A Journey of EPIC Proportions: EPIC5 Challenge

By Ellen Humberston, Edited by Justin Mulder and Jennifer Schmoldt | March 14, 2017, 8 a.m. (ET)
chad esker 
Seven hundred and three miles in five days? Unbelievable some may say, but “Don’t stop believing!” is what Chad Esker exclaims. These words may be the lyrics of the classic Journey rock song, but the phrase is also the personal mantra of Midwest triathlete Chad Esker and portrays a mindset that Chad inspires in everyone he meets. 
 
Back in 2010, Chad began multisport racing to simply help create a healthier lifestyle for himself. At the time, he had no idea that this shift in lifestyle would lead to an inspiring journey and experiences many cannot imagine. Chad largely accredits the completion of his first iron‐distance triathlon in Florida to a group of supportive and inspiring friends. However, it was Chad’s own unique athletic ability that helped him find a passion for endurance events. Shortly after completing Ultraman Florida, a three‐day, 320‐mile individual endurance event, Chad completed three more IRONMANs, numerous other triathlons, half marathons, full marathons, and several ultra‐running events.
 
chad eskerMost people consider the triathlon world to be an individual sport, but the way Chad goes about training and racing, it’s anything but that. Chad believes success can only be achieved when people share their hard work with others. If you ask any of his friends or even acquaintances, they will say what they notice about Chad is his smile and determination to help others achieve their dreams, before they even mention his athletic achievements. Chad’s passion for helping others is widely known in Wausau, a close‐knit Wisconsin community. Chad has trained Justin Mulder, a 19‐year‐old Wisconsin triathlete, to complete three half‐IRONMANs before the age of 19. For Chad, it’s not all about times, PRs and crossing the line first. In September 2016, Chad ran alongside an injured friend at IRONMAN Wisconsin. He ensured that she not only finished the race, but also did so with a smile on her face the entire way. Chad is also largely involved with the Wisconsin chapters of My Team Triumph, an nonprofit organization that assists physically disabled people in fulfilling their dreams of being able to cross the finish line, something many athletes take for granted. 
 
It should not come as a surprise that the small central Wisconsin community of Wausau is rallying around and supporting Chad Esker in his epic journey. This spring, May 5‐9, 2017, Chad and his dedicated crew (Arlin Bradfish, Nicholas Bradfish, Jason Lowman and Scott Schmoldt) will travel to Hawaii to complete the EPIC5 Challenge. 
 
Jason Lester and Richard Roll created the challenge when, in 2010, they completed the five iron‐distances over seven days. Lester’s reaction following this epic achievement was, “There were moments when we didn’t think we could go on. I think we tried to quit about 1,000 times.” This comes from a man who has competed at the IRONMAN World Championship as well as at the Ultraman Hawaii World Championship. Jason knows what tough is, and EPIC5 stands out spectacularly. This challenge, slightly modified from the original in 2010, consists of five full iron‐distance triathlons to be completed over five consecutive days, on five different Hawaiian islands. This May, Chad will be just one of 13 international participants, including only three others from the United States. Race directors predict there may be as few as eight who will actually make it to the start line in Kauai on day one due to injuries that may occur in training leading up to the grueling challenge. 
 
In case the Epic5 race structure alone doesn’t sound difficult enough, consider the unique challenges posed by the Hawaiian terrain and climate. Athletes will face open ocean swims where strong currents rip through the waters and sea life abounds. The daily 112‐mile bike is certain to be full of surprises as well, including strong tradewinds, heat, hills and inevitable mechanical issues. Of course, the athletes need to earn the title EPIC5 finisher by finally completing the 26.2 mile marathon run to finish each of the five days. Immediately after each run Chad, his crew and the other EPIC5 teams will break down bikes, pack up gear, return rental cars and catch a flight to travel to the next island to prepare to do it all over again on the next day’s leg of the challenge. Some nights, the schedule will allow just a meager two hours of sleep before the next leg begins. 
 
The EPIC5 Challenge truly represents a once‐in‐a‐lifetime opportunity, and one that Chad and his coach, Nicholas Bradfish, have been preparing for all year. This preparation includes, on a weekly basis, multiple 3-hour rides on a bike trainer (Wisconsin winters don’t facilitate outdoor riding), numerous 2-hour runs (often on a treadmill to avoid Wisconsin’s icy roads), and daily swim workouts (of which at least a few are 4,000‐5,000 yards in length). That’s just the physical groundwork. Chad and the crew are also responsible for planning out his nutrition plan, sleep schedule, equipment and gear needs, and how to keep him healthy to get to the start line for this five‐day adventure. The saying “it takes a village” fits exceptionally well to describe the preparation for this challenge. There is a selflessness about Chad and his crew that inspires others to want to help and give back; whether participating in training, providing meals, sending encouraging words or assisting through generous donations. While this endeavor won’t be easy, this essential support of our close‐knit community will help Chad take on the EPIC5 challenge and future endeavors. 
 
E Komo Mai: Welcome to Chad’s epic journey.  
 
Follow and support his journey on Facebook, Instagram and GoFundMe.

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