All-adaptive team reaches Baja 1000 finish line
By Ashley Curtin
While the dirt roads leading from Ensenada to La Paz might be rid of the many motorbikes, buggies and trucks that participated in this year’s Baja 1000, the one lasting impression of the race is the team, HERO Racing, made up of three amputees, who heroically crossed the finish line. Jim Wazny, Chris Ridgway and Mario Panagiotopoulis are the first all-adaptive racing team to complete the historic race since it started in 1967.
“Nine months ago, when I committed to Team HERO to race the Baja 1000, I did not realize what was in store. I had heard the stories and watched the videos on-line, but nothing could prepare me for the real thing,” Wazny stated in a press release, according to Healio.com. “It was a fantastic feeling to finish, and being the first-ever adaptive team to do it made it even sweeter. The emotions were intense and we made our goal of finishing.”
The three riders, along with a number of other helping hands, came together not only to show the world what can be done through determination and hard work, but as a charitable endeavor. HERO Racing, which stands for Helping Everyone Reach Out founded through the visionary of Paul Thomas, partnered with the Challenged Athletes Foundation to help raise money and awareness through their participation in the Baja 1000. And as a result, the team was able to follow their motto and “do something for someone else” by presenting a prosthetic leg to the chosen recipient, Nicholas Knotts, as they crossed the race’s finish line in La Paz. “Out goal is to enable disabled athletes of all ages to participate and compete as equals in motorsports,” Thomas added about the non-profit organization.
Being among the 30 percent who completed the 1,121-mile-race along dirt roads, through dust clouds and flash floods during the day and night, the team not only finished the intense race, but also placed sixth in the Open Pro-Class 22. While each of the amputee racers are tested, professional athletes, Thomas says, “To finish in the middle of the Pro-Class among professionals riders from all over the world was incredible. We just rode our asses off.”
Each amputee racer rode about 300 miles and a couple took on 400 miles of the route while racing on sponsored 2012 Honda CRF450x off-road race bikes. Known as the “best bike out there,” each was modified for above-the-knee amputees including a manual shifter and other after-market parts. Also, in preparation for the race, each of the racer’s prosthetic was tethered to their body and then strapped into position on the bike. Each was marked with reflective tape as a way to help them find it at night in the event the prosthetic fell off, which wasn’t the case during this race. Instead, the team road 31 hours and 31 minutes over the course of three days and inspired thousands of spectators as they made history at the 45th Baja 1000 as the first all-adaptive team to finish.
With more than 40 sponsors, volunteers and supporters, HERO Racing was a tremendous feat cumulative of everyone’s efforts. “It was a fantastic Baja experience,” Thomas said. Up next for the non-profit organization is the 27th MasterCraft Safety Tecate SCORE San Felipe 250 race come March starting in San Felipe. “This is just the beginning of what’s to come.”
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