Author: Diane Zalman
During Easter Jeep Safari this year, from a Ladies Meet & Greet Event, Charlene Bower announced the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge. Three women would be chosen to co-drive with Charlene in one of three events this year: Rally Venture, BFGoodrich 36 Hours of Uwharrie, or Rebelle Rally. Plus, the top ten would attend training weekend here in Arizona!
I couldn't stop thinking about that video, and I kept going back and watching again. It really just spoke to me, and I really wanted to sign-up, but I hesitated because of my back. I was injured, so I doubted I could physically participate. But then again, I had just started seeing a chiropractor and was already feeling better, so maybe I should give it a shot!
While mentally flip-flopping, I saw someone on Facebook say she wouldn't be able to attend any of the events, so she couldn't enter. Charlene's response to that was: “Sorry you can't make any of the events ~ I will mention that if you have a few minutes, it's still worth doing the first step...just saying.” By now, the voice inside my head kept telling me it was going to really bother me if I didn't sign-up, so I finally entered just under the deadline.
I was one of 91 entrants. The objective in the first round was to get the most likes and comments on your picture at the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge Official Facebook page. I decided that being on the down-low was in my best interest. I was afraid I'd make it to the next round, and then have to back out and mention that my back is FUBAR—thanks but no thanks. I have a lot of really awesome friends, and I know that if I had asked them to share the link and to comment on my photo, they would have!
But I was nowhere near the top-ranks in first round, so I was totally in the clear. That was until Charlene announced she would also randomly pick THREE MORE finalists out of the remaining 61! Gulp! There was still a chance that I'd have to follow through.
Looking back now, it would have been easy to bomb out in the second round, but luckily, I didn't made it that far. Next, each contestant answered a set of questions during a recorded phone interview with Charlene. Bower Power Hour presented a special episode, and these amazing women's interviews were phenomenal! The final 30 + 3 represented every level of off-road experience, and while I am not nearly as experienced as many, I am right up there with a lot of them.
The top 8 finalists were to be announced at a Ladies Jeep Beach Meet and Greet, but there was yet another surprise! As it turned out, Charlene just couldn't narrow it down any more, so she announced the names of 10 ladies who would travel to Arizona for an amazing training weekend (on my entry form, I listed the training weekend as one of the events I was most interested in)!
The week before the big training weekend, I got a TOP SECRET email. It was super important not to let any of the finalists know, but the rest of us were invited to join them on Sunday! The email was vague about where and what we were doing, but that we would receive a text message one hour before we were to be someplace in the Phoenix area. It was totally doable by me, so I responded, “I'm in!”
Then, I got a package from Charlene filled with a bunch of gifts such as calendars, lip balm, a tumbler, and an I'm Not Just A Girl tank top, solving my dilemma about what to wear on Sunday. There was also a letter to all the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge entrants with a hand-written message from Charlene. Mine said, “Let's do some AZ wheeling,” most likely because I live in Arizona. But at the time, I thought, “I need to be prepared to go wheeling with Charlene Bower and the 10 finalists on Sunday, so I better drive MY Jeep versus our new Jeep.” I didn't want to risk looking stupid if I couldn't remember how to engage the lockers or needed help disconnecting the front sway bar.
Watching the updates and live video from the training, I was excited about meeting the finalists and Charlene. I made a list of everything I needed to pack: lunch, water, chair, camera, gotta get gas, etc., and just as I had it all figured out, another email came. I was going to a pool party and barbeque at Charlene's house! The plan was to surprise the ladies when they returned from the last day of training. Woot!
I drove to Charlene's house where there were all these bad-ass rigs parked up and down the street, and I wondered if we should try to hide them like at a surprise birthday party. I met the nine other surprise guests while Charlene's Mom, Deanna, and boyfriend, Matt, set out delicious food to eat. I mentioned that I hadn't worked it in first round, and a young mom of a seven-month old baby girl said she did the same thing because she absolutely couldn't go.
We saw the van pull up outside, and we all squeezed into the kitchen, so the finalists wouldn't see us. Charlene came in alone and gave us each a mini checkered flag, told us to choose what we wanted to say when they came in, and to make a bunch of noise. She had us line up behind her desk so that the finalists would see us first when they came through the door. We roared, “Woo-Hoo” and “Yay,” and waved our flags. Their jaws dropped in surprise as they came straggling in. They looked exhausted, exuberant, overjoyed, and a little emotional. A couple of them wiped tears from their sun-bronzed cheeks.
Deanna and Matt cooked and served chicken and beef tacos with all the sides, and we all chatted over the meal. After lunch, something completely amazing happened. As we surprise guests sat in the shade talking, glancing at our phones, and taking pictures, each finalist walked straight over to one of us with a huge gift bag in her hand. Trisha brought a bag to me, and she is amazing! We looked at all my presents, she told me about her life, and I told her about mine. All nine other pairs did the same. For us to connect on this very personal level with each other was such a special gift! Then, Charlene went live on Facebook with the closing ceremony of the training weekend while we watched and cheered. The 10 finalists rocked out their live interviews; they were all quite impressive.
Although apprehensive at first, I am so thankful I went ahead and entered the Ladies Co-Driver Challenge. What I really got out of it was feeling included, which I guess is what I wanted all along. Through the graciousness of Charlene Bower (she invited 91 strangers into her life and into her home), I made 22 new friends with whom I share a ton of interests. And because of our interpersonal encounters, I honestly care about all my new friends and what's going on in their lives. I left the party feeling energized and enthusiastic, and I have felt that way since. For just showing up, I found a great new group of friends, and my passion for all things off-road got a great big booster shot!
Author: Diane Zalman