The neon lights of Las Vegas, Nev., have wielded a magnetic attraction over generations of those who dream of fortune and lust. But two Richmond students had much more favorable odds of winning $10,000 than most of their fellow travelers during a trip there last weekend.
While card sharks were mourning their ravaged wallets, senior Ben Sommerfeld and junior Cameron Lee were dashing down the Vegas Strip, stopping only to gather elusive clues.
"Everyone's gawking at you and you're just sprinting madly," Sommerfeld said. "As soon as the light turns [green], you're halfway across the street before anyone else has moved."
Sommerfeld and Lee's team, "How To Lose A Race In 10 Ways: A Bromantic Comedy," competed against 120 other teams in the Great Urban Race National Championship, which they had qualified for several weeks earlier with a seventh-place finish in a similar event in Philadelphia, Penn.
The trip to Philadelphia - a city that, like Las Vegas, neither of them had ever visited - was borne out of a desire to escape Richmond a couple times each semester and a mutual affection for the "Amazing Race," which they could not compete in because Lee is not yet 21-years-old.
"Little did we know, one month later, we'd be flying to Las Vegas and competing for $10,000," Sommerfeld said.
But after qualifying for the championship event, a trip to Las Vegas was not inevitable. It was only after much debate and an anonymous "thumbs-up/thumbs-down" decision that Sommerfeld and Lee made up their minds.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that we'll never have again," Sommerfeld said. "We don't necessarily have the money now, but we won't have the time later."
Every team in the national event had to complete 11 tasks, which included taking pictures at landmarks, shooting a pool ball and eating a bowl of spaghetti without the use of hands.
Some teams competed using "ground support teams," which provided them with answers to clues and helped them to find locations.
But all the Richmond team had in its arsenal was Lee's iPhone, which he used to find information while Sommerfeld phoned home to Wisconsin to ask for help with clues involving everything from anniversary gifts to NASCAR.
A Friday night of preparation before the event, along with a detailed map provided by Lee, gave them an early advantage when the starting gun sounded Saturday.
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Barreling through service alleys and back doors of buildings, they surged to any early lead. Not a second was wasted as they tried to solve clues while waiting for a Gold Line bus.
Their only delay was an enthusiastic security guard at Caesar's Palace, who warned all teams of the dire consequences of running through his establishment.
After recording six grueling miles over three hours, Sommerfeld and Lee finished in 21st place, ahead of many of the teams of tri-athletes employing far superior technology.
Sommerfeld and Lee attributed their success to their intelligence, preparedness and adherence to one core principle - enjoying the experience.
Even though they did not finish among the top eight teams, who then would have then advanced for a chance to win the $10,000 prize, Sommerfeld and Lee relished their weekend.
A dinner that evening at the top of the Stratosphere gave them an opportunity to trace the entire path of the race, which included nearly all of the city's casinos and hotels, and reflect upon their day.
"It's not that often you get to compete in a National Championship," Lee said.
Contact staff writer Jimmy Young at email@example.com
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