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Participants in Race Across America Credit Sport for Helping Them Make Healthy Changes


On the surface, Jim Davis and Sonny Augustine don't have a lot in common.

Davis is 64, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who puts about 25,000 miles on his 1977 Datsun 280 Z every year.

Augustine is 26, works in shipping and receiving for an electronics firm and doesn't even drive a car.

What they do have in common is the desire to cycle across the country. Davis and Augustine will be on two of 18 four-member relay teams in Irvine on Sunday for the start of the 14th annual Race Across America, a bicycling event that tests a rider's will as much as muscle. Davis is the youngest member of the event's oldest team. Augustine is a first-time participant.

Their journey will end about a week later, in Savannah, Ga. One tandem team and 27 solo riders started on Thursday.

The race covers 2,910 miles of Mojave Desert, Colorado mountains and sweltering southern humidity. In each of Davis' first three races, he wasn't able to enjoy the countryside.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it and absorbing it for the first time," said Davis, a Huntington Beach resident. "I've always kept my eyes on the road."

Although riders can veer from the course, they must check in at each of 64 checkpoints in California, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and Georgia.

As the race saps strength and concentration, it gets tougher to appreciate the surroundings. The sleep deprivation will take its toll--most riders get only about three hours a day. Each relay participant burns somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 calories daily.

One rider must be on the course at all times. Typically, one cyclist will ride, another will navigate in a pursuit vehicle while the other two eat and sleep during eight-hour shifts--usually in a motor home.

Davis' team, called Team Secure Horizons, will have a 12-person support team. Team captain Jewett Pattee of Long Beach is 72, the oldest rider in the event.

In 1973, the 5-foot-5 Pattee weighed 185 pounds, had high blood pressure, arthritis of the spine and was on the verge of diabetes.

Through running, and then cycling, he lowered his weight to about 120, which reduced his blood pressure and eliminated the diabetic threat. He no longer feels the arthritis, and he credits his improved conditioning.

Since his second hip replacement 10 years ago, he has cycled exclusively and added more muscle.

Ray Michel of Lakewood, 68, is a former bullfighter from Mexico who has had major operations on both knees. Bellflower's Chuck Hanson, 65, had three unsuccessful angioplasty procedures that led to double-bypass heart surgery in 1988.

"Sounds like I'm the healthy one, doesn't it?" says Davis, a project control administrator at TRW in Redondo Beach.

Davis, who has had high cholesterol and hypertension, became involved in cycling in 1992 on a ride with the Specialized Coronary Outpatient Rehabilitation cycling club. Davis was heartened that he was able to keep up. He was part of two four-man teams in his first RAAM, and was part of the record-setting team in 1994 that completed the Masters race in 8 days 5 hours 7 minutes.

This year's goal is to lower that time.

"You learn a lot about yourself in the course of a race," Davis said. "You have to extend yourself. You really don't have anybody to rely on, because all the other members are relying on you to do your part.

"It reminds me a lot of survival training in the Air Force. No sleep, no food, you have to keep going."

Augustine, who lives in Garden Grove, also knows about the struggle to keep going.

"I've done quite a few doubles [200 miles], triples and a quad--which is 400 miles in a 24-hour period--and this really is the next step," Augustine said. "There's nothing like it in the amateur ranks."

Augustine and his Team Belimo mates--Gary Oishi, 37, of Garden Grove; Tom Hooker, 26, of Huntington Beach and Brian Glueck, 25, of Los Angeles--are trying to break the 1994 open relay race record of 5 days 9 hours 17 minutes, and will attack the race's largest obstacle--the Rockies--in short relay form. Each cyclist will probably pedal a mile or less uphill. Hooker's the only one who has endured this struggle already.

"I think the race is either won or lost climbing over the Rockies," Augustine said. "It's going to be the ultimate for me to climb over them."

Augustine has faced uphill battles before.

He says he nearly died from alcohol poisoning in 1993 during Memorial Day weekend. "Probably tequila," he says. "I became really sick, and continued to stay sick for about two days, and all the while I made a promise with my maker that I'd never do it again if he pulled me out of it. And I've kept my promise.

"All this training and hard work has paid off," Augustine said. "I can actually feel some good and really incredible things have come from this sport. I'm really healthy. I don't smoke, don't drink, don't do drugs. I used to be an alcoholic and I've been sober for three years.

"I think I turned to cycling as a different addiction. I gave up one addiction for another--just a healthy addiction."


And They're Off

Here's a look at the route bikers will take in the annual Race Across America, which starts again in Orange County:

1. 9 a.m., Aug. 4, Holiday Inn, 17941 Von Kaman, Irvine


2. Desert Center, Calif., 186 miles

3. Flagstaff, Ariz., 499 miles

4. Durango, Colo., 843 miles

5. Slapout, Okla., 1,424 miles

6. Central City, Ark., 1,828

7. Memphis, Tenn., 2,142 miles

8. Savannah, Ga., 2,190 miles

Source: Race Across America

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