Lessons from the Eco Challenge

By Rachel Kabb-Effron

Like many, the pandemic has led to a lot of TV watching for our family.  One of our favorites has been World’s Toughest Race – Fiji. It documents 66 teams in their desire to compete or merely finish a grueling 417-mile course over eleven days. My husband and I sit and watch in awe as the participants do this for their strange idea of “fun.”  We also ponder whether we would be strong enough in our relationship to be on a team together.

While the physical and mental challenge of mountain biking through mud, paddle-boarding in the middle of the night, rappelling down or climbing up waterfalls is quite amazing to watch, the best part is the human stories. One of those stories struck a chord with me as an elder law attorney, Team Endure.  Team Endure is a U.S. team comprised of Mark Macy, Travis Macy, Danelle Ballengee, Shane Sigle and Andrew Speers. Mark Macy, affectionately nicknamed “Mace” is a legend in the Eco-Challenge racing world. He has raced in 39 eco challenges since 1995. Mace is 66 years old and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

While Mace was unable to race with his long-time team due to his dementia, his son stepped up and created a team designed around helping his father with his dream and adjusting for the Alzheimer’s.  Some of the adjustments included, getting extra sleep, helping him with dressing, providing gentle reminders about where to go or how to complete an activity and ultimately helping this fierce warrior make a safe decision to quit when it was time.

The most moving part of the story around Mace was the incredible love and dedication of his son Travis.  You can tell, like other caregivers in the same situation, that the grieving is happening in real time. Travis is so gentle with his father in situations that would lead many of us to lose our temper. Imagine how frustrated we can get in the grocery store or dinner table with an Alzheimer’s patient and then imagine being in the Fijian jungle trekking through overgrown vegetation. We can all learn from that.

The other moment was when one of Mace’s prior teammates commented that when Mace and he would race and talk about life and aging, they had talked about taking each other out on the course and leaving them there presumably to die if they ever got dementia. On camera, the teammate then stated that he was wrong because by looking at Mace, he could see that there was value in the human life despite and maybe because of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

We can learn so much from those in our lives with disabilities. We can go with the flow, have a positive attitude, and show love in all things. As you spend time with family during this pandemic, let’s remember how we can be grateful in all things.

Rachel Kabb-Effron is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and founder of The Kabb Law Firm, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Beachwood, Ohio.