JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Don Davey loves a challenge.
But a bike race across the country? Even Davey thought it was a crazy idea when he heard about it. He still does.
Later this month, Davey, a former Jaguars defensive tackle, will take part in a 3,000-mile bike race from California to Maryland in the Race Across America. He and a team of seven others in support of the One Mile Leadership Project will bike through the desert, up and down mountains, across time zones and through all different types of weather.
It’s not a leisurely afternoon ride.
It’s a race, all day, all night, all week.
“This is gonna be probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done, certainly the toughest thing I’ve ever done in the endurance racing aspect of things,” Davey said. “But you know what, I’m looking forward to the challenge. I love a new challenge.”
Davey’s team is doing it to raise awareness and funds for military veterans who commit suicide. According to data from the Department of Veteran affairs, from 1999 to 2010, roughly 22 veterans per day died by suicide. That number has dropped since, with the VA reporting last year that total has declined to 17.6 per day.
One is too many though.
It’s also a chance for Davey to honor his father, Kenneth, who died earlier this year.
“My father passed away in January, and I said, you know what, this is a great tribute to my dad,” Davey said. “I can pay tribute to my dad’s legacy, I can help a great cause and I can challenge myself in a way that I’ve never been challenged before. So, I’m excited about the opportunity.”
The plan is for Davey to ride 22 minutes before his teammate takes over at for 22 minutes. The two will alternate every 22 minutes over the course of six hours a day. The other three two-man clusters in Davey’s team will take over at different time periods in the day.
If all goes well, which Davey knows it won’t, the eight-rider squad and its caravan of 16 other support members will reach Annapolis, Mary, six days after it leaves Oceanside, Calif. on June 19.
Davey spent eight seven seasons in the NFL, including the first four in Jaguars franchise history (1995-98) with the team. Life after the NFL has been more business than competition, but Davey certainly found ways to fill that void.
How serious of an athlete is Davey, and how did he segue into life after football? Like most professional athletes, Davey needed something to keep his competitive streak going.
“What I really missed, what I struggled with, was the idea of competing, right? I mean, I’ve been a competitor my whole life. And now suddenly, there was nothing on the calendar to get ready for,” he said. “There was no training camp, there was no offseason, there was no game, there was no in-season, there was no Super Bowl to prepare for. And I really missed that.”
Filling the void started small … humbly.
Former Jaguars athletic trainer Michael Ryan suggested that Davey look at competing in short sprint triathlons to fill that hole. Those include a quarter-mile ocean swim, a 15-mile bike ride and a 5K run. Davey’s first attempt was an event in Hannah Park and he said he nearly drowned during the ocean swim because of a cramp.
“I remember thinking to myself, getting passed by all these people … the Jaguars used to pay me a lot of money to be in shape as a professional athlete,” Davey said. “These weekend warriors, they’ve achieved a level of fitness I’ve never dreamed of. So, I was embarrassed. Here I was one of only 1,500 people in the world who could play in the NFL, but just competing against my neighbors in a sprint triathlon, I got my butt kicked.”
Davey said that he told Ryan that he planned to compete in an Ironman triathlon in five years or less after he retired from the NFL. Not only did Davey reach that goal, he has done 10 of them, including the pinnacle of them all, the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Davey was just the second former NFL player to complete that event when he went in 2014.
The Race Across America is something else entirely.
Davey said he’s not only riding for financial support for the team’s cause, although the group has already raised more than $220,000, he’s riding to make their cause known and heard.
“It’s all about telling these stories of these military veterans. They’re fighting for us overseas, in the Far East, in the Middle East, all over the world to protect us and keep us all safe. We want to highlight them. Thank them, tell their stories. And most importantly, let them know that there’s resources available to them as they transition into the real world,” Davey said.
“Me as an employer I have over 500 employees through my companies, a lot of military vets that we’ve hired over the years and they’re fantastic employees. They’re guys that have been through a lot in their lives. … And so, we want to spread that word as well and encourage more employers to give these guys an opportunity as they made a sacrifice for us.”