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Triathletes Take On Race Across America for Wounded Vets

Triathletes, including IRONMAN head referee Jimmy Riccitello, are riding their bikes 3,000 miles to raise money for wounded veterans.

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Teammates Winston Fisher, Scott Cohen and Dr Rob DeStefano.
Teammates Winston Fisher, Scott Cohen and Dr. Rob DeStefano.

Team Intrepid Fallen Heroes, a group of eight cyclists that include competitive triathletes and Ironman Head Referee and XTERRA world champion Jimmy Riccitello, is leading the 8-person team charge at Day 2 of the Race Across America (RAAM), a 3,000-mile coast-to-coast ride that began in Oceanside, Calif. this past Saturday and finishes in Annapolis, Md. Teams, who ride around the clock in 20-minute rider increments, have nine days to finish the race (teams ride about 350-500 miles per day), although Team Intrepid Fallen Heroes is aiming to finish in six to seven. The team, which currently leads the field of nine eight-person teams (track them live) has raised more than $600,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to build nine medical diagnostic and treatment centers to help wounded military heroes returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“The idea that you can do something that’s just so big and so challenging—it’s 3,000 miles and 170,000 feet of climbing—that doesn’t sound fun…which sounds awesome!” says Winston Fisher, a real estate executive in New York and partner with Fisher Brothers who shares the team leader/organizer role with fellow rider and real estate investor Evan “Chip” Marks of Sungate Asset Management.

Riccitello has provided the training guidance to the group, and also acts as team manager in addition to taking his 20-minute, adrenaline-fueled turns. Other team members include Brian Collins, Head of Development for Fisher Brothers; Hal Goldstein, Founder of New York-based architecture firm Janson Goldstein; Scott Cohen, Acquisitions and Development at Fisher Brothers; Stefan Kusurelis, Senior Project Architect for Janson Goldstein; and Dr. Robert DeStefano, one of New York’s leading sports chiropractors and ART practitioners.

Fisher, who raced his first Ironman in Arizona last year, says the team’s charitable mission is a huge motivator. “You know that no matter how tired you get, there’s somebody out there who’s suffered more and that your suffering pales in comparison to what someone really in need is going through. That is something that helps me go to that spot we all go to when things get really hard. For me, it’s a big inspiration.”

Training for a ride of RAAM’s magnitude with a very full professional life and family commitments (Fisher is father to two), has carried its share of challenges, Fisher says, but the team camaraderie has made it enjoyable. “You give somebody a challenge and they say, ‘Sure, I’ll do it,’ and then you figure out the training to get there,” he says. Fisher, who will race Ironman 70.3 Haugesund in Norway two weeks after RAAM wraps up, cleared out an area in his office, brought in a bunch of CompuTrainers and hung a big sign that read “Pain Cave.”

“We met every Tuesday and Thursday minimally for two hours for intense interval training—my lactate threshold has gone through the roof!” says Fisher, who will also race Kona this year via a charity slot supporting the Challenged Athletes Foundation. “And we all run long on the weekends. We did a training camp out in Aspen, and I’ve been doing triathlon training.”

The Fisher family helped create the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund in 2000 and has been instrumental in its growth and impact over the years. “It came out of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict, and we were giving $10,000 to every family who lost a loved one, plus an additional $5,000 per child,” says Fisher. “We worked with Congress to create a death benefit of $250,000. We thought, ‘What else can we do to help the men and women who have served us?’”

The fund has already financed a 50,000 square foot, $70 million amputee rehabilitation center in San Antonio, Texas, and the Fisher Family is also a big supporter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. “All these troops who had lost limbs now had some place to go to get the care they deserved,” explains Fisher. “We realized there was another problem: People were coming back with traumatic brain injuries and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. And it’s hard to diagnose. So we built a state-of-the-art center in Washington D.C. that has really advanced the equipment so you can diagnose TBI and also deal with PTSD. For it to really become an integrated part of the healthcare system we need to build satellites to improve communication for better treatment. We’ve already built two, and ultimately want to create nine. We need to provide the proper behavioral therapy—not just tell them there’s something wrong with them. So few were called on to sacrifice for so many, so we need to give back. Thinking about what they’ve gone through…so what if I’m tired at three o’clock in the morning?”

Fisher says that he expects the team to raise in excess of $600,000 through Race Across America. PepsiCo signed on as a lead sponsor, in addition to corporate sponsors and individual donations. “I think racing excites people, and when they hear you’re doing something like the Race Across America they want to be a part of it,” says Fisher.

“I’m looking forward to the memories and the camaraderie. It’s the good and bad, the stuff you can’t buy.”

To listen to team manager and rider Jimmy Riccitello talk about the ride during a roadside interview on Competitor Radio, click here. For more information about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, click here or visit the team website.