The Baja 1000 is a grueling, 1,000+ mile race down the expanse of mainland Mexico. The heart-stopping, pulse-pounding test of adrenaline is equal parts invigorating and dangerous––the kind of event that could easily claim one of your limbs.
But for three inspiring riders in this year's rally, they've already been there and done that.
Jim Wazny, Chris Ridgeway and Mario Panagiotopoulos––three amputees, or adaptive riders––will be participating in this year's race on motorcycles.
The riders are part of the HERO Racing Team––which stands for Help Everyone Reach Out––and are being supported by M&M Racing, Johnny Campbell Racing, Fox Shox and FMF.
Let's start by stating the obvious: This feat should not be taken lightly. Even those with all their limbs need to be part daring, part crazy and part lucky to complete this race. It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the toughest races on the planet.
In fact, in an interview with ESPN.com, the riders relayed a harrowing statistic: Out of the roughly 400 vehicles that start the Baja 1000, only about 30 percent of them finish the race. That's only about 120 vehicles.
I use the vague term of 'vehicle' for a reason, too. One of the things that makes the Baja 100 so unique (and also so terrifying) is the fact that a multitude of vehicles race at the same time. Bikes, ATVs, Volkswagon Buggies and million-dollar trucks all share the same course at the same time.
Riding a bike in the middle of all that mayhem––as the HERO team plans to do––is absolutely insane.
But what really makes the HERO team, and their story, transcendent is their philanthropic endeavor. Having partnered up with Challenged Athletes Foundation, the group worked to provide a new leg for a young boy in need.
They want to prove to the world, through their on-course actions, that amputees are capable of accomplishing the same ends as anybody else. They want to prove that even as adaptive riders, they can be part of the 30 percent of vehicles who finish the grueling race. On it's own, that makes them worthy of our praise. They go above and beyond by striving to be just as inspiring off the course.
The Baja 1000 isn't the highest-profile event on the sports calendar, and it's doubtful you'll ever see this story popping up on Sportscenter. But the HERO team (not-so-coincidentally) reminds us that there are heroes all around us everyday.
And that makes them one of the best stories in sports this year.