What do a Paralympic Gold Medalist, a professor and a former Special Forces soldier have in common? They all came to Alaska this summer to challenge themselves in the longest handcycle race in the world — the Alaska Challenge.
One of the more beautiful settings in Alaska is the area around Independence Mine and Hatcher Pass. If you’ve taken the drive up to the mine, you know just how steep that drive can be. Now, imagine making the trek up to the mine without using a motor vehicle. Sounds crazy right? It is but that’s exactly what those three people I mentioned (plus a few others) did this year as part of the Alaska Challenge Handcycle race. The race, which is held biennially, is a Tour de France style competition that begins in Ester (just outside of Fairbanks) and finishes at the parking lot of the Independence Mine.
The handcycle athletes are all people who have been injured, either through accidents or in some cases while serving in the military, and are now classified as quadriplegic. I was introduced to these extraordinary group of athletes in 2011 while working as the official race photographer. I returned as the race photographer in 2013 and again for this year’s race and I can tell you that it is one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had as a photographer. It is inspiring to watch these athletes as they compete against each other, against the race course, against the elements, against Alaska. Above all else, the one thing that always stands out during the race the special camaraderie that these athletes forge during the race and in particular the support that they show the fellow racers who are there to prove something to themselves. The sense of accomplishment that I see in these athletes faces after each stage and ultimately the entire race is something that rivals any of celebrations I’ve witnessed in my years of being a sports photographer.
Freelance Photographer, Sam Wassom Photography
Based out of Anchorage, Alaska Sam specializes in sports and commercial photography. also the staff photographer for the University of Alaska-Anchorage athletic department