By Joe Decker, 1999 finisher
During races, all the attention is focused on the competitors. Who is in first or where is so and so? Are they going to break the record? Lets get a picture of the runners for the newspaper. Wow, they look great this far into the race.
Why do they look so good? Who has helped them maintain the lead or even kept them going. The unspoken always giving and sacrificing individuals not in the lime light. The Crews: The Real Heroes.
This is a story of one such crew member who helped an inexperienced runner complete the BADWATER 135.
In the fall of 1998 I was introduced to an incredible man named Greg Jenkins. At the time I was a personal trainer and he became a client of mine. He wanted me to prepare him for an upcoming caribou hunting trip in the arctic. I figured no big deal. That was until I found out both of the man’s knees had been destroyed in motorcycle and car accidents. This man had died and come back twice. I couldn’t believe this guy was even walking. But train we did, Sometimes walking on the treadmill at a pace of 5-6 mph with an incline of 15%. Don’t ask how.
This “should have been crippled man” inspired me. I was contemplating running a 100-mile ultra at the time. I had just finished my first, the JFK 50. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know if I could do a hundred. I told myself if this man with broken knees who never ever complained could hike hundreds of miles across the tundra, well I should be able to run a 135 miles.
I ran my idea by Greg. He said not only was he sure I could do it, but he would go with me to make sure I finished. So I applied, eventually got invited and started preparing for the race. Greg built me a special room in his storage shed to train. It had an industrial gas heater on the ceiling, 5000 watts of halogen lamps hanging over me, floor heaters, a dehumidifier and a treadmill. I thought, “Thanks a lot Greg for the torture chamber.” But train in it I did, hour after hour. The time came to leave. Greg had spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars getting our support vehicle ready. There were so many modifications to that vehicle I can’t even begin to list them all. Then he got supplies out the wazoo and everything he could possible think of which would benefit us in the desert. Greg’s nickname had been “OK Jenkins.” “OK” standing for overkill. We had more food and first aid supplies than an army going to combat. We looked like the Beverley Hillbillies leaving Maryland heading out for Death Valley. We stopped in IL and picked up my brother Greg. To avoid confusion, my brother Greg was to be called “Shag” and Greg Jenkins was to be called “Yukon.” What a trip. You can imagine three guys in an extended cab truck together for over 2000 miles. I need say no more. We arrived in Death Valley a couple days before the race. Yukon immediately went to work getting everything laid out properly. Food went here, the generator went there, first aid supplies went over there. Nothing was left to chance. We were prepared.
Race day: Shag and Yukon have the vehicle ready. They both tell me they know I can do this. Yukon tells me to think of it as a 1000 hundred meter dashes and it shouldn’t be that bad. He also tells me to remember, It’s dry heat. “Yeah right,” Greg. Through the entire race they both were incredible. They changed my shoes and socks, made me eat, drink, and kept me motivated. They were by my side every minute. Never once did they let me out of their sight. At mile 41, I was feeling pretty rough. Yukon pulled out the portable shower and bathed me like a father would a son. He told me, you’re doing great, I know you can do it. Shag fed me and we were on our way.
At roughly 0400 AM into the first night I started to bonk. They were there, always by my side. For a brief moment I lost sight of them around a corner. It was very dark. I was zoning. Then I heard this loud noise and saw I bright light. I thought, “What the hell is that?” Rounding the bend, I see Yukon and Shag standing in the middle of the road. Bob Seeger was blaring and halogen lights were lighting up the entire night. They both have their shirts off and are synchronized disco-dancing like two raving mad men. “Oh my god, this can’t be real.” It was real and extremely funny too. It helped to lighten the atmosphere and got me going. It primarily helped me to get away from these two.
Mile 110. Yukon cuts the sides out of my shoes to relieve the pressure. My feet are so swollen. He tells me to keep going. You can do this.
Mile 130. It’s midnight. I’ve been running for 30 some hours now. My feet are numb. I’m delirious. I haven’t slept in about 45 hours. I’m taking as many steps side to side as I do forward. Stumbling. Hallucinating. Staggering. I can’t do this. Out of nowhere, Yukon is by my side. He grabs me by the arm. He stabilizes me. He pulls me forward, the whole time telling me, “I know you can do this. I’ve got you. You are going to do this. I’ve got faith in you.” His reassurance comforts me and gives me a boost. I feel that thing inside which a son feels towards a father. I can’t let him down. Hours later we stagger across the finish line. We finished together. Without these two, I never would have finished. They gave so unconditionally and unselfishly. Never once did I hear them complain. They are the Real Heroes.
September 15, 1999 my friend, father figure, an hero, Greg (Yukon) Jenkins, died of a brain aneurysm while hunting caribou in the arctic. He died doing what he loved to do best. I plan on going back to Badwater in 2000. It won’t be the same without him, but I know for sure, when I’m feeling as if I can’t go on and want to stop, his spirit will embrace me by the arm and whisper “I’ve got you. You are going to do this. Trust me.”