One of those individuals is a recent alumni of our high school junior rowing program. Alex Sitzman, SRA class of 2019, spent considerable time at the boathouse this past summer volunteering with the summer middle school rowing program. He was also keeping up with his training by partaking in a summer rowing program when he noticed David (Dave) DeWinter fiddling around with an erg and a backpack.
DeWinter was trying to figure out how to somewhat comfortably carry an erg for a challenge inspired by Matthew Disney- an ex-royal marine in the UK who hiked up three of the UK’s highest peaks to raise money for a cause important to him. DeWinter was applying the same idea to the local North Bend Triple Crown Challenge. DeWinter’s plan was to carry an erg up Mount Teneriffe, Mailbox Peak, and Mount Si in 24 hours while also erging the height of each mountain at the top to raise money for the scholarship fund in tandem with SRA’s Ergathon.
“Sammamish has been one of the biggest parts of my life for a long time,” Sitzman said while reflecting on why he wanted to join DeWinter in climbing three peaks with an erg on his back. “I’m going on almost seven years since I started rec (the middle school program at the time) there. It’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t part of SRA. The structure and team helped me develop as a person. I became so much more fit, and structured, and overall SRA improved every aspect of my life.” In addition to the personal gains Sitzman enjoyed, he saw first hand the impact of the scholarship fund on his friends’ lives and the opportunity it gave them to row. “ It was a personal objective for me to raise money for that (the scholarship fund) specifically. I’ve seen it’s impact first hand,” he said.
The few months leading up to October 12th at 1:00pm, the official start time of the Epic Mountain Rowing challenge, Alex had nothing but support from friends and family. Even though a few considered him a bit crazy they still gave him their full support.
Eventually October 12th did come and Alex flew from Oregon to Seattle after his Friday 6K test at practice. He prepared by eating a large bowl of pasta for breakfast and set out to tackle Mount Teneriffe first. Sitzman reported that Mount Teneriffe was nerve racking, but also helped him set a good pace. “I was feeling great all up Teneriffe. I started going up and knew I could keep a pretty fast pace,” he said.
It was Mailbox Peak, the second mountain, where he began to feel the fatigue set in. “Mailbox I had done before, and I remembered how unbelievably long it feels to do,” Sitzman mentioned. The boulder field near the top was incredibly hard for him to navigate, and he found that going up and down that section took a huge toll on his knees. His rests were more frequent, and he admitted that as he came down Mailbox Peak he realized he wasn’t getting in enough fuel. Eventually he made it down Mailbox and headed to his last mountain- Mount Si. He took a long break to give his knees a rest before starting his final ascent.
Going up Mount Si was slow. Sitzman was not on pace. By the time he reached the last tenth of the mountain, he had gotten to the point where his legs hurt, but that wasn’t what was slowing him down. He said he couldn’t get enough energy to pick up a leg up and move it forward. Somehow he persevered.
One thing that kept Sitzman moving was a message left on the Epic Mountain Rowing Instagram page by his friend Landon Fick. Fick, also on the Oregon State Crew Team, told Sitzman their rowing coach was watching Sitzman’s effort via social media and his GPS tracker. That truly shows the mental power a crew coach has over his or her rowers!
A little over 24 hours since the start of his journey Sitzman finished. There was no grand celebration or triumphant post-hike speech. Sitzman took off his pack with the erg, got in his moms car, and instantly fell asleep from his sheer exhaustion. That night he flew back to school, woke up for his 6:30am practice, and completed his Monday morning erg workout with the rest of his teammates like normal.
“It felt like a weird dream,” Sitzman said. A few teammates knew what he had done, and his coach was quite proud of his effort. His muscles were so sore at this point that a typical ten minute walk to class took him thirty minutes. All in all he recovered, and can now say he has completed the Triple Crown with an erg on his back in just over 24 hours. Together, he and DeWinter raised over $10,000 for the scholarship fund.