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They've Found Brotherhood in Grueling Adventure Race


There is nothing like brotherly love when you're gasping for air and traipsing through mud.

At least the Stephens brothers of Oak Park hope so.

David, T.J. and James, the middle brother and captain of Team Stephens, will put their physical fitness to the test beginning at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at Castaic Lake Recreation Area when the Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series begins its 2000 season.

"I suckered [my brothers] into it," said James, 27, who competed in nearly a dozen triathlons before becoming interested in adventure racing. "We're in it for the camaraderie, not the competition."

Adventure racing, which features teams of three, consists of three events--a trail run between eight and 10 miles, a mountain bike ride between 10 and 15 miles and a kayak trip between one and three miles. Each team member must complete a discipline before the team continues.

What makes adventure racing unique are the mystery events. They range from obstacle courses to mud pits to greased walls. Each requires the team to work together to complete the task.

The popularity of adventure racing has steadily grown. Organizers expect 1,000 competitors Sunday, the largest field ever. The competition has become more fierce each year, with several sponsored teams vying for prize money.

That's not the Stephens brothers' style.

Although none is a self-professed fitness buff, each brother has been active throughout his life. Parents Ronald and Kathleen, who still reside in Oak Park, took the boys camping and hiking.

David, 29, was an All-Southern Section goalkeeper for Oak Park High's soccer team and played baseball, James ran track and cross-country and T.J., 25, played varsity basketball, baseball and soccer.

David and James reside in Oak Park, T.J. in Calabasas. Each is married. David is a computer network administrator for Pepperdine University. James and T.J. are lawyers. David and wife Leslie are expecting their third child in September. James' wife Cindy just gave birth to the couple's second child on Tuesday.

You'd think there would be enough excitement in their households without adventure racing.

"We just do this for fun," T.J. said. "The biggest part of it is the team aspect. The surprise events always have to be done as a team to accomplish it."

The brothers competed together in one previous adventure race in October 1998. One of the mystery events required two team members to hold an eight-foot-long piece of wood while the third member dangled from it. They had to travel more than 100 yards through knee-deep water. The dangling team member could not touch the water, ground or another team member.

"To do [adventure racing] right, you should do a lot of training," David said. "But time is always tight, so we don't really train for it. But adventure racing is usually good people enjoying a challenge. You're kind of on the honor system, but the fun part is to do it right."

Then there is the ultra-competitive coed division, where prize money is awarded, competitors take their training seriously and teams are sponsored and considered professional.


Hi-Tec Adventure Racing Series

* When: 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday.

* Where: Castaic Lake Recreation Area.

* Who: Three-person teams in divisions ranging from men's, women's, coed and corporate.

* How: Complete as a team a designated course that includes a mountain bike ride, a trail run and a kayak event, plus negotiate surprise elements such as mud pits, obstacle courses and sheer walls that are greased.

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