A group of six Arlington Heights firefighters completed one of the most grueling of endurance sports: running the Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim to Rim.

Photos courtesy of Ross Chapman, in foreground

“It’s definitely a one of a kind event that gets a lot coverage in running magazines and websites,” says Lt. Ross Chapman, who has completed five Ironman competitions among other endurance events. “It’s approximately 43 miles with about 11,500 feet of total elevation gain.”

Chapman ran the canyon with these firefighters: Colin Ellison, Ryan Loftus, Darren Morton, Matt Sigler and Jake Witkowski. Individually, they all have completed a variety of endurance races, including marathons, triathlons, Ironman competitions, Alpine Ascents and Crossfit, to name a few.

But the Canyon had its unique challenges. For starters, it was a mix of running, walking and hiking. They started at 3 a.m. and set out from the South Rim, running down into the canyon. Along the way they had spectacular views but also experienced a drop in elevation and rise in temperature.

They followed the trail to the North Rim and then back up to the start at the South Rim. The trail took them past waterfalls and streams, as well as the vivid layers of ancient rocks, and all in a day, or a little over 14 hours.

“The weather was probably 40 degrees and clear when we started,” Chapman says. “The stars and the moon are incredible in the canyon, which was one of the most memorable parts of the trip for me.”

The other memorable part about running the Rim to Rim to Rim, was doing it together. But their athleticism and fitness, as well as their drive to challenge themselves, reflects the culture in the fire department, Chapman says.

“AHFD has come a long way in my 17 years here,” Chapman says. “We used to eat a lot of really heavy and unhealthy meals.  Today almost every station you would go to would be eating a salad for lunch and something healthy for dinner.

“The fire department and the Foreign Fire Insurance Tax Board have made significant financial investments into our stations,” he adds, “to give us top of the line workout equipment, which has gone a long way towards improving the fitness of our members which translates to better performance on the street.”

Chapman himself is certified as a trainer and instructor with the MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) Division 1 Technical Rescue Team, and as a Rescue Squad Officer with Illinois Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1. In other words, he specializes in technical rescues that involve rope access and height services.

“I enjoy the combination of physical and mental challenge which I think is something firefighting, technical rescue and endurance sports have in common,” Chapman says. “There’s a lot of correlation between not giving up in a race — and not giving up when faced with a challenge on the fireground.”

All six firefighters are back at their respective fire stations — Chapman serves as a Lieutenant on Engine 3, which covers the South end of Arlington Heights — after successfully completing this rare, ultra-endurance event, one that they likely will not forget.

“I’m so fortunate to work with these amazing people,” Chapman says, “but also be able to do things like this with great people in amazing places. “I hope I can continue to do that for a long time!”





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