Wednesday, June 20, 2007

USA: Wabash man enters race along Santa Fe Trail

Wabash Plain Dealer

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 10:44 AM EDT

It extends nearly 1,200 miles, crosses five states, and was the nation's first international commercial highway. But in September, tens of thousands will converge on the Santa Fe Trail to witness an 515-mile, 13-day adventure known as the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race.

Among the nearly 100 participants will be rural Wabash resident Mike Urschel. He and his 11-year-old purebred Arabian, Josh, will make their ninth endurance ride when the race begins in Sante Fe, N.M., on Sept. 3. Their journey will end in Missouri on Sept. 15.

Urschel is no stranger to horses or riding. At 55, he currently holds four spots in the World Championship Barrel Racing competition set for Oct. 29, in Augusta, Ga.

He owns four other purebred Arabians and also boards an American Paint. The home he shares with his "companion, partner and best friend," Bev Staats, is nestled back a mile lane amid hay fields and forest.

Urschel considers himself a simple man. He's been employed by 1st Ayd Corporation for the past 20 years, selling industrial maintenance supplies. He has a grown son and twin daughters and leads a relatively quiet life.

For the last five or six years Urschel has had some physical problems to deal with. He had several serious shoulder injuries from a fall he took and shattered his heel from a 15-foot fall. Just when it looked like he was on the road to recovery, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Urschel's reaction to the news, however, was not what one might expect.

"I was diagnosed last March," he told the Plain Dealer. "But it's a relief finally knowing. I'm just thankful to be alive. Parkinson's doesn't really bother me because I like to stay active and that seems to be helping it."

He then added, "I get a little shaky at times, but the horses don't mind."

Kokomo neurologist Dr. Nancy Frappier has been caring for Urschel and encourages him to ride, he said, noting, "She told me it would be beneficial."

But optimistic or not, some things have gotten more difficult for Urschel. He's noticed he is not as steady as he used to be. There is some muscle stiffness at times, the memory tends to fade, and there are also those occasions when he is unable to speak.

"Sometimes it's a hard road to travel," he said.

"I guess that probably bothers me the most," he explained. "With my work I have to be able to talk to the customer."

But Urschel's optimism seems to never wane. Even at 55, he constantly looks ahead. He has ridden competitively in 43 rides, logging close to 2,000 miles. In 2001, he received recognition for having the best conditioned horse in 13 states. In the upcoming Santa Fe Trail race, he is the only Hoosier of the 78 that have qualified thus far.

"To finish is to win," he advocates.

He hopes to promote the sport of endurance riding and doesn't focus on his Parkinson's. "I'd rather be on the trail every day than sitting around doing nothing," he said.

Staats, who will travel with him to Santa Fe, will do his vet checks, when Urschel and Josh arrive at designated checkpoints.

"She's my pit crew," Urschel said.

Staats also remains encouraged by Urschel's attitude and likes the fact that Josh, who has suffered injuries in the past, will be on the long trail with him.

"His horse takes care of him," she said. "They take care of each other."

Urschel is seeking help to offset the cost of his $3,500 entry fee or other road expenses. Anyone interested in helping may send checks made out to "The Great Race" in care of First Farmers Bank & Trust, 1004 N. Cass St., Wabash, IN 46992.

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