Say Cheese: Army Veteran Rackers Wins Odd Event

Kenny Rackers holds a replica cheese wheel high after his victory in Brockworth, England. Photo: Carl Court | AFP/Getty Images

Kenny Rackers wins legendary English cheese-chasing event.

Some people write bucket lists, while some get out and live them. Kenny Rackers was reviewing his list last New Year’s Eve and realized he had a lot of living to do.

A 28-year-old Army veteran and former Arena Football League player, Rackers’ active life was put on hold when he got busy with his real estate career in Colorado Springs, Colo. But choosing a goal wasn’t enough; Rackers decided he needed accountability and wanted to make a difference. Last winter, he started “One in a Million,” a social movement and documentary film project to help him accomplish his goals and inspire at least 1 million other people to accomplish theirs.

“Saying you want to do something is easy, accomplishing it is different,” Rackers says. “I want people to look at their life, look at their bucket list and work towards accomplishing their dreams.”

When Rackers first heard about the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake races in Brockworth, England, he knew it was his kind of race, but, like stinky cheese, it had been festering on his to-do list for six years. In the ultimate burst of New Year’s enthusiasm, Rackers thought up the idea for “One in a Million” and bought his plane ticket to go to London.

Cheese racing down Cooper’s Hill has been happening every spring in Brockworth, a small village in the county of Gloucestershire in southwest England, since at least the mid-1400s. (The event is thought to have its roots in a heathen festival to celebrate the return of spring.)

The event persevered through wars, food-rationing, bubonic plague and numerous injuries, until 2010, when health and safety concerns forced its cancelation after 15,000 rowdy spectators showed up to watch the 2009 races. Refusing to see their long-standing tradition go away, rebel cheese rollers staged an unofficial event in 2011 and the unsanctioned races have continued every May since then.

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Cooper’s Hill stands tall and steep in Brockworth, beckoning youths looking for a rite of passage and those seeking a challenge to run down its deceptively uneven grassy flanks, while chasing a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese. Competitors slip, somersault and tumble their way to the bottom in spectacular fashion during the bone-crunching races — and the first person to the bottom of the hill wins.

Cheese wheels, which have been supplied by the same local cheesemaker, Diana Smart, since 1988, have traditionally weighed about nine pounds and reportedly go as fast as 70 miles per hour down the hill. However, the cheese was replaced this year with a slightly slower-moving foam replica after police warned Smart she could be held liable if someone was injured or killed in the event.

To prepare, Rackers watched videos of the race from previous years. His training included lots of power and explosive work, hill running and track workouts. He also traveled to Brockworth early, so he could practice on the hill.

When he got there, he discovered that Cooper’s Hill is about 100 yards long and averages a 40 to 45 percent grade, steeper than most black diamond ski runs.

“Cooper’s Hill was steeper than anything I trained on, so it was really a shock,” Rackers says. “It was also anything but smooth, with divots, rocks and washed-out areas.”

Rackers showed up in England wanting to be the first American to win the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake and also become the first person to win both the downhill and uphill (no cheese chasing required) races in the same year. He succeeded and did so while wearing his stars-and-stripes racing suit.

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“I want to inspire others to try something unique,” Rackers says. “If people hear about an American trying and winning crazy races around the world, maybe they’ll want to try something new.”

Rackers’ metric for influencing 1 million people is to have a million, or more, people watch the “One in a Million” documentary (oneinamillionproject.com), currently still in production. Additional goals include running his first official 5K race, taking up rock climbing and climbing Longs Peak in Colorado.

“I want people to believe that they are one in a million,” he says, “and that their life, goals and dreams are unique.”

This piece first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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