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Long road ahead for motivated teenage cyclists

By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
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Connor Ellison made history in 2010 when at age 12 he became the youngest competitor to compete and finish the Race Across America. Now the 14-year-old Folsom resident and eighth-grader at Sutter Middle School is at it again, as he has formed a team of 13- to 17-year-olds to compete in this year’s race, which is the first all-junior team to attempt to finish the 3,000-mile single-stage race crossing 12 states from Oceanside to Annapolis, MD. The race, which starts June 16, is 30 percent longer than the Tour de France and entails climbing more than 170,000 vertical feet. Teams have nine days to finish, but Ellison and his friends hope to finish within six days and 15 hours. Why Ellison and his friends are doing this is simple: the team’s goal is to raise $150,000 for organ donation. Ellison has a liver disease called congenital hepatic fibrosis, which causes scar tissue to form in the liver, thereby blocking blood flow that puts him at risk of internal bleeding. While he currently doesn’t need a liver transplant, someday he might. “My motivation and goal is to raise money for organ donation,” Ellison said, “and I’m doing it through something I love, which is cycling. I’m definitely nervous about it because anything can happen, but after doing it in 2010, I’m excited about it this year, especially with having an all-juniors team and doing it with all my buddies. Once you finish a race like this, you either get hooked or you never want to ride a bike again and I got hooked. It’s a crazy event and it’s something I’ll never forget.” After deciding to form a team, Ellison first had to pick the participants, which he did by simply asking his friends. His team, named Believe and Achieve, consists of his sister, Savannah, 16, and her classmates at Folsom High, Adam Sevy, 17 and Troy Knox, 16; Colin Cook, 16, from Vista del Lago, Scot and Alex Benton, both 17, of Ponderosa High and Connor’s fellow classmates at Sutter Middle School, Michael Hahn, 13 and Jasper Hodgson, 13. When Ellison first proposed the idea, some weren’t so sure. “It’s hard to imagine that the race is going on 24 hours a day for six days,” said Sevy. “It’s crazy.” Cook added, “I immediately liked the idea of it, but it’s a big commitment.” Knox got a crash course on the training early on. “Connor woke me up at 6 a.m. for a 60-mile ride,” Knox said. “It started raining and Connor wanted to keep on going. At first I was like, ‘This is stupid,’ but when we were done I thought it was awesome.” The team began training for the race last October, riding three times a week under the tutelage of Connor’s dad, Jared, who has designed the rides and is preparing the team for the biggest race of their lives. On Tuesdays training consists of time trails, when the team goes on a mostly flat ride for speed. On Thursdays they ride in the hills surrounding Folsom and on Saturday they go on a 100-mile bike ride for distance. The team currently is riding 175 miles a week, working up to 200 miles by the time they start tapering for the race in June. During the race, most teams will ride 350 to 500 miles per day Ellison is a bit behind on the training, as he was off his bike from November to February due to an illness related to his kidney disease. He’s now back on his bike and working with a personal trainer to regain his strength and conditioning. One thing the team learned quickly is that this is a race and it is serious business. While they’re teenagers and like to have a good time, when it’s time to train the game faces come on. “They’re going to be racing against pro cyclists and I know they will be underestimated,” Connor’s mom, Tiffany, said, “but I’m guessing they train as hard as or if not harder than anyone else.” One training exercise that Connor’s dad, Jared, planned had everyone wondering what was going on. During a team-building sleepover at the Ellison home, Jared woke the team up at 2:45 a.m., just an hour or so after some went to bed, and gave them 15 minutes to get dressed and get on their bikes for an 100-mile bike ride, featuring 6,000 feet of climbing, starting at 3 a.m. Making the ride more challenging, it was done in the rain. “I have to prepare them for the race, because anything could happen out there,” Jared said. “If they can’t handle it now they won’t be able to handle it during the race.” The team has raised $55,000, but is far from their goal of $150,000. The team has held a spaghetti dinner and a 5K run fundraiser, to mention a few of the many fundraisers, while Ellison also spoke to a pharmaceutical company in New York to raise funds. On June 2 another fundraiser, the third annual bike ride called, “Are you tougher than a sixth grader” will be held starting at Folsom City Park. Jared said the team wouldn’t be able to attempt what they’re doing without the help of Bicycles Plus, who he thanks for their “off-the-charts support.” While accomplishing a feat like this might sound impossible, nothing Ellison does is a surprise to his mom anymore. “There’s something in him that if he’s told that something can’t happen or is impossible, it’s like you’re inviting him to do it; it’s an open invitation,” Tiffany said. “It’s like he’s always got to prove to himself or convince himself health-wise that he’s not going to let his liver disease win.” Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the fundraising effort may do so at teamdonatelife.com. Once there click on “Support a team” and go from there. To view a two-minute video on the team, visit youtube.com/watch?v=OPiXuiTTumc. Believe and Achieve Who: Team Believe and Achieve, local teens between 13 and 17 years old What: First all junior team to compete in the Race Across America, a 3,000-mile bike race from Oceanside to Annapolis, MD Starts: June 16 Link:youtube.com/watch?v=OPiXuiTTumc Info: teamdonatelife.com, raceacrossamerica.org