Zach Tapac and Spike Kane celebrate their arrival in Ketchikan after unofficially completing the Race to Alaska in 2016. Tapac and Kane were part of the original Team Alula crew and are both paralyzed from their armpits down due to neck injuries. (Daniel Evens/R2AK)

Zach Tapac and Spike Kane celebrate their arrival in Ketchikan after unofficially completing the Race to Alaska in 2016. Tapac and Kane were part of the original Team Alula crew and are both paralyzed from their armpits down due to neck injuries. (Daniel Evens/R2AK)

A Great Big Story: Race to Alaska team featured in documentary

PORT TOWNSEND — Team Alula, a team originally composed of three paraplegic sailors, was a crowd favorite in the 2016 Race to Alaska and is now the subject of a short documentary on the online platform Great Big Story as part of a collaboration with CNN.

The documentary was released online Thursday morning and is the first in a 12-film series called “Really Great Big Stories” that will be released throughout the year on the Great Big Story website at www.greatbigstory.com.

Jake Beattie, executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center and the founder of the Race to Alaska, said he was approached by the filmmakers after they saw an article about the 2015 Race to Alaska in Outdoor magazine.

“They asked us for some compelling stories,” Beattie said. “Team Alula ended up being one of the more compelling.”

The 23-minute documentary short follows Team Alula — which was made up of Spike Kane of Liverpool, Zach Tapac from Hawaii and South African Bruno Hansen — on the 750-mile race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska, last summer.

“When they applied, at no point did they mention they were in wheelchairs,” Beattie said. “Spike said it’s because we never asked.”

All three men on Team Alula were experienced sailors and well-known adaptive athletes in competitive surfing.

“They’ve all done amazing things,” Beattie said. “It was a lesson for me in what they must go through every day with people telling them that they can’t do something.”

Beattie said Team Alula was a fan favorite from the beginning of the race. Racers crossing the finish line would often ask to see how the three men were doing, he said.

“These guys are impressive as individuals,” Beattie said. “Last year, there were so many people rooting for them.”

However, as is shown in the documentary, Hansen left the team in Campbell River in British Columbia — leaving Kane and Tapac unable to finish the race.

Beattie said he still gets emotional thinking about the text he got from Kane that day, asking for help to finish the race, even though it would officially disqualify Team Alula from the Race to Alaska.

“It was amazing that by the end of that night, two racers had signed up to help,” Beattie said. “It was just this moment of human connection. For them, it was all about the spirit that Team Alula embodied.”

Seattle-based computer engineer Morgan Tedrow, who had just made it to Ketchikan with his team Mail Order Bride, was the first to join Team Alula.

The team finished the race with a second volunteer sailor, Mark Eastham, who replaced Tedrow in Bella Bella, B.C.

Team Alula arrived in Ketchikan in July after 16 days and 10 hours of sailing, making them — unofficially — the 21st boat to finish in 2016.

The documentary was filmed with the help of the Race to Alaska staff, the film company Waterlust and Alaska Aerial Media as well as staff from CNN and Great Big Story.

“I set my alarm for early this morning so I could watch it before I went to work,” Beattie said. “I’m so close to their story, it was more like looking at a family album.”

The documentary can be viewed for free at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Alulastory.

Great Big Story is an online video network based in New York City and owned by Turner Media, which also owns CNN.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.

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