Americans and Vietnamese veterans and non-veterans comprise the Vietnam Challenge Team, a group dedicated to healing wounds leftover from the Vietnam War. Completed in January of 1998, the Challenge was an international athletic event intended to bridge the gap between citizens of the United States and Vietnam. The Vietnam Challenge was the third global event conceived by World T.E.A.M. (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports in five years. The hatred and anger sparked by the Vietnam War have existed as the fabric of the U.S./Vietnam relations for decades. The purpose of the Vietnam Challenge Team event was to forge a solution to this problem that is based on hope, reconciliation and peace.
Throughout 16 physically challenging days of riding, the participants in the Vietnam Challenge survived a 1,200-mile bicycle journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Both able-bodied and disabled veterans, men and women, cooperated to achieve their goal, a practical demonstration of the unifying nature of sports. Those who were physically unable to ride conventional bicycles rode hand cycles. Blind participants even mounted the back of tandem bicycles with sighted individuals as their guide in front. As a team united in solidarity, this caravan of bicyclists traversed the uneven countryside, conquering the Hai Van Pass, which is the most difficult mountain road in Vietnam. Together they accomplished a feat that not a single one would have perceived as being within the realm of possibility.
Yet, it was when Vietnam Challenge participants dismounted their bikes that they performed their greatest volunteer service in Vietnam. The men and women of the Challenge visited schools and rehabilitation facilities to enlighten and inform others about the reconciliation and hope that was the intent of their journey. It is in this aspect that the educational components of the Challenge continue to be realized. Those participants who returned to America now act as educated spokespersons on the issue of Vietnam as a country today and the betterment of relations between these two nations to ensure a harmonious future. Challenge volunteers dedicated to preserving the mission of the event have already given hundreds of presentations in 50 states and across continents.
The future looks promising for the legacy of the Challenge to continue. A television documentary about the event which aired on NBC in December, and is scheduled to be rebroadcast on April 17, brought the intensity and success of the Vietnam Challenge to millions of American homes. The film, Vietnam, Long Time Coming recently won the Directors Guild Award for best documentary. As an educational tool, medical exchanges will persist and classrooms will maintain correspondence via the Internet. The impact from the Challenge is unmistakably obvious when the more than 500 newspaper articles and planned celebrations to honor the Team are taken into account. Perhaps the most significant of the outcomes of the Vietnam Challenge is the orthotic brace and rehabilitation clinic at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi that will serve thousands of disabled people in Vietnam. Event fundraising made it possible for the World T.E.A.M. Sports organization to make a large donation of funds for the establishment of the hospital.