Author: Karrie Steely
I got to watch a W.E. Rock (World Extreme Rock Crawling) competition for the first time at the 2016 season opener in Congress, Arizona. We had a blast watching friends compete. It looked like so much fun that I decided that I might want to give it a try the following year. I had just started driving seriously, trying the bigger obstacles on the trails and really paying attention to how my boyfriend, Alec, drove the buggy. I set a goal to become a confident and competent enough driver to enter the following spring. We had some practicing to do!
In a nutshell, here’s how the competition works. There are two levels of difficulty of courses, and several classes for different types of vehicles. A driver and spotter team has to navigate through a course with four cone gates within 10 minutes. There are points, penalties, and bonus gates. Four courses are completed each day and on the second day, the course is reset with bigger lines and obstacles.
Alec had no experience as a spotter. It was a challenge for him to get out of the driver’s seat and watch the buggy from the outside. We got our hand signals down, and agreed about what “driver side” and “passenger side” really meant, but it was frustrating for him to try to drive through me. He would often just walk to the end of the trail and wait for me, letting me learn by trial and error.
As the competition got closer, I gave myself wiggle room to back out. We weren’t even sure if our buggy, Rock Dawg, would be allowed to compete because it’s so different from any other buggy. The wheel base extends three feet, and each shock tower has an additional manually adjusted twelve inches of travel. Thoughts like, “I’m a 45 year old lady and have never done anything like this. What am I thinking?” added to my doubts. I suffer from chronic neuropathic pain, and at times, it interferes with my ability to function normally. I was worried the stress of the competition would cause it to act up. I was also worried that I would not be able to get through a course and embarrass Alec in front of his friends. All of these things danced around in my head during the year, but a little voice kept saying, “Why not? One step at a time. What have you got to lose?”
The big weekend arrived, and we got the OK for the buggy to compete in Sportsman’s Class A. The morning of the event dawned, and every emotion possible swirled around on waves of caffeine and adrenaline as I watched competitors preparing and spectators pouring in. As we were lining up for the first course, I commented to Alec that I had never driven between two cones before, and we hadn’t practiced under a time limit. But panic and fear melted away as I sat waiting for the signal. Smiling like an idiot, my front tires crossed the start line, and I was in. It was so much fun! We were focused on getting through the course as fast as we could without touching any cones. It didn’t take long to get into the groove. I blocked out the noise and crowds and judges, and I concentrated on my driving and Alec’s spotting. I was totally immersed in the moment.
Between courses, I walked around with a ridiculous grin on my face. It was such a rush to be a part of the whole spectacle. When a gaggle of kids came up to me and asked me to sign their t-shirts, I was so surprised that I spit my mouthful of jerky out. (Fortunately, kids don’t seem to mind that sort of thing.) Women and girls approached me throughout the weekend wanting to take pictures or sign shirts and honestly, that was the best part of the whole event. They were so excited and supportive, and being an inspiration was exhilarating. I thought, if I can do this, so can you, ladies! There were 45 teams at the event (90 competitors), and only 3 women in the entire competition.
Alec and I stayed focused on our courses and didn’t pay much attention to our points or how well the other drivers were doing. At the end of the first day, I was shocked to find that we were in first place in a class of 20! The second day started out rough, and we were convinced that we had lost our lead. As we stood in the crowd at the award ceremony at the end of the weekend, it was a huge surprise to hear our names called for first place! I was overwhelmed. It was pretty powerful being a tiny little lady on the podium that day with a 1st place trophy in hand.
I attribute our win to a few factors. First of all, Rock Dawg is a remarkable buggy that belongs in a category of its own. Secondly, working as a team with your life partner is pretty amazing. We apologized ahead of time for any emotional explosions that might happen. We understand each other, even when we don’t say exactly what we mean. I trust Alec unconditionally when it comes to knowing exactly what his buggy’s capabilities are. Even if I wasn’t certain about an obstacle, I trusted his knowledge, and he trusted my ability to drive through it. More than anything though, our willingness to work together and push ourselves out of our comfort zone with the attitude that we had nothing to lose, was our biggest asset. That experience deepened our relationship even more.
We don’t plan on competing again any time soon. My goal was to not let my age, my physical issues, or the fact that I’m a woman get in the way and challenge myself and conquer my fear. I did it! The win was icing on the cake. I learned that I am capable of a lot more than I realize, and look forward to my next challenge, whatever that may be.
Author: Karrie Steely