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Amateur adventure racers converge on Laurel Highlands

Doug Crytzer has participated in and produced adventure races long enough that he knows of what he speaks when he advises those entering his races.

His advice will be the same this weekend, when the XANFEL/SOG Knives United States Adventure Racing Association National Championship takes place at Hidden Valley and throughout the Laurel Highlands.

"I preach to every athlete, every race, race with your teammates, not against them," said Crytzer, whose Indiana (Pa.)-based American Adventure Sports is producing the race along with help from Pittsburgh-based Grass Roots Racing.

"At some point, everyone's going to hurt and need a pat on the back and a 'You can do it.' "

The race will bring the top 50 amateur adventure racing teams from across the country to the Laurel Highlands. The co-ed teams of three, who had to qualify in one of 44 different races nationwide, will be required to perform approximately 60 miles of mountain biking, 30 miles of trekking, running and orienteering and 30 miles of canoeing. They will be completely self-sufficient, carrying all the food, water and equipment they'll need to successfully navigate the unmarked course.

The winners will finish in approximately 24 hours, racing continuously from 7 a.m. on Friday to roughly 7 a.m. on Saturday, with a cutoff of 1 p.m. on Saturday for all teams.

This will be the first time in the 12-year history of the USARA National Championships that the event has been in Pennsylvania.

"Doug and those guys do a great job, so we're excited about him producing the event, but we also like to send racers to an area that's fantastic," USARA president Troy Farrar said. "We want it to be challenging, and we want the race to tax them, but we also want them to be able to look around and say, 'This is beautiful.' This area really appealed to us."

Crytzer has known for a long time how much Western Pennsylvania has to offer in terms of outdoor sports. He feels others are figuring it out now, too.

"It's a real hotbed for endurance sports, whether it's mountain biking or adventure racing or triathlon, there's a lot going on here," said Crytzer, 48, who lives in Home, Pa. "The resources really support that kind of thing. It's kind of becoming a hip, trendy place that people are coming to do kayaking and mountain biking, or even just the average Joe, who wants to hit the rail trail. We have it all."

The athletes who'll be competing this weekend are anything but average.

Cryzter, himself a retired Army master sergeant with the 82nd Airborne, who started American Adventure Sports in 1999, said it will be the cream of the crop when it comes to the sport. It isn't necessarily the best athletes who win, however, as much as it is the best team.

"More so than any other sport, you have to be able to rely on your teammates, because there's no bench you can run to to get oxygen or see a trainer," he said. "There's no second-string coming in. You're in the middle of the wilderness."

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