Laird Hamilton Tackles RAAM

Team Surfing USA
When Don Wildman, founder of Bally Total Fitness gyms, asked Laird Hamilton to join his 2009 Race Across America team, Hamilton agreed under one condition: The team had to paddleboard from Malibu to the start of the race in Oceanside, California and then paddle from New Jersey to the Statue of Liberty at the end.

Why? To raise awareness for Autism, Lou Gehrig's Disease and Cystic Fibrosis.

"I wanted to tackle some sort of cross-country event that incorporated paddling and pedaling to raise money for charity," says Hamilton. "With the paddle on both ends, Race Across America fit the plan."

Wildman, whose ultimate goal was to break the record and win the race, was adamant about having Hamilton on his team, so he agreed.

"Don had more confidence in us than we did," says Hamilton. "All I thought is 'I have a lot of riding to do and I'm gonna try my best to get there.'"

Tim Commerford, the bassist for Rage Against the Machine, and Jason Winn, Bonk Breaker Energy Bars founder, rounded out the group.

Standing on the Oceanside beach wearing board shorts and sporting Southern California tans, they looked more like surfers coming in from a sweet set than a team of riders about to tackle a 3,000-mile race.

"I don't think the other teams took us seriously," Hamilton says.

By day four, however, Team Surfing USA was in first place, and according to Hamilton they were just getting started.

"We were coming out of the mountains, we had flat ground ahead, and we were just waking up."

Riding for other people is a good motivator too. In the mountains, when Hamilton was struggling to breathe, all he could think about was a surfer with Cystic Fibrosis named Emily. Cystic Fibrosis clogs the lungs making it difficult to breathe.

"I got hammered in the upper altitude," says Hamilton. Every time I took a breath and just couldn't get enough air I thought about Emily. This is every day for her."

Also on Hamilton's mind was Wildman's long-time friend, Augie Nieto, a one-time football player and marathoner struggling with Lou Gehrig's disease. Nieto, whose brain is loosing its ability to control his muscle function, is bound to a wheelchair.

"There are so many people with these diseases that prevent them from doing the things that we take for granted. If I can make a difference and help these charities, it's not a choice, it's an obligation."

Unfortunately Team Surfing USA was knocked out of the race when Winn was hit by a rival team's support van.

"That was the only way they were going to stop us--by crashing into us," says Hamilton

Winn suffered foot, ankle and elbow injuries but was expected to make a full recovery. Although they could not satisfy Wildman's dream of winning the race they did paddle to the Statue of Liberty.

Hamilton says this is just the beginning of his fundraising efforts and, you never know, maybe Wildman will convince him to take a shot at the record again next year.
To learn more about Autism, Lou Gehrig's Disease and Cystic  Fibrosis go to:

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