For the week of July 8 thru July 14, 1998  

"Team Idaho" gears up for Eco-Challenge

Four local athletes will compete in Morocco

Self-reliance is a characteristic of athletes in individual sports. That’s why the 1998 Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge Expedition Competition is going to be a refreshing change for Muffy Ritz, Dave Bingham, Pat Harper and Pat Csizmazia.

All are individual sport athletes based in the Wood River Valley, and they are also the members of "Team Idaho."

It is one of only 12 American four-member teams gearing up for some serious adventure racing in Morocco, North Africa Oct. 6-16. Another 46 foreign-based teams will make up the 58-team field.

The Eco-Challenge, with $75,000 going to the top five teams, is called by organizers an "unassisted seven-to-10 day competition" in which team members travel non-stop, moving 24 hours, for 300 miles. Disciplines are sea kayaking, canyoneering, mountain biking, mountaineering, horseback and camel riding.

A secret course through the High Atlas Mountains is revealed to competitors just prior to the start of the race. Then, they’re off! Without assistance crews, relying totally on themselves, the teams try to choose the best course through a series of mandatory Passport Controls—using navigational skills, teamwork and physical strength.

Ritz, 40, a Sun Valley Junior Nordic ski team coach, said adventure racing is the "in thing" nowadays. Although she has completed the arduous "Race Across America" coast-to-coast bike race, Ritz said she wanted to "step up, meet the next challenge and have fun doing it."

Csizmazia, 29, has participated in three of the previous four Eco-Challenge events—in Utah in 1995, in British Columbia as a member of the second-place team in 1996, and in Australia in 1997. Harper, 30, has never before attempted such a long endurance race. And Bingham, 41, the father of two young children, is a two-time Survival of the Fittest king.

"This team thing is different than anything I’ve done in the past," said Bingham. "It’s a big experiment for me. I’ll just try to whip my 41-year-old body into a fighting machine."

Some 170 American teams applied for the Eco-Challenge, but only 12 were accepted. There is no entry fee. However, teams are responsible for airfare, lodging and logistical needs. "Team Idaho" estimates that a minimum of $10,000 is needed to participate. They have a wish list of $25,000—but no financial sponsors.

Ritz said, "We’re looking to raise money so we can do this. It would be wonderful to be sponsored by an Idaho corporation, since we are the only team representing a state."

Guaranteed sponsor recognition is part of the package that Eco-Challenge founder Mark Burnett pledges to teams. Burnett founded Eco-Challenge Lifestyles in 1992 to bring a new type of outdoor race to North America. In Jan. 1996, he signed a multi-year agreement with the Discovery Channel to produce an annual Eco-Challenge and make it into a five-hour documentary.

An account has been established for Team Idaho’s expenses at First Bank of Idaho in Ketchum. For further information, call Muffy Ritz at 726-2620, Dave Bingham at 788-1539, Pat Harper at 788-7387 or Pat Csizmazia at 726-7583.


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