(Article by Stephen Wall, as published on PE.com)
As an astronaut, Jon McBride explored the far reaches of the earth.
But he said piloting the Space Shuttle Challenger was about as difficult as finishing the Fireball Run, a 2,500-mile adventure race that landed in Riverside Saturday, Sept. 28. The event aims to help recover missing children.
“This was about as tough,” said McBride, 70, who flew the Challenger in 1984. “As astronauts, we train a couple years for a mission. Here, you wake up every morning and are assigned a mission.”
The Fireball Run pitted more than 40 teams that were given clues to solve and tasks to accomplish in 14 cities in four states over eight days. The race, which began Sept. 20 in Longmont, Colo., made stops in New Mexico, Arizona, El Centro and Banning before finishing in downtown Riverside.
McBride, who lives in Cocoa, Fla., was one of the contestants in the race. Other participants included a champion wakeboarder, a Lamborghini test driver, politicians and entrepreneurs.
Created in 2007, the event has helped recover 38 missing children, according to organizers. Each year, 900,000 kids go missing in the United States, said JJ Sanchez, executive producer of the event. Of those, 400,000 are recovered and 500,000 remain missing, he said.
The teams passed out fliers of the missing children at gas stations and restaurants where they stopped on the trip. On Saturday, they handed fliers to spectators along the parade route.
“Putting these kids’ faces in front of as many eyes as possible is what’s going to bring these kids home,” said TJ Redman, one of the participants. Redman, 41, was dressed like “Captain Chaos,” a character from the 1981 comedy, “The Cannonball Run.”
The last challenge on Saturday was finding a piece of Amelia Earhart’s plane that crashed in Hawaii in 1937 in her first attempt to fly around the world. The artifact was in the catacombs of the Mission Inn.
Riverside Mayor William “Rusty” Bailey and Glenn Rowden, president of Champion Electric, completed the race in a Riverside Public Utilities Chevy Volt. They drove a hybrid car to highlight the city’s environmental sustainability programs.
“It was exhilarating, exhausting and exciting at the same time,” Bailey said. “It was good people having a great time for the right cause of finding missing children across the country.”
Bailey and Rowden passed out fliers with information about 7-year-old Fidelmar Cadenas, who has been missing from Riverside since November 2006 and is believed to be in Mexico.
After completing their tasks, the teams participated in a parade that started on Orange Street next to the Mission Inn and finished at Main Street and University Avenue. Each vehicle was announced as it crossed the finish line.
The day’s festivities also included a classic car show and live bands. Another highlight was a display of vehicles that appeared in movies and TV shows such as Batman, Knight Rider, Transformers, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future.
Christina Riles, 32, of Moreno Valley, was mesmerized by the original Batmobile from the Batman TV series.
“I think it’s awesome,” Riles said as she looked at the car. “I love the detail. It has the red bat phone inside the car. I want to know if the buttons actually work.”
John Valdez Sr., who was with Riles, brought his nephew and niece and their kids to the event.
“With San Bernardino losing Route 66, I think this is a great thing,” said Valdez, 50, of Riverside.
A few yards away, Danny Casillas, 30, admired a white Camaro dedicated to the memory of the 9/11 first responders whose names were written on the sides of the vehicle.
“This gets all the family together and makes the city come together,” said Casillas, accompanied by his parents and other relatives. “They need to have more events like this.”