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Death Race an unusual one

Don Schwartz takes on the Death Race



Sea to Sky locals take on some pretty interesting challenges and events, from world championship adventure races to 24-hour competitions on skis or snowboards, to mountain bike slopestyle competitions.

But the Death Race (the website is literally, is in a class of its own.

Don Schwartz, at 40 and in the best shape of his life after nine months of CrossFit, couldn't be more excited. His first challenge, as one of 300 to sign up for the race, is to get information about the event in a local newspaper, and Pique was only too happy to comply.

Schwartz found out about the Pittsfield, Vermont-based event from an American friend, who is an ex army ranger, Iraq war veteran and member of the FBI's hostage rescue team. Schwartz, meanwhile, is a co-owner and head guide for Powder Mountain Catskiing/Heliskiing, a former competitive snowboardcross racer, and the current world barefoot waterskiing champion in the senior men's "trick" category.

He has no idea what the Death Race challenge will be for 2011, but knows all about what happened in 2010. And then signed up anyway.

"About 10 days in advance the participants got the final instructions in Greek in their email, so their first challenge was translating the guide, which said to be at the start line with a mountain bike and some kind of woodcutting implement," he said.

The gear also included $50 in pennies, a 10-pound bag of onions, a Greek-to-English dictionary and a knife.

A complete list of tasks is at, but the short version includes carrying a wood bridge over a mountain, carrying gravel back the other way, chopping wood, trekking, swimming, eating onions, eating more onions, translating more Greek text, pumping up inner tubes, carrying sand and manure, tubing down a river, and, when it was over, 100 push-ups.

The races usually have a mountain climbing and mental component, and in 2010 it was all about managing $50 in pennies.

One year, participants had to go to the top of a mountain and draw a diagram for an assembled piece of Lego they found at the peak, and then rebuild the shape exactly at the finish line - if they got it wrong they would have to go back. Another year, the participants had to memorize the names of 10 U.S. presidents and then provide those names at the finish line.

There was a 10 per cent completion rate last year, and another 200 are taking part in 2011.

Schwartz said he's excited about the 24-hour challenge on June 24.

"A part of it is that they challenge you mentally, while seeing what you can do physically," he said. "The big part of this race is getting through the application as to why you should be in the race, it's worded as if pain and suffering are part of every race, and lack of sleep on top of everything else - and with two kids that didn't sleep, I've had lots of practice."

On the physical side, Schwartz is also confident that he can take the abuse.

"Take anything that you might consider punishing and physically abusive, then barefoot waterskiing is right on top of that list," he said. The real breakthrough, he said, was being able to compete this year, crash and not be too sore.

"That's how I know right now I'm in the best physical shape of my life," he said. "I just turned 40 and decided it was time to go out and test everything and see what I can really do.

"This is an interesting way to find out what we're really capable of, beyond going to the gym and just lifting some weights up and down."

The races are solo but participants do work together at times, and if someone drops out then they share their gear, food and water with the others.