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Jumping for joy

Team Believe and Achieve finishes Race Across America in six days
By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
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For a group of local teens, the choice was simple; Disneyland or clear 10 acres of weeds. Connor Ellison and his buddies on the all-junior Believe and Achieve cycling team initially wanted to finish the Race Across America in 6 days and 15 hours. A bet made right before the start of the race with Jason Weckworth, the founder of Team Donate Life, from which team Believe and Achieve sprung from, and another rider, Max Fregoso, changed the goal. Weckworth, an El Dorado Hills resident who competed on a four-man team in last year?s race from Oceanside to Annapolis, MD, said if the junior team beat his team?s time of 6 days, 8 hours, he would take the team to Disneyland. If the team failed, they?d have to weed-eat Weckworth?s 10-acre property. That was all the motivation the team needed, as Connor and his seven teammates completed the 3,000-mile race across 12 states in 6 days, 6 hours and 31 minutes, easily topping Weckworth?s time and earning the trip to Disneyland. ?For me, not wanting to weed-eat motivated me more than Disneyland,? Connor said with a laugh. ?It was a nice bet.? ?For some kids,? said Connor?s teammate Adam Sevy, ?the bet was the biggest motivator. Disneyland sounded pretty good and it worked out.? Weckworth was surprised at the performance turned in by the teens. ?I was shocked at how fast they finished,? Weckworth said. ?It blew me away. I really didn?t think they?d make it (win the bet), but halfway through I started to panic. I?m really proud of them and I?m happy to take them to Disneyland. They sacrificed a year of their life to spread the message of organ donation and I think that?s pretty selfless of them. A couple years from now they?ll realize what they did.? Team Believe and Achieve consisted of Connor, 14, and seven friends all between the ages of 13 and 17. Two years previously, Ellison became the youngest competitor to compete and finish the Race Across America with Team Donate Life. This year he put together an all-junior team which included his sister, Savannah, and friends Sevy, Troy Knox, Colin Cook, Alex Benton, Michael Hahn and Jasper Hodgson. When Hahn broke his arm a few weeks before the race, Scot Benton replaced him and Hahn went along as a member of the support crew. The team raised more than $102,000 for organ donation, a cause that hits close to home, as Connor has congenital hepatic fibrosis, a liver disease, which could require a liver transplant some day. Connor?s dad, Jared, trained the team for eight months to prepare for the grueling race, and the team passed the extremely physical and mental test with flying colors, placing fifth out of nearly 20 eight-person adult teams. ?The ride went awesome and the kids performed so well, finishing faster than most adult teams,? Ellison said. ?Even though I put them through every physical and mental training I could think of, there?s still the unknown of the race and how they would do when they got tired on the third, fourth and fifth days. Any issues they had were minimal, at best.? Sevy enjoyed his first race across America and said he?d love to do it again. ?I didn?t expect it to go as well as it did considering it was a team full of teenagers,? Sevy said. ?We didn?t have any problems. I?m not surprised at how fast we finished because we worked hard to get that time. Everything Jared threw at us prepared us for the race. He took us on so many steep hills and six-hour rides and they were all definitely worth it. As we got close to the end, my thought was that after eight months of preparation and the race itself, I couldn?t believe now it?s almost over.? Now the kids are preparing for a trip to Disneyland.