National Ability Center provides challenge for athletes of all abilities |

National Ability Center provides challenge for athletes of all abilities

The Summit Challenge returns for its 10th year

By Griffin Adams
The Park Record

When Michael Ray crossed the finish line at the National Ability Center's Summit Challenge last year after more than nine hours of racing, he was elated.

"Hearing the cheers of the incredible NAC staff [was the best]," Ray said. "It was working and training and accomplishing a difficult goal."

On Saturday, Ray, along with hundreds of other riders of all ages and abilities, will flock to the National Ability Center in Park City for the 10th-annual Summit Challenge, which serves as one of the organization’s signature fundraisers.

The annual event will feature five courses, which includes a new 80-mile option to go along with the 16-, 50- and 100-mile ones, as well as the one-mile Discovery Loop. Each course takes riders through a fully-supported scenic route, which includes pit stops, of Summit and Wasatch counties.

"It's a great feeling to see all of our riders rallying together in support of athletes of all abilities and the National Ability Center's cycling and mountain bike programs," said Whitney Thompson, the Center's marketing manager. "The 80-mile course was developed in response to feedback from people who had tackled the 50 but felt they were not quite ready to move up to the full 100-mile course. With this new distance, they have a stepping stone to increase their mileage."

The Center estimates the event draws roughly 800 participants, including about 100 adaptive riders, as the Summit Challenge aims to be an all-inclusive event.

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"Nationally, one in five people will have a disability in their lifetime," Thompson said. "We aim to match that national ratio with adaptive riders making up one fifth of the participants in the Summit Challenge. So, riders of all abilities ride alongside each other as they take on challenges. Whether a rider has a disability or not, they are all stretching their limits in a supportive environment."

Ray, who is a Center ambassador, lost 25 percent of his brain function and experienced hemiplegias on his right side after a series of strokes. Even so, he's still been able to complete the Summit Challenge on a number of occasions, including last year's 52-mile course in roughly nine hours.

This time around, however, Ray hopes to tackle the 50-miler in less than six and a half hours.

"I wanted to do the Summit Challenge again because I am stronger this year and it helps me to work toward a goal," Ray said. "This year I want to finish the ride faster."

Thompson said the local community has been essential in growing the event for the last decade. Being the active town that Park City and its surrounding areas are, there was a natural connection between the Summit Challenge and Summit County residents.

"This is an awesome community to explore new routes, ride a little longer or just to be a part of something great," Thompson said. "Because the Summit Challenge supports the National Ability Center and it's cycling and mountain bike programs for people of all abilities, riding in the Summit Challenge is a great way to give back and ensure everyone — regardless of ability — has the opportunity to enjoy the outdoor resources of this amazing community."

Ray appreciates the National Ability Center for everything it’s done for him since his strokes, saying the Center's staff has been there for him every step of the way.

Learning to cycle has helped Ray in other aspects of his life, including being able to drive and being more sociable. He's grateful for events like the Summit Challenge to help him in those endeavors.

"My family and I are so very grateful for the programs at NAC and the compassionate staff," Ray said. "They celebrate my smallest accomplishments with me and all of those little accomplishments add up to a much more fulfilling life."

Registration for the Summit Challenge closes at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday night. Tickets are $75 — free for adaptive athletes — and there is no fundraising requirement. However, those interested in donating, registering or volunteering can visit the event's website at

Races begin at 7 a.m., with the Event Village opening at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning.