Tango Time

Doolittle family trains for another adventure race

Photo submitted to Times Observer Luc Doolittle warms up before the bicycling leg of the Tango.

The family that endures grueling adventure races together stays together.

For the Doolittle family of Brookville, the Kinzua Country Tango is a number of things. Most importantly, it’s a family event.

Ray Doolittle entered the first adventure race hosted by Thad Turner, then director of the Brookville YMCA, in 1999.

“Prior to any kind of a YMCA race, I was competing in high school swimming and track and so on,” he said. “I went from there into triathlons.”

“When Thad’s race came along, it was the perfect next step in challenging myself and having fun,” Doolittle said. “I started with that one. Aside from a couple years with illness or injury, I’ve been in the races ever since.”

Photo submitted to Times Observer Sharon, Erika, and Ray Doolittle run during the orienteering leg of the Tango.

For years, he ran solo, pushing himself and racing the clock.

Now 51, Ray competes with his wife, Sharon, and their three children who weren’t even alive when he ran his first adventure race.

They train together “quite a bit. We live out in the woods,” Ray said. “It’s natural just to say we’re going to run on the deer trails or bike on the dirt roads.”

Having a race that puts those kinds of activities together in competition “gives them something motivating to shoot for,” he said.

There is no shortage of runners in the family, but on Saturday, Ray will run the first leg — the half marathon.

Sharon has competed in the Tango for years, including going solo.

She is often in demand when Ray runs solo in the Brookville event. “Sharon is a natural orienteer,” Ray said. “Down here at Brookville, the competitive teams fight over her. She’s good at it.”

Like their father, the boys are involved in high school sports.

“Both boys started in YMCA swimming very young,” he said. “Now they’re both involved with YMCA and high school. They also do cross country and track.”

They both also participate in triathlons, and the whole family runs in a run-bike-run duathlong at Cook Forest.

“Luc (18) is a strong biker, loves climbing hills,” Doolittle said. “He’s been doing the bike and the kayak leg for at least three years now.”

Being the kayaker is sort of the short straw event for the house. “We don’t practice kayaking very much,” he said.

There has been talk of working on it. “We have some great friends who are tremendous kayakers,” Ray said. “That always seems to be on the back burner.”

“Calvin (16) has an edge in the swimming,” Ray said. “I would say it’s at least his third” Tango.

Calvin also takes the shorter running leg.

“Erika is 12,” Doolittle said. “She goes with Sharon and me on the orienteering… at least three years. She loves it. The more stream crossings and hill climbs the better.”

As if a 20-mile bike and seven miles of paddling aren’t likely to be enough, “Sometimes, if Luc is feeling good enough, he’ll join us on the orienteer,” he said.

The more the merrier.

Calvin had the best time in the swim last year, at 43 minutes for the 2.2 miles, and the family finished in third place in the open relay division with a total time of 7:36.

“Personally, it’s what keeps me motivated all year long,” Ray said. “I love training, but there are those days when you don’t feel like heading out the door.”

But the Doolittles aren’t out to win. “Awards are not important to us,” Ray said. “We all have times in mind, personal goals for ourselves. The big thing is, coming away feeling like we gave our best effort and having fun with each other.”

“They are a unique family… They enjoy each other so much,” Turner said. “It’s not like it’s his thing and the family’s getting dragged along. It’s a rare thing.”

He said there is another generation of Doolittles that is also involved in the race. “His support crew is his parents,” Turner said. “They’re three-generation Tango people.”

“The YMCA always values the family unit.” he said. “It seems today like there are so few events that a family could get in and enjoy together.”

“They are a great family,” Turner said. “They’ve been an inspiration to other people, too. There have been other families that have used it as a reason for a reunion.”

Doolittle is quick to point out that his is certainly not the only family that competes in the adventure races.

“We aren’t alone in families or teens from Brookville doing this sort of thing at Brookville’a race and at the Tango,” Ray said. “The Dave-and-Heidi Afton family brings their whole crew. John and Dana MacBeth and their kids, Dani and Braden. Erin Shiafone will orienteer and her daughter Sadie Shofestall will swim. There are lots of parents and high school kids involved.”

That is what it’s all about.

“It’s a huge honor and blessing to be able to share it with my family,” Doolittle said, “the best thing that I can imagine.”