"The Amazing Race" begins Sept. 26 on CBS with a 90-minute season premiere.
If she doesn’t capture the $1 million prize, Andie DeKroon still considers herself a winner.
DeKroon, a Forsyth County mother of 10, is one of 22 people who journeyed across the globe as part of the CBS reality show, "The Amazing Race."
The real prize for DeKroon, however, was getting to participate with 21-year-old Jenna Sykes, who she gave up for adoption at birth.
It was “easily the happiest moment of my life,” DeKroon said.
The two connected through letters less than two years ago. When DeKroon learned Sykes wanted to be a contestant on "Amazing Race," she thought “wouldn’t this be neat way for us to get to know each other.”
“I kind of started playing with the idea and finally just asked her outright,” she said. “It was just a dream come true. Just for me, the opportunity to spend time with her and to get to know her on a deeper level than I would have ever had the chance.”
Viewers will have to tune in to the show, which premiers Sept. 26, to see which of the 11 teams wins the $1 million.
But getting to experience the cultures, physical and mental challenges and unforgettable events with her birth daughter was worth more than the prize.
“We know each other very well, as you can imagine, up to the good and the bad things. I think we’ll always be friends and always be in touch,” DeKroon said.
“After 21 years of missing her ... you know, sometimes I’d look over at her and said I can’t believe I’m with her.”
The two trained separately for the race, DeKroon at her Forsyth home and Sykes at the University of Georgia, where she’s a telecommunications student. They discussed their strengths and weaknesses ahead of time so they would be prepared for roadblocks, or tasks in which only one team member could compete.
DeKroon knows how to drive a stick shift, an ability that’s challenged some contestants in seasons past. She also is a strong swimmer, long-distance runner and speaks several languages.
Sykes is a fast sprinter, has an outgoing personality and knows her way around an ocean. What one lacked, the other made up for, DeKroon said, though preparations and learning about each other before the race could take them only so far.
“I wanted her to be proud of me and she wanted me to be proud of her,” DeKroon said of their relationship before the competition. “It got a little more real on the race when you’re hot and sweaty and running around and doing crazy things.
"But the good thing is that both of us, I think, we handled the stress really well and it never got awkward or tense between us.”
There were some mistakes and one misunderstanding along the way, DeKroon said. While both women were big fans of the show before applying,
it did little to prepare them for actually racing against other teams in foreign countries.
“When you’re watching it, you don’t get the clear understanding of what it’s like to make decisions when you’re sleep deprived and dehydrated and in really hot or cold weather,” she said.
“When you’re sitting on your couch at home all comfortable, you just don’t understand ... it was just such a different life experience that you’ve never had before.”
During the month DeKroon was away, her mother-in-law, sister and husband helped care of her 10 children, who range in age from 19 months to 18 years old.
“My husband and my children were just like, ‘You have to do this. We’re not going to let you not do this,’” DeKroon said. “By the end I was sort of aching for them ... and my husband.
"You know, we never have been apart like that, and he’s definitely my best friend and biggest supporter, and it was just so odd not to be able to talk to them and know what was going on in their lives.”
Before the race began, Sykes came to Forsyth County with her adoptive mother and got to meet the whole DeKroon family.
“They’ve always known about Jenna. I’ve never hid that from them,” DeKroon said. “They were so excited to get to know how she was and get to know about her. When the race thing came up, they just thought it was the neatest thing in the world and they were very excited.”
DeKroon joked she hopes her children maintain that excitement as the season unfolds.
“I think they’re going to give me a really hard time if I make mistakes,” she said. “That was on my mind a lot on the race, like ‘I can’t embarrass my children here.’”
In races past, conflicts have occurred between some teams, but DeKroon spoke highly of her competitors.
“We loved all the other teams and made some, what I believe, will be lifelong friendships,” she said. “Being with that group of people, I just think so highly of ... running the race with them was so much fun.
"And I think Jenna and I put our hearts into that big time and it was a great experience.”