During the inaugural Gulf Coast Interstate (GCI) Relay 2013 — billed as the longest relay in the South —the United States Sports Academy’s campus in Daphne, Ala., served as one of five major transition areas for the 178 participants on Friday, April 5.

Runners with the GCI Relay team, "IRun with Robert" take a moment to pose with the Academy's Dr. Steve Butler (center), who led the organization of the university as a major transition area for the event.

After the first two-thirds of the 263-mile course from New Orleans to Pensacola Beach, Fla., took its physical and mental toll on the cycling and running team members, many expressed gratitude for the hot showers, a large room to sleep in, hot coffee, and helpful Academy volunteers.

Suanne White-Spunner said, after already running three legs of the race, the Academy was a perfect rest stop. “This is a unique place,” said the Mobile, Ala., resident. “This is the first place in a run I’ve ever been on where we didn’t have to sleep back-to-back in the van or on the ground.”

After her stop, Maureen Vandevender reported she was “refreshed.” “This is my first race like this,” the Mobile resident said. “I took a hot shower and now I think I can finish the race. It’s so nice of the Academy to do this.”

The Academy had nearly two-dozen volunteers from its faculty and staff to help the GCI Relay participants, which included 64 cyclists and 114 runners. The race teams had access to bicycle repairs, bathrooms, showers, food and drinks, a resting area, and parking during their stop along the route.

The race started in New Orleans on Thursday, April 4 and crossed four states—Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—before ending in Pensacola Beach, Fla., on Saturday April 6. The event was the first one of its kind in history to be sanctioned by USA Cycling.

In all 114 runners and 64 cyclists participated in the inaugural 263-mile GCI Relay that the Academy served as a founding sponsor.

“When I discovered the Academy was right along the route of the relay, I was excited about the shared interest and love of sports,” said Sarah Sadd, GCI Relay Race Director. “It was completely serendipitous that the Academy’s campus was the perfect location for a transition area. I’m very excited to partner with the Academy for this inaugural event and for many years to come.”

The running and cycling teams travelled through Daphne between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, April 5. The first runner to make it to the Academy campus was 49-year-old Jimmy Baker. The Houston resident ran the 8.28-mile leg from the USS Alabama Battleship along the causeway on Mobile Bay to the Academy in Daphne. There were 36 legs in all for the running teams that included six or 12 runners.

“Seriously, I was keeping a lookout for alligators,” said Baker, a semi-truck driver, who was running for the T-1000 team. “My legs are too short for all of this uphill stuff but I’m glad I did it. I wouldn’t miss this race for the world.”

John Murray, a 54-year-old cyclist from Pensacola, Fla., and Megan Bonit, a 27-year-old runner from Phoenix, agreed that the biggest improvement for next year’s relay should be more noticeable course markers. Murray’s cycling team got turned around in downtown Mobile and Bonit accidentally ended up on the Bay Way Bridge that is part of Interstate 10 that crosses over Mobile Bay before an Alabama Highway Patrol officer helped get her back on course.

“The marker was a little obscure,” explained Bonit, a physical therapist. “But I’ve really liked this race. It’s exciting.”

The Gulf Coast relay crossed started in New Orleans and crossed through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida before ending at Pensacola Beach, Fla.

Dr. Stephen Butler, the Academy’s Dean of Instructional Design and Technology and Chief Information Officer, and Matthew Cope, Director of Operations, led the Academy volunteers for the GCI Relay.

“We look forward to being part of GCI Relay’s great race again next year,” Butler said. “It was a positive experience for everyone involved.”

To view more photos of the Gulf Coast Interstate cycling and running relay event, visit the Academy and GCI Relay Facebook pages.

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, accredited, special mission sports university created to serve the nation and the world with programs in instruction, research and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call 251-626-3303 or visit the Academy’s website www.ussa.edu.