Darien duo survives 'Death Race"™
Some people test their physical limits by opting for an extra set of pushups at the gym, running a marathon or holding their breath just a little bit longer as they push through their morning swim.
Others test their limits with barbed wire, 5-gallon buckets of pennies and chowing down onions by the pound.
That's the way things go at the Death Race.
"People describe it as part Jackass, part Survivor, part Iron Man and part Amazing Race," said Darienite David Roofthooft. He and fellow Darienite Will Homes were two of 19 people who completed this year's race. There were more than 100 people who registered to compete in the event, and 91 who actually began the race.
"It's supposed to be this 24-hour endurance race, sort of survival of the fittest. But this year it went on quite a bit longer than 24 hours," Roofthooft said.
The competition was set to begin at 4 a.m. on June 26, but the race's organizers surprised participants by beginning the first challenge at 8 p.m. the evening before instead.
"This is all part of their ploy to deprive you of your sleep and basically get you off your game, and really out of your comfort zone," Roofthooft said. "The whole race is designed to break you down mentally. And so the tasks began at 8 o'clock with lifting. Basically, they took us up to the top of a 2,000-foot mountain and told us we were going to get started."
Participants were split into teams of eight. Within their teams, they were given wooden footbridges, weighing between 150 and 200 pounds, Roofthooft said.
"We had to carry those over our heads, and also have to carry these buckets that contained money, which we had to carry the whole time," he said. The 5-gallon buckets were filled with $50 in pennies, which weighed about 30 pounds. Group members either had to carry the bridge or two buckets for eight hours.
"It was sort of like moving the pain around. Once you carried the bridge on one shoulder for a while, you wanted to carry it on the other shoulder. Then the buckets -- you were just trying to get relief," he said.
After putting the bridges down, participants had to continue carrying the pennies as they completed a laundry list of tasks, including several more hikes up and down the mountain, splitting wood, diving into murky water to retrieve bags of money and dirt and eating a pound of onions.
"The whole time they're telling you to keep up and mentally trying to break you down," Roofthooft said. "Totally like boot camp."
There were times the pair wondered whether they would be able to continue. But as some of the other participants began dropping out, they continued on.
"I would call it a roller coaster of how confident we felt. At some points we felt really good. At some points we felt really low. We never knew what was coming next and we sort of just kept moving forward," Homes said.
"I remember being really worried Saturday morning after going since 8 the night before, and feeling the bottoms of my feet red hot and my shins aching. My lower legs were aching and uncomfortable, and I felt like my biggest challenge was just not to get a blister," Homes said.
"We were exhausted," he said. "There were people who were having trouble talking they were so exhausted. We heard later from other people about having hallucinations."
The duo didn't pace themselves to come in at the front of the pack.
"We just paced ourselves to finish," Homes said.
And they did finish, after surviving more than one round of onion eating, diving through frigid water for more than an hour and of course a pop quiz -- in Greek.
"After descending the mountain again ... we had to hike another mile to the next task point where we were told to stand in this cold and murky lake. They said to take your book of Greek and stand in the lake," Roofthooft said. "It's now the morning of Day Two. We've been going for 30 hours at this point. The idea what that at this point, you had to translate a word on this board, where there are five different words in Greek.
"By some small miracle I was looking through the book, found an appendix and found a word that looked a little like that word. I looked it up, and hopefully, I said, `Goat.' The guy told me I was right and Will and I just looked at each other. In that hour, in the freezing water, I didn't have a brain cell left," he said.
But the duo moved on to yet another challenge, with the help of their friend Jim Pardo, another Darienite who aided them via radio throughout the ordeal. The final task in the race, after 36 hours, was to complete 100 pushups.
"We were so full of pride and adrenaline frankly that everyone did it," he said.
"We loved it," Homes said. "Even though it was hard, we were enjoying it.
"Frustration is the thing that's going to get you down and people who are successful in this race stay positive, have smiles on their faces and that's what we try to do. I think that was one of the key things that helped us through this, and not getting upset over the little things like the bug bite or the mud all over you or the scratches from the barbed wire section. We just had to let it go and try to enjoy the moment," he said.
"I think people thought we were a little crazy because we were laughing half the time," Roofthooft said. "But it was so hard you couldn't not laugh."
"It's really about living. It's truly about experiencing life at its fullest and its most extreme. Can you do something that is just so hard and seemingly beyond the range of possibility for you normally? It's about finding out what you have, and whether you have what it takes," Roofthooft said.
"We just want to be challenged," Homes said. "Part of life is putting yourself in difficult positions and trying to work through it. And I would say it helps you feel alive to experience something difficult and work through it. We're not thrill seekers, like people who jump out of planes or anything like that. We just like a physical challenge."
And now that they have an idea of just what to expect, the two men are planning to make the trip again next year to participate in the fifth annual Death Race -- and next time they will be keeping pace to finish toward the beginning of the pack.