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Tallmadge graduate proves he's 'Cowboy Tough' during adventure race in Wyoming

Published: August 28, 2016 12:00 AM
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by Roger Gordon


Just like Rocky Balboa simply wanted to "go the distance" against Apollo Creed, all Adam Johnson and his three teammates wanted was to "cross the finish line" of the Cameco Cowboy Tough Adventure Race, which took place July 14 through 17 in the woods, terrain and waters of eastern Wyoming.

A 1992 Tallmadge graduate and Casper, Wyoming, resident, Johnson, along with three other Casper residents, Joe McGinley, Ryan Larsen and Amanda Kirlin, made up McGinley Innovations, one of 30 teams in the four-member, coed division of the grueling fourth annual competition.

The race covered some 400 miles, spanning five counties -- the counties are much larger in Wyoming than they are in Ohio -- and mainly included hiking, biking and canoeing.

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Johnson's team finished in a very respectable 14th place after failing to complete last year's race that began in Buffalo and ended in Casper due to losing its way in the woods on the second night.

"This was kind of a redemption for all of us," said the 42-year-old Johnson.

The son of Don and Cathie Johnson of Tallmadge, Adam is a mechanical engineer for McGinley Orthopedics, a subsidiary of McGinley Innovations, also located in Casper. He is a 1996 graduate of Colorado State University.

The Cowboy Tough Adventure started at 6 a.m. July 14 in Casper and concluded at July 17 at noon back in Casper. The top three finishers earned prize money.

Johnson and his teammates crossed the finish line at 9:39 a.m. July 17.

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"It was a big accomplishment for us to just finish the race," he said.

The winning team, which finished at 8 p.m. July 16, normally would have qualified for the 2016 Adventure Racing World Series in Australia in November.

However, because that team already had qualified by winning another qualifying adventure race, the runner-up team advanced.

The competition makes a triathlon seem like a walk in the park.

"It was a long, grueling race that goes beyond your physical fitness," said Johnson, who, with his wife Tonya, has three children, sons Lane and Grant and daughter Tessa. "It was about being able to stay awake for 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours.

"Early on, we ran into about three-foot waves going into a reservoir, so we pulled off to an island and slept for 40 minutes -- the only sleep we got for the first 48 hours -- until the wind died down.

"We got another hour's worth of sleep in the wee hours of [July 16] and then a little more sleep early [July 17]."

Johnson said the canoeing, much of it on rough rapids, including a terrifying moment in which his boat crashed and actually had him worried about possibly drowning, was the most difficult part of the race.

"Eighty miles of paddling was considerable," he said.

Johnson said the biking was the second toughest part of the race because of the distance and the hills, which included an 11-mile climb toward the end.

Although he said the hiking was the "easiest" aspect of the race, everyone referred to it as "trekking" due to the difficulty of it, including fighting through tough, dense woods and the real possibility of encountering wild animals such as bears, mountain lions and rattlesnakes. Johnson and his teammates were fortunate in that they avoided that kind of trouble.

There were 56 checkpoints, including 18 mandatory checkpoints where teams had to arrive by certain times and 38 optional. One point was accumulated for passing each checkpoint.

"We made it to all 18 mandatory checkpoints, of course, but only four optional checkpoints, one in which we had to stop at a bar and do a shot of whiskey, for a total of 22 points," Johnson said.

"The way the race was structured was more on points and not so much on time." "However, we were out to simply maintain the mandatory checkpoints for the most part and get to the finish line on time. That was our strategy.

"There were teams that crossed the finish line before us but placed lower than we did and there were teams that crossed the finish line after us but placed higher than we did.

"The winning team passed every single optional checkpoint and probably didn't sleep a wink. It was a much younger team than we were. I think all of them were in their 20s. Amanda is in her mid-30s and she was the youngest on our team.

"The teams that win or finish high / that's their job. They're paid by sponsors to win these adventure races. So they probably did a lot more intense training than we did. We trained pretty hard ourselves, though / we had to ... to finish this thing.

"My training was primarily a 40-mile bike ride on the weekends and walking three to six miles per night with a backpack and any other kind of goofy weight I could find like lamps and fire extinguishers.

"My teammates and I are kind of like weekend warriors -- just out there for the fun of it. We're recreational people who competed in the professional division."

All four members of each team were required to finish the race within 100 feet of one another.

"We all traveled at different paces," Johnson said. "We were a team, though, so when one of us was weakening, the others had to slow down so we could stay together."

The temperature ranged from the low-90s during the day to 55-60 at night.

"During the day, I wore a breathable long-sleeve shirt and spandex shorts," Johnson said. "At night I wore a windbreaker jacket and windbreaker pants over my clothes.

"We brought our own food. I brought homemade beef jerky, peanuts, granola bars, energy drinks and berry-flavored drinks. For water, we brought a CamelBak and kept refilling it from any source we could such as creeks and rivers.

"We also brought iodine pills. All of us felt woozy at times, but none of us really got sick."

Besides McGinley Innovations, other sponsors of Johnson's team were fellow Casper businesses Black Hills Bentonite, McGill Motors, Wyoming Behavioral Institute and the local UnitedHealthcare.

Next year's Cowboy Tough Adventure Race, again in Wyoming, will act as the Adventure Racing World Series, the first time it will have been held on American soil.

The only way McGinley Innovations will be able to gain entry into the field will be if it is lucky enough to receive a wild-card berth.

Even if his team is fortunate enough to compete in next year's competition, at this point Johnson is unsure if he will participate.

"It's a big undertaking," he said.

For now, Johnson just wants to celebrate his team's huge achievement.

"It's all about pushing your body beyond the limit," he said. "Who would have thought we would have stayed awake for pretty much the first 48 hours and been as far as we were at that point? You can do a lot more than you think you can."

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