging while surrounded by friends.
“How many times in your life, succeed or fail, will you be able to ride underneath the midnight sun, be totally shattered and fatigued with friends in a landscape like Iceland,” Wall asked. “I don’t know what more it would take for a human being to get their blood pumping. That’s what we’re ultimately looking to take away from it.”
Wall said the idea for the gym participating in the Wow Cyclothon came from a member who pitched “going to Iceland as part of a gym trip.”
“I told her there had to be a specific reason that we go there as a gym, and lo and behold, we heard about this Iceland cyclothon,” Wall said. “It just so happens that the same member who said we should go to Iceland loves biking. I thought, ‘This is a perfect opportunity, and would be a great experience.’”
Wall said that Jon Mercer of Key and Kitestring, a film production company in Boston, Massachusetts, will be filming a 30-minute documentary of TruStrength Cycling’s journey to Iceland to compete in the cyclothon.
“They’re going to be following us around, filming the training, filming us traveling there, and filming the race,” Wall explained. “For us, this story is more powerful than a podium finish. It isn’t about cycling or winning. It’s about a community and how to succeed and excel relying on your bonds and relationships.”
Wall said that he hopes to “put together a film tour” once the documentary is done being edited.
“It’d be cool to take it from Boston to Bar Harbor, to breweries and to small theaters, and maybe submit it to a sports film festival,” Wall said.
He said that he is currently looking for sponsors to help fund the film.
“We’re looking for companies who want to be a part of our story,” Wall said. “Like myself, most good businesspeople will be the first ones to tell you that they are where they are not based on what they did alone, but on the relationships and community that they are a part of. Even if a company says, ‘Cycling has nothing to do with our business, why would we want to be a part of their story,’ I would say, ‘Because our story isn’t about cycling. It’s about community.’”
Wall said that the team is also looking for sponsors “for the team itself,” whether it’s helping with cycling, gear and equipment, preparation for the race, or “helping us ship over stuff.”
Wall said that TruStrength Cycling is made up of members who have “different degrees of cycling experience” and mostly ride “recreationally.”
“We’re a group of total recreational athletes going to compete against competitive teams, teams who have done this race before and are looking to win,” Wall said. “I think that’s the cool story about what we’re doing: can we take a whole bunch of amateurs to compete with a bunch of professionals under the pretense that our relationships and our community is our true strength?”
One component that the group is using to train for the race is mental suffering, said Wall.
“It’s this idea of making workouts, sometimes, challenging to the mind in a way that our first response is, ‘I can’t do that,’” Wall said. “If you’re training like that in a group of eight or 10, and someone says, ‘Yes, we can do this,’ it makes all the difference. I don’t think the amount of physical work is beyond the capacity of the group. Sometimes, mental toughness is all it takes. It’s really easy to quit when you’re pedaling for yourself, but it’s easier to embrace the challenge when you’re pedaling for someone else.”
In order for the mental suffering to benefit the group, Wall added that “the training needs to be fun.”
“We come up with a lot of fitness-based team games that are fun,” he said. “If you’re not having fun while training, you won’t get better. We like to suffer and make things difficult, but you need to walk away saying that it was fun at the same time.”
The most important ingredient in the team’s training, however, is “the belief component,” Wall said.
“I think that’s the coolest part about this whole thing,” Wall said. “It breaks down the limitations of our fitness levels. You’re in the fight with other people who are also working themselves up to believe that they can do this.”
Wall said that he once read a quote in a book that urged people to “value journey beyond destination,” and it’s a motto that serves a touchstone for the 10 riders on TruStrength Cycling.
“It’s a philosophy I’ve embraced forever,” Wall said. “The idea is to be involved in the process, not just the end goal.”
“It’s super exhilarating to watch people tackle a task that is so grand with a sense of naïveté of what it’s going to take,” Wall continued. “It’s pretty awesome. It’s intoxicating. You find yourself getting swept away.”
In the end, whether TruStrength Cycling does well or struggles throughout, Wall said that the trip will help bring the team closer together.
“Nothing deepens bonds more than suffering and hardship,” Wall said. “When things are good all the time, there’s very little reason to grow or adapt or have self-analysis. Any experience where we go and push ourselves to a new layer of experience will help to deepen the group’s bond.”
“Plus,” Wall added with a laugh, “we’ve never been crammed into an RV together, sweating, stinking, trying to sleep while someone’s trying to stay awake. Whatever comes up will probably challenge the group dynamic, but make it stronger in the end.”