Adventure Racing: Missouri has niche for fast-growing sport

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EUREKA - Jeff Sona first got the idea to compete in an adventure race while watching Survivor creator Mark Burnett's outdoor race series Eco-Challenge back in the ‘90s.

He finally got the chance to compete in a race in 2001 when his wife and her friends needed another teammate for a race in Steelville, Missouri. Sona's been racing ever since.

Adventure racing is the fastest growing outdoor sport, according to a study by the Outdoor Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by the Outdoor Industry Association. Participation has increased 28 percent over the past three years.

These races consist of running, mountain biking, canoeing and orienteering. But the challenge of these races is that teams are unaware of their next move until they are handed a map at each transition point. The second they receive a new map they have to determine the quickest route to their next checkpoint.

Troy Farrar, of the United States Adventure Racing Association, said reality TV shows like Survivor sparked an interest in adventure racing.

"These guys work hard during the week and are stuck in offices during the week and want to get outdoors," Farrar said.

He said once people develop the skills necessary for these races it's hard not to compete in at least two or more races a year.

Sona started off just racing for fun, and now competes on the Alpine Shop team, ranked 10th in the nation out of 627 teams. He works as a nurse during the week, but he said he finds a way to get some sort of training in each day. Sona said the all four members train together on weekends when the team is not competing. Sona's wife used to be a part of this team but had to quit due to a knee injury.

This sport does not come without risk. The rugged and remote terrains make racers susceptible to unforeseen circumstances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its website warns adventure racers of a disease called leptospirosis that is contracted from contaminated water.

Farrar said the association put safety standards in place to help avoid some of these risks and further develop the sport. Racers are required to have certain items such as: a first aid kit, a blanket and a cell phone on their person at all times. Farrar said without safety standards the sport would not have developed and become as popular as it is now.

Gary Thompson, owner of Bonk Hard Racing in Osage Beach, is separate from U.S. Adventure Racing Association, but still requires racers to satisfy a gear list for safety reasons.

"A lot of times you'll carry stuff and you'll never use it. But you'll have it if you need it," said Thompson.

Bonk Hard Racing, an adventure racing business in Osage Beach, held its annual Castlewood 8-Hour race in Eureka, Missouri, Nov. 15, 2014. The map below shows the path that racers followed by foot, boat or bike. Each video shows what occurred at each point on the map, and the individual maps are what racers were given at each new stage of the race. Athletes Jeff Sona and Emily Korsch, of Alpine Shop team, are featured in this video throughout.