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Grinding the Gears: New Bicycling Film Finds Faith in the Ride

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

It’s not every day that a baseball broadcaster and a corporate executive join forces to take part in one of the most grueling physical challenges in sports – a bicycle race across America.  But that is exactly what Colorado Rockies play-by-play man Jerry Schemmel and U.S. Corporate Wellness CEO Brad Cooper did during one week in 2015.

From battling 120 degree temperatures in the Arizona desert to an arduous, back-breaking climb through the Rocky Mountains to groping through the darkness of night as they zipped through an Indiana cornfield, the Colorado based duo ended up winning the 3,000 mile Race Across America (RAAM) in just over seven days. 

Now, their harrowing journey of grit and determination is chronicled in a new documentary, Godspeed – The Race Across AmericaThe film will be shown in movie theaters nationwide as a one night only Fathom Movie event on May 22.

Find a theater near you to view the Godspeed - The Race Across America live cinema event.

I recently had the chance to sit down with Cooper to discuss the inner and external challenges of an event such as this, the life lessons that can be learned from chasing a seemingly impossible dream, and where the presence of God fits in all of this.

A 3,000 mile bicycle race across 12 states.  Seven plus days of consecutive non-stop bicycling. You won the two-person relay event. How did you and Jerry get connected for such an odyssey as The Race across America?

We didn’t really know each other.  We had never gotten together for lunch or coffee or anything like that.  We attended the same church (Foothills Bible Church).  The funny thing is that Jerry basically, and I thought randomly, emailed me one day to invite me to lunch.  I turned to my wife and said, ‘He must be doing some multi-level thing.” Because why else would I hear from this guy?  In the 15 years attending same church we had sort of known each other but we hadn’t done anything together.  But he seemed like a nice guy so why not?  Well, it was a lot worse than multi-level marketing.  Instead, he told me about this crazy race from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland.  Three thousand miles with a goal of finishing in just over seven days.  This was not on my radar screen at all.  I had done some triathlon events prior to that but this was completely Jerry’s idea.  He knew that I was a bicyclist.  I had spoken to our men’s group about some of my triathlon experiences and life lessons I had learned from that.  He was in attendance for some of those and had made a mental note.  He had wanted to do this for years and had decided that if he ever attempted to do it that I would be a good partner to at least ask.  Jerry had ridden across the country but he had done it as more of a vacation type thing.  He did it to raise money.  He took a month to do it.   This was the first time to see how fast he could do it and to get across the country as fast as we can.  And while we are doing it, lets see if we can beat all the other teams.  I had never ridden more than 140 miles in one trip.

For those who don’t understand how an event like this works, could you take us through that? 

One of us is always on the bike, always riding.  So, if Jerry is riding I am in the back of a car eating or trying to sleep and vice versa.  You break the day up into sections based on temperature, rain, wind, etc. …  So, we would range from a 30 minute pull (riding increment) during the very hot sections of the ride.  It got up to 120 degrees in Arizona.  At night we would take a four hour pull each so the other rider could get at least some semblance of sleep.  Our team was unbelievable.  We could not have done it without them.  You pretty much stop thinking after the first couple of days.  They would tell you to not forget to eat.  You need to have this ready.  Put your helmet on.  All those types of things.  We were so grateful for them.  They basically gave up eight or nine days of their lives to completely sacrifice everything to get us through that race. 

Jerry and I wrote about this in a devotional book we did to supplement this film.  There is a section that talks about all the limitations and challenges we faced in relation to riding in the dark and the absence of lights.  There is such a spiritual lesson there of God doesn’t show you three miles out.  He doesn’t show you 20 miles out.  When you are riding at night the trail car can’t get too close to you because he will run over you or hit a pothole.  So they need to give you a little space.  And then on the downhills you get so far ahead that all you have is the little tiny light on your handlebars.  So you might be able to see 10 yards in front of you.  But when you are going 20 to 25 miles an hour that’s a second.  In my life, sometimes God only shows me a day, a week into the future at most.  Focus on today.  I think that is one of the big lessons from the movie is what are you going to do with this moment?  Let’s not think about tomorrow or the end of the race.  What are you doing with your life right now? I am guilty of not doing that in my life.  I tend to get too far ahead of myself.  And I think one of the lessons for myself is God saying, “Brad, I have given you today.  What are you going to do with it?

