Drenched in sweat, coated in mud, aching and throbbing to the bone, "scratched" and "tattered" were words used to describe the bold athletes of the Cowboy Tough race as they trudged into camp each night.
Yet every morning, the competitors were healed, renewed and ready to go! It seems that a miracle would be needed to reverse the damage done by such a grueling day of racing ... or perhaps just a highly qualified team of medical professionals from NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute would do the trick!
Take a moment to meet the guardian angels of the Cowboy Tough who ventured alongside the competitors throughout the four-day adventure race.
The NOLS Medical Team
Travis Welch, Mike Casella, Brian Gee, and Liz Schmohl were the four volunteers from NOLS who battled dehydration, blisters, shock and a plethora of other medical conditions that plagued the contestants throughout the duration of the race. The medical team traveled by car and were unsupported except for the gear they brought with them. It was, in a way, an adventure race of their own.
We were fortunate enough to get an inside glimpse of the team's time in the field from a couple of the team members.
Travis Welch is a graduate of the Wilderness Medicine Institute and holds certifications in Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness First Responder, and is a Wilderness EMT. Travis works for NOLS as the WMI operations manager and has also instructed courses in the backcountry. This was his third year on the medical support team. Post-race, Travis gave us a rundown of a few of the medical conditions that were dealt with while in the field.
- Blisters: Over the course of the race, 30 racers of the 96 total had their feet treated forhot spots and blisters
- Dehydration/Gastrointestinal: Travis explained to us that shade and water were easy to come by this year and that the heat was not overbearing, but contestants still were suffering from dehydration. Travis and the team figured out that the dehydration was caused by the loss of body fluid because of nausea and gastrointestinal issues. The nausea and GI problems were directly related to the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. These pain relievers can weaken the stomach's lining and result in diarrhea and vomiting. Travis and the team treated this condition by discontinuing the use of NSAIDs and slowly getting the patient to rehydrate and consume calories.
- Travis stated, "Overall the racers were happy to see us on the trail, and most did not need any support during the day."
Mike began his NOLS journey with a Rocky Mountain Outdoor Educator Course with a WFR in 2011. Mike began working for NOLS in 2014 with an internship in marketing that led into a permanent position as a marketing representative. He has also taken an Alaska Mountaineering Prime course and just a week ago returned from attempting to summit Denali, America's higest peak, on the Denali Alumni Expedition. Mike was excited to share with us some of the most notable moments from the race.
- Patients who were being treated for blisters actually fell asleep while their feet were being tended to—the fatigue was real!
- Mike exclaimed, "The scenery and landscape of the Bighorn Mountains was amazing. They were lucky to race in such a beautiful area." The athletes were truly blessed to travel through such incredible and diverse scenery.
- "Getting to watch these athletes push their body to the limits on possibly one of the most difficult Cowboy Tough courses was an inspiring moment," said Mike. Only six or seven of the teams out of 25 total were able to reach every checkpoint on time this year—the course was much more difficult than previous years.
- Ending and beginning a day at Willow Creek Ranch. Racers were able to soak in the ranch's history as stories were told about the numerous outlaws who used to use the ranch to hide from the law.
The 2015 Cowboy Tough Adventure Race was one-of-a-kind as it pushed athletes to their breaking points while immersing them in the beauty of Wyoming's backcountry. Thanks to our hard-working medical support team, all athletes were tended to in a professional and timely manner, resulting in an amazing experience for all.