On a mission

— A North­east fire­man is rais­ing money and lit­er­ally go­ing the dis­tance to help a stricken col­league.

Pine Val­ley fire­man John Stankiewicz will raise money for a col­league with throat can­cer, and com­pete in the Spartan death race in Ver­mont in June. He trains for the in­tense 48 hours, dur­ing which he will not be al­lowed to sleep, by lift­ing 600 lb tires and do­ing in­tense car­dio workouts, Thursday, May 9, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


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. ••


You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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