• Local endurance athlete Thomas Odom trains with friend Jon Crais.

-Local team looking to make a difference through cross country race

It’s known as the hardest bike race in the world.

With competitors racing from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland in a 12 day span, the Race Across America (RAAM) pushes endurance sports athletes to their very limits as they pedal across the nation battling the elements, rugged terrain, brutal pain and sleep deprivation.

But for Thomas Odom and his team, the punishment is well worth it.

“Seeing people with a lot more obstacles than I have in life and in general and seeing what they can accomplish without excuses is highly motivating,” said the Dahlonega resident while talking to The Nugget. “Seeing everyone’s unique abilities and then seeing how people thrive despite the many obstacles they may face really motivates me, who has been blessed with pretty much perfect health.”

 

MORE THAN GLORY

Odom first became involved in endurance sports in 2006 after completing a thru hike on the Appalachian Trial in 2005. Since then Odom has successfully conquered many of the goals he has set for himself.

During his endurance sports journey, he became involved with ConnectAbility, a local non-profit whose vision is to create communities where people of all abilities are valued, included and empowered. Odom also became involved with the Kyle Pease Foundation, an organization whose purpose is to create awareness and raise funds to promote success for persons with disabilities by providing assistance to meet their individual needs through sports.

“These two organizations changed my mindset,” Odom said. “For years I raced for myself, my glory. These organizations empowered me to race for more than myself. They allow me to be able to race for a purpose.”

Odom admits that his early participation in ConnectAbility’s Race for a Reason wasn’t completely selfless though.

“At first, it was a bit of a selfish endeavor on my part,” he said. “I was like ‘look at all the good I’m doing.’ But, when I met Jon Crais, he changed all that.”

Odom soon learned that his physical strength was no match for the never-say-never mentality of his friend and fellow athlete Jon Crais.

 

JOINING JON

Confined to a wheelchair after an accident left him with a brain injury, Crais is an inspirational story to most who meet him. Crais hasn’t let being in a wheelchair get him down, has made huge strides in his rehabilitation and continues to have an adventurous attitude which allows him to conquer obstacles that most would say are impossible. He’s also a regular columnist for The Nugget as he details the ups and downs of his recovery.

“Jon inspired me to push beyond my abilities as we raced together,” Odom said. “The strength I saw and still see in him allows me to dig deep. I realize that with all my physical strength I am still leaps and bounds behind Jon when it comes to his mental fortitude.”

Odom’s involvement in triathlons allowed him to befriend Brent Pease, one of the founders of the Kyle Pease Foundation, years ago and his work with Race for a Reason and ConnectAbility in turn made him look more into the Kyle Pease Foundation, leading to his decision to tackle all the rigors of the RAAM.

Knowing that the 12-day trek across America would be one of the toughest rides of his life, Odom began to prepare for the 2,670 mile RAAM at the start of the year.

Phase one of training came when Odom hooked up with his friend Crais for a half IronMan competition in Macon earlier this year.

Last month Odom recently completed the second phase of training for the grueling cross country ride by bicycling from Dahlonega to Washington D.C. 

Traveling with his crew made up of ultra marathon runners, bicyclists and other endurance sports enthusiasts Josh Saint, Leigh Saint, Justin Barbara, Stephen Smith, Stacy Sims, Brent Pease, Dan King and crew chief Jesse Turk, Odom knew that the D.C. ride would be a crucial part of the team’s training for the RAAM, as neither Odom nor his crew has ever competed in a race of the RAAM’s distance.

“It was very successful,” Odom said. “From a completion standpoint and from a learning standpoint it was a success. We learned a lot of things we need to work on from logistics to nutrition to regular practice. Physically I was fine. We have a lot of training to go and I am very early in my build up from a mileage standpoint, but it let us know that the RAAM is very doable for us.”

 

D.C. JOURNEY

In the early morning hours of October 23, the team set off for Washington D.C. via the Blue Ridge Parkway and traveled 776 miles with 7,500 feet of vertical climbing along the way during the trek.

For Odom’s crew chief Turk, the ride was a test for both Odom and the crew.

“The RAAM is considered the most difficult bike race in the world,” said Turk. “Our crew understands the grueling demands of endurance sports. My job is to get Thomas and eight to 10 crew members and three vehicles across America in less than 12 days. We will be riding some days over 24 hours around the clock. We have to average 250 miles a day. All the different crew members have different responsibilities. Everyone has a specific job. Everything we have to do, we have to do as we are rolling. So, the D.C. trip was a test for Thomas with sleep deprivation and his mileage buildup, but it was also a test for us to make sure that the logistics of nutrition, medical issues, equipment issues and everything else are correct.”

Turk believes that phase two of Odom’s training was a success and is now gearing up for phase three of the process.

“In February, we will be heading to Florida to try and break the 500 mile barrier in 24 hours,” Turk said. 

 

BREAKING BARRIERS

Last year, Odom completed 463 miles in a 24 hours. This year the bicyclist believes he is better prepared to break what few riders before him have accomplished.

“I hadn’t really trained for it last year,” Odom said. “So, I should be going into it from a much better physical standpoint this time.”

With the RAAM scheduled to take place in June of 2019, Odom and his crew still have much work to do before the start of the race. But, there is one thing that is clear for all involved: the main focus of the race is to raise funds for ConnectAbility.

“What we’re doing with RAAM is a fundraising effort to raise money for ConnectAbility locally and with the Kyle Pease Foundation nationally,” Turk said. “It’s all about sports inclusion. Our mission is to give as much emphasis on supporting ConnectAbility as we can.”

Odom and his team hope to raise their goal of $50,000 through their participation in the RAAM in order to provide opportunities for countless athletes and families to be included and empowered to chase their dreams.

Those who are interested in donating to Odom’s cause, can visit ConnectAbility.org or kylepeasefoundation.org.

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