Pine Valley’s John Stankiewicz, a firefighter with the Rescue 1 unit at Fourth Street and Girard Avenue, traveled to Vermont a year ago to compete in a 48-hour endurance challenge while raising money for the family of a colleague who had died of cancer.
Stankiewicz was 16 hours into the Spartan Death Race when he learned of another tragedy — the sudden death of a friend and fellow firefighter, Jack Slivinski. He decided to end his quest to finish.
While he was there, he lifted boulders and put them back down — for seven hours.
He also had to run across an open field with a lighted candle.
“If it goes out,” he said, “you have to start over again.”
Stankiewicz also swam in a cold pond, hauled logs up a mountain, took part in memorization challenges and walked upstream in the dark while carrying heavy gear and wearing only a headlamp to see.
“It hurt. It was cold. Hypothermia was setting in. My teeth were chattering. But it was great. I really enjoyed it,” he said of the experience. “The people up there are outstanding. They’re good people.”
A year later, Stankiewicz, 38, is preparing to head back to the small town of Pittsfield, Vt. This year’s challenge will begin on June 15 and last for as many as 48 hours.
As part of the race, he’s raising money for a firefighter who is battling throat cancer. He’s seeking donations by asking fellow firefighters to join a block pool similar to the kind popular during the Super Bowl.
Instead of prizes awarded based on the game score, the winners are those who guess how many hours Stankiewicz will last — from zero to 48. The winners, though, will likely give back the money for the cause.
According to event organizers, 85 percent to 90 percent of the male and female participants have failed to make it through the annual race since it debuted in 2005.
Joe Decker, a fitness trainer from California, has won the race two years in a row.
To even have a chance of joining the select number of people who have completed the race, Stankiewicz is engaged in intense training.
“I don’t want to say, ‘I have to give up,’ ” he said. “The whole race is about not quitting, about pushing yourself and not giving up and finishing the race. I like doing it. It’s a lot of fun. I want to see how far I can push myself.”
Stankiewicz is part of a group called Philly Fire that competes in challenging but fun physical events that usually have charitable components.
To get an idea of how challenging the Spartan Death Race is, look to its Web site address — youmaydie.com.
The physical and mental challenges include races on obstacle courses and trails. Participants might have to chop wood, carry 20-pound tree stumps, lift 30-pound rocks and crawl through mud under barbed wire, all for hours at a time. Some seemingly less-taxing tasks include building a fire and cutting a bushel of onions.
Organizers hope participants quit. One Spartan Death Race worker named Anthony last year told weary competitors to hang out at a bonfire if they couldn’t go on.
“I can’t fault anyone for leaving,” Stankiewicz said.
Looking back to last year’s race, Stankiewicz credited a support team from the Cherry Hill (N.J.) Fire Department with offering encouragement.
“They were outstanding, those guys,” he said.
Stankiewicz, a fitness trainer at Bustleton’s Rocco Mixed Martial Arts Academy, has prepared in a variety of ways because Spartan Death Race organizers don’t announce challenges in advance.
“You don’t know, so I find as many stupid things that I can to do,” he said. “Every year, the race is different. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I have ideas and strategies.”
You might see him pushing a wheelbarrow full of heavy items or carrying 100 pounds of logs in a backpack in the park.
“People look at you funny, but who cares,” he said.
In the parking lot of Rocco MMA, he carries bricks and uses a rope to pull and drag heavy tires. He flips a 600-pound tire he calls “Big Boy” and a 250-pound tire he refers to as “Baby.” He also uses a sledgehammer on the tires and jump on and off them.
Keep in mind that Stankiewicz and the others have to perform these kinds of grueling tasks for up to 48 hours.
“There’s no sleep. It’s a mind game,” he said.
How does Stankiewicz plan to stay awake for two full days while engaging in physically demanding challenges?
“Don’t close my eyes,” he said. ••EndFragment