Madras athletes have a ball at Wild Canyon Games

by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Miklo Hernandez, of Madras, goes over the top of a structure while completing the Mud Madness Challenge Saturday at the Wild Canyon Games at the Washington Family Ranch outside Antelope. Hernandez scored 90 points for his team by finishing the course.Dakota Kerbow really didn't know what he was in for last weekend.

Madras High track teammates like Taylor Welsh and Cheyenne Duncan had tried their best to explain just exactly what he would experience during the Wild Canyon Games. As ready as he thought he was, Kerbow could not begin to imagine just what he was in for.

"I didn't know what to expect. I had an idea, but I didn't know it was going to be this hard," Kerbow said.

He wasn't alone in that way of thinking.

Kerbow was one of 14 Madras athletes that competed in the games last weekend at the Washington Family Ranch outside of Antelope. This is the second year that track coach Melissa Bowerman has taken a group to the event, which bills itself as being designed to require individuals to break through physical and emotional barriers as a team by competing in an extreme adventure race.

by: MELISSA BOWERMAN PHOTO - Elle Renault works her way through an obstacle course during Saturday's Challenge portion of the Wild Canyon Games. Renault was the captain of her own Madras team.Those that have competed in it before, like Welsh, Duncan and Elle Renault, said it is the hardest thing they have ever done, both mentally and physically. And yet, when Bowerman put out the call for this year's event, so many kids expressed interest that she decided to take two teams.

And as the two-day competition wore on, no one seemed to be regretting the decision to participate.

"While I'm standing here looking (at a hill he went over that morning while geocaching), I'm thinking 'Oh my God, I'd never do that; why would I do that?'" Madras sophomore Miklo Hernandez said. "But now it's like, I did that."

Like those that climb the tallest mountains because they are there, these Madras athletes wanted to compete in the game just to say they did. And, to see how far they could push themselves.

"I found out that you can really go a lot farther than what you thought you could," Kerbow said. "You can push yourself to the limit."

Even those that were back for a second go at it didn't find experience that much of a help.

"It's never easy," Welsh said.

But then if it was, most of these kids couldn't have gone.

How it works

The format is simple; seven-member teams compete in a variety of activities and are awarded points based on what they accomplish and how quickly they do it.

The first day is a long one.

There is the triathlon where one team member makes a two-mile swim, followed by another member going out on a 15.5-mile ride up and through the hills of Central Oregon. A third member runs a 10K to finish things off.

While all of that is going on, the other four team members pair up in groups and go out on a four-hour geocaching trek. The harder or farther the geocache is to find, the more points it is worth.

But that's just the morning session.

Teams regroup for an afternoon of challenges that sees each member complete one challenge while the rest of the team looks on. The challenges are worth a variety of points, again depending on how difficult the challenge is to complete.

by: MELISSA BOWERMAN PHOTO - Communication Hill is one of the tougher challenges at the games. Runners sprint up the half-mile path, which gains more than 2,100 feet in elevation, and then race back down.The cliff jump, a simple leap off a platform into a swimming pool nets a team 10 points. The King of the Hill is a grueling half-mile run up Communication Hill, gaining more than 2,100 feet in elevation, and is worth 100 points.

There are others, like the Mud Madness, Speed Slide, Zip Line, Blob Tower and go karts.

After all of that, there is still time to go exploring or swimming. Or napping, as many participants did.

The games finish off Sunday morning with the Creek-2-Peak, a relay that sees each team member either run, bike, swim or go through an obstacle course.

The two teams from Madras were the only two in the high school division and Welsh's team ended up winning the division. His team also placed 33rd out of 121 teams that competed in the triathlon.

Ian Goodwin was the second person out of the water, giving the team a great start.

"I wanted to be the first one out," Goodwin said. "Having this kind of competition really pushes you. Not that high school competition isn't good, but some of these guys out here, they are really good."

Welsh said he was solid in the biking part and Povis-Ruiz ran a strong 10K to finish things off.

Renault's team was 75th, which was fine with her.

"I wanted us to have fun," she said. "And if we win it, then that's good as well."

Getting started

Bowerman has been going to the Wild Canyon Games for six years now. Last year was the first time kids from Madras took part and it looks like a tradition has started.

"It's painful, it's difficult and it's not for high school kids, it's for elite athletes," Bowerman said. "But we've never had a kid quit and we've always won the high school division. And we've seen it change lives."

That's the main reason Bowerman brings kids to compete alongside the likes of professional triathletes, teams from Nike and others that do this kind of thing yea- round.

Going up against athletes like that would scare most teenagers, but Bowerman said that after the kids realize that they can compete side-by-side with bigger, stronger and better athletes, confidence levels go through the roof.

Welsh first participated last year and after making it through the 16-plus mile bike ride, called it a life-changing event.

Bowerman said he has been a different person ever since.

Those that were back again this year were not lacking in confidence.

"I feel it was a lot better coming into it already knowing what to expect," Duncan said. "I planned my routes better."

Duncan did the geochasing part of the triathlon and learned from mistakes last year. This year, she said she went around hills and peaks instead of over them.

That was a lesson Hernandez and Bonilla learned as well, except this was their first time at the games and they ended up covering almost 14 miles during the geocaching, much of it up and over the area's tallest and most severe peaks.

While much of the games is physically taxing, it's the mental part that can really get to people. Especially if they have no idea of what they are getting into.

"I'm really impressed with these kids," Bowerman said.

Back for more

Every one of the Madras kids was drained and excited at the same time. And those that are underclassmen said they can't wait to do it again next year.

by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Miklo Hernandez wades through the mud during Saturday's Challenge portion of the Wild Canyon Games. Hernandez and Bonilla were already discussing ways to improve on their geocaching, like bringing topographic maps and hiking poles to make it easier to get up and down cliff sides.

For Welsh and Duncan, these will most likely be the last games for a while. Not because they don't want to do it again, but they are off to college next fall and will either have to form a group and put up the $2,450 themselves or find a new sponsor.

But they said they are happy to help recruit new Madras kids, so this new tradition stays alive.

"It's going to be up to these guys to teach the next group of guys how to do it," Welsh said.

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