Two Hernando medical professionals have returned home after competing on a four-man team of cyclists that successfully — but with injurious and scary mishaps — biked 3,000 miles in this month's 27th annual Race Across America.
They are among 250 men and women who mounted their two-wheelers in Oceanside, Calif., on June 11 and headed for the city dock in Annapolis, Md.
Team Macular Regeneration pedaled in at 11:49 p.m. Thursday after eight days and six hours on the road, averaging 15.19 miles per hour. The team consisted of Dr. James D. DeLuca, a dentist from Spring Hill; Dr. Robert E. Ebert, an internal medicine specialist from Spring Hill; Bo Webster, a triathlon coach from Odessa; and Brian Wilder, a certified public accountant in St. Petersburg.
The quartet made their charity the Macular Degeneration Foundation, which is seeking cures for the eye disease. They sent out requests for donations for their rides and also received support after the foundation spread the word about the team's effort.
Although all the donations have not come in, Ebert estimated they raised $3,000.
"We did train, and we were physically able to do the distance," Ebert, 52, said by phone Friday, awaking from a well-earned rest in the Washington, D.C., area.
The team rode in the four-man division in what Ebert described as a rotation relay, a leap frog race in which one rider was required to be on the road at all times. Chase cars fronted and followed them, along with a traveling RV for downtime since no off hours or off days were scheduled.
Mountainous terrain was one of their challenges. "This was a first for our Florida flatlanders," Ebert said.
Only 98 hours into the race, in New Mexico, the recreational vehicle driver grew sleepy and pulled off the highway into what was soft sand. In the ensuing lurch, the resting Wilder cracked two ribs.
Ebert suffered a hairline fracture to his wrist in a fall. The break inhibited his ability to shift gears, he said.
Webster had to be hydrated in New Mexico. Further eastward, he fell on a downhill ride, picking up scrapes and brush burns to his face and shoulders.
They encountered a low-pressure weather system from Kansas to Maryland, hitting them with rain, hail and thunderstorms.
But the ride continued.
"One thing that really kept us together was the support team," Ebert said. The team of 10 included a nurse, massage therapist, mechanics and a bike store owner.
But the riders themselves brought their own physical endurance to the event.
DeLuca is a two-time Ironman triathlon competitor and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Ebert has run two triathlons and enjoys mountain biking.
Webster has a long list of athletic accomplishments, having run his first triathlon in 1981, competed in his first Ironman competition in 1987 and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2004.
Wilder has completed more than 100 triathlons and won the Sports Marketing Florida Amateur Master Sprint Tri Series in 1991.
Said Ebert of the Race Across America experience: "What a wonderful country we belong to. You really can't appreciate the grandeur until you bike it — 14 states, the pictures of the Appalachians, the small towns. There's no place like home."
Race results had not been posted as of Sunday. Team Macular Regeneration raced in the age 50-59 category.