Speaking of living in the moment … Brad, tell me about the horrific injuries you suffered on a training ride six weeks prior to the start of the race.  How were you ever ready to go?

I think it comes back to vision.  When you are really focused on this is where I am headed it doesn’t matter.  God protected me in that wreck.  Yes, there were eight broken bones but lets look at the details.  There was no spinal injury.  No real head injury.  The pelvic fractures were non-displaced.  So, while it was a bummer and it kind of stunk, I was ok.  I was able to be in the race.  Subtle changes in my body could have changed all of that.  There are things that stop you in life but too often I think we let little things stop us.  Knowing this race was coming I was back on the bike within 48 hours after the wreck.  They got me in for surgery right away and then when they repaired the clavicle that spread the ribs out.  We didn’t know about the pelvis yet because we discovered that about four days later through an MRI.  So, I was able to be back on the bike to start training again after the pelvis a few days later.  It’s all about vision.  When we are focused … where does God want me?  Where am I heading?  What is that thing we are going after?  It changes your daily pursuits.  That’s a big part of this film.  That is that it isn’t about me.  It takes place as a cycling event but it’s about life.  It’s about the challenges we face in life and moving beyond those things.

What was it like facing the inner and extreme external challenges of cycling while testing the limits of your new friendship?

There were several times during the race where we almost seemed to be reading each other’s minds.  There is one scene in Godspeed where I am really hurting and Jerry just seemed to detect it and said, ‘Hey, I will ride an extra 30 minutes so you can rest and recover.’  And the same thing would work the other way.  One day, he was having a rough day so I took an extra long pull.  There just seemed to be this extra sense of what the other person needs even though we weren’t talking or sharing that information with each other, we just sort of knew when the other needed help.  Another thing, and this was a really good lesson for me, was that even though we were so different, the fact was that our differences made us better overall.  If we had two Brads in this race we probably would have killed each other.  If we had two Jerry’s in this race we wouldn’t have gone very far.  We needed the combination of our differences to come together to have the successful outcome we had.  Successful marriages are a lot like that.  It’s not that we had to work together it is that God orchestrated that and just put the right pieces together.  He just knew that we need certain characteristics that Jerry brought to the table and we also needed certain characteristics that I brought to the table.  Even though those characteristics are totally different when they came together it just worked effectively.

What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

One of the intriguing pieces of this was that I had done a lot of Ironman triathlons, run marathons, and done those sorts of things, but what I didn’t tune into as much was the mental piece.  I’m big about preparation and I had done everything I possibly could to physically to prepare but I hadn’t really tapped into the mental element of it.  We were out there for seven plus days.  The physiology pretty much had us done after the second day but it hit me that we still had 2,000 miles to go.  The realization and the value of what is between your ears in all aspects of life but especially out there on the road really came to the forefront.  As a direct result of this, I ended up going back to pursue a doctorate degree after experiencing this mental toughness.  I thought why can’t I apply this mental toughness into general life?  I run a health and wellness business so why can’t I help these people with these principles to help them in their lives?  That knowledge of how is a big piece.  Physiology is a part but the mental aspect is huge.  I’m still learning that but that was one of the “Aha” moments for me. 

Let’s turn inward, what did God teach you through this experience?

I think the biggest thing is to be open to what God has planned for you.  This race made no sense.  No sense.  Why would anyone ever do something like this?  And now here we are, hopefully honoring Him through this movie, hopefully encouraging other people through it.  Hopefully folks will see this film and whether they care about bicycling or not, they will say to themselves that they can do something better with their life, better with their marriage, better with their health, better with their work, and it’s all because they are willing to say, ‘This is crazy!’  Don’t underestimate God.

God calls us to be bold.  He sometimes calls us to do things that don’t make sense on the outside. My hope and prayer is that for the rest of my life, whether it is a doctorate degree or a race or mission trip or whatever it is, that I just don’t sit back on the couch saying, ‘I’m fine.’  What I am looking for is where God can use me in a way that doesn’t totally make sense.  The key is to be better tomorrow than we are today.  Being ‘fine’ is not what God called us to.  We need to be better than yesterday.

Watch a trailer for Godspeed - The Race Across America:

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