By Romi Bean

DENVER (CBS4) – Jerry Schemmel spent 18 season broadcasting Denver Nuggets games and then spent 10 years as the play-by-play announcer for Colorado Rockies games. Now he’s about to embark on the challenge of a lifetime: a 3,000 mile cross-country known as Race Across America, or R.A.A.M.

Schemmel has competed in R.A.A.M once before, but this is the first time he’s attempting the feat solo.

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“I did the race in 2015 as part of a relay, and it was sort of a test to see if I wanted to and could do it as a solo racer. For a couple years I didn’t think it was feasible and then I started thinking if other people have done it, why not give it a shot? So I convinced myself a few years back to give it a shot,” Schemmel said.

Jerry Schemmel (credit: CBS)

Schemmel will traverse through the diverse terrain of 12 states, starting in California and ending in Maryland.  He will battle everything from 100 degree desert heat to climbing 170,000 vertical feet. To complete the race in time, he’ll need to register at least 250 miles each day.

“If you want to finish this thing in 12 days, you’ve got be in the saddle, you’ve got to pedal. So my plan is to be riding at least 18 hours a day,” Schemmel explained. “The sleep plan is to try sleep from midnight to 2 or 3 a.m. each morning and then get back in the saddle by 3 am.”

Unlike the European Grand Tours, R.A.A.M. is not a stage race. Once the clock starts, it doesn’t stop until the finish line. It is the ultimate test of physical strength and mental fortitude.

“After about three days of doing this, it becomes psychological. You just have to tell yourself, ‘I’ve got to be disciplined’. When that alarm goes off, you have to get up, and even though you only slept two hours you have to start pedaling again. It becomes a race of the mind more than the bicycle after a while,” Schemmel said.

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For Jerry, the key to fighting the mental fatigue is remembering why he’s on the bike. His goal is to raise funds and awareness for the Kyle Pease Foundation.

“I think that’s what keeps a lot of us going and motivated. We think back on why we are doing this. I’m not doing this for personal glory, I’m doing this to raise money for what I think is an incredible effort that helps athletes with disabilities. I think about those athletes a lot. I’m able bodied and I’m healthy, and I can’t imagine having special equipment or trying to do a race without a limb, which is what those athletes do,” Schemmel said

Schemmel’s love for cycling and his desire to help others are intertwined. Both born from tragedy. Schemmel was aboard United Airlines Flight 232 when it crashed into a corn field in Sioux City, Iowa in 1989.

Smoke billows from the fuselage. (credit: CBS)

Smoke billows from the fuselage. (credit: CBS)

“I think a part of me died in Sioux City, Iowa in that plane crash, and cycling makes me feel alive again. I found that out and then I realized I could do this to help other people, and it’s just a great combination.”

After being given a second chance at life, Jerry hasn’t wasted a moment. He now lives not just for himself but also for those who weren’t so lucky that tragic day in Iowa.

“When 112 people died and I survived without any serious injuries, it gave me a lot of incentive. I remember telling myself a couple days after the crash, ‘You’re going to live your life as best you can. You’re not going to waste this thing. You got a second chance that all these other people didn’t get.’ Everybody around me died,” Schemmel said. “This is how I kind of look at it. Everybody dies, but not everybody really lives. I got my life given back to me. I want to really live.”

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For more information on Jerry’s race and his fundraising efforts, visit jerryschemmel.com or teamkpease.org.

Romi Bean