SWOX firefighters gear up for 5K
Jeff Tribe/Tillsonburg News SWOX firefighters Jason Nigh (left) of Ingersoll and Brittany Russell (right) of Brownsville recently completed Hamilton’s Around The Bay 5K fundraising race in full bunker gear, on oxygen in under 37 minutes. To date, their unique efforts have raised over $1,600 for the Canadian Cancer Society.
The jury may still be out.
But on the face of it, running a five-kilometre road race in 75 pounds of firefighter gear, on oxygen, does seem a little crazy.
“Partially,” admitted SWOX firefighter Brittany Russell of Brownsville with a smile.
“Or just downright stupid,” added Ingersoll-based compatriot Jason Nigh with a laugh. “I just don’t know.”
The concept of a fundraising run at Hamilton’s Around The Bay Road Race kind of started off on a dare, admitted Nigh.
“I suggested it,” said Russell. “And he was like…”
“Let’s do it in gear,” Nigh completed.
Around The Bay is North America’s oldest road race claims the website, first run in 1894, three years before the Boston Marathon. Today, the 30K event is open to 9,000 competitors, many of whom are preparing for Boston’s marathon. It also features accompanying 30K and 5K fund-raising categories in support of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton Foundation.
Both Russell and Nigh lost their fathers to cancer (David Russell and John Nigh, respectively) and their geared-up path to the 5K fundraiser start line began with special permission from organizers for 100% of monies raised to return to Oxford County.
Their only concession to the fact they would in fact be running a road race was wearing running shoes, rather than firefighting boots.
“They would be too stiff to run in,” Nigh explained.
Even so, the rationality of their concept was challenged on the first training run, lining up with 100 pounds of extra protective gear including full mask.
“What have we got ourselves into?” Russell recalls thinking, prior to taking her first step.
Substituting lighter oxygen bottles for the original steel models cut the total by 25 pounds or so, but the remainder still represented an additional 60% of her body weight for Russell and roughly 40% for Nigh. Proportional challenges aside, she had something of a leg up on her male counterpart, based on a high school track and cross country career at East Elgin Secondary School and varsity cross county experience at Mohawk College. Nigh’s previous experience had largely amounted to, he admitted with a smile, a quick jog toward the fridge for a ‘pop’.
To say they attracted attention Sunday, March 30 at the 5K race’s starting line would be an understatement, with the prevailing consensus being they were in fact crazy.
“’You’re running in that?’” Russell paraphrased.
Their unique approach did however, make them fan favourites, said Nigh.
“We got quite the warm reception from the crowd. They helped encourage us.”
Russell was always little nervous before any race, and their shared Around The Bay was no different.
“But I was ready to go.”
The biggest challenge lay in the fact gear designed to protect firefighters from inherent dangers of fighting fires also retains body heat.
“With all that gear on, you just heat up so much,” said Nigh.
“It was challenging for sure, but like anything, you just have to get it into your head you can do it and you are doing it,” said Russell.
Nigh also credited the firefighters’ ‘buddy system’ training, combined with Russell’s skills as a motivator for keeping the pair moving forward.
“We just kept that mentality going.”
Their target time had been 45 minutes, but they were able to finish in 36:40, said Russell.
“And that was with a (oxygen) bottle change,” she said, adding a special ‘thank-you’ to SWOX firefighter Justin Abul who made the drive to Hamilton specifically to assist with the three-minute operation.
“Better than I thought it would be,” admitted Nigh. “That morning, I was like ‘what are we doing?’”
Their target amount was $1,000, but to date, Russell and Nigh have raised over $1,600 in their first – to be annual – fund-raising effort.
“Next year we’ll do better,” Russell concluded, musing aloud about a larger team or longer distance.
“We’ll make it bigger,” Nigh agreed. “Bigger and better.”