COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - The city's firefighters have two
names, one on their uniform and one they've acquired over their
years on the job.
Denny Peffer is "Ironman," because he runs the Leadville 100
and the Pikes Peak Marathon. Tall, blonde Stacy Billapando is
Then there is Station 1 Battalion Chief R.C. Smith. He's
"I'm a big guy," Smith says matter-of-factly. "I'm the
biggest guy in the station."
There's no denying Smith is a large fellow. At 6 feet tall, he
weighs 280 pounds - and not all of it is muscle.
But that's not stopping the Colorado Springs firefighter from
plunging into an arena populated by the most elite in his field, an
event ESPN calls "the toughest two minutes in professional
It is the Combat Challenge, a grueling competition in which
firefighters race against each other and the clock to finish five
tasks, including climbing a five-story tower, hauling hose and
dragging a 175-pound dummy to the finish line.
The event has become a vehicle for Smith to demonstrate his
point: A fat man can be a fit one.
"Appearance is in no way connected to performance," said
Smith, who participated in his first Combat Challenge in November
and plans to go again this year.
His coach, fellow firefighter and paramedic Juliet "The Girl"
"People equate thinness with healthiness," said Draper, who
won the World Combat Challenge for women in 1999.
"But it's not a good gauge," she said. "R.C. is an example of
that. I'm an example of that."
Draper, who earned her nickname because she was one of only
three women in the fire department in 1997, stands 5 feet 9 inches
and weighs in the 180s.
Rather than focus on the numbers, she said people should pay
attention to their strength and functionality.
"I can't tell you how many thin people can't curl 10 pounds,"
Her message to Smith was, "don't let the roundness concern
It doesn't. It never has.
The oldest child in his family, Smith said he was doted on by
his parents and three uncles, who were thrilled they had a nephew.
"Being the oldest child, you're a pretty baby no matter what
you look like," he said.
With that, his self-confidence took root.
"I've never felt that being overweight was limiting," Smith
What does bother him is that so many people, especially women,
allow weight to limit themselves, comparing themselves to models
with the physiques of adolescent boys.
"How often is that naturally occurring?" he said. "People
just aren't built that way.
Somehow our perception of beauty is it has to be Twiggy with
breasts. Who invented that? You watch women torture themselves over
That's not Smith's style, especially not in a station where the
food never stops.
"I just don't struggle," Smith said cheerfully as he tucked
into a plate of chicken-and-sour cream enchiladas.
At least not when it comes to eating.
But he did his share of struggling when he first began training
for the 2002 Combat Challenge.
The first time he tried running to the top of a five-story tower
and back down, he ended up doubled over, blue in the face.
"R.C. almost threw up," said Peffer, the firefighter and
paramedic known as "Ironman" who was also a rookie in the
By November, Smith had improved so much he completed the
competition in 2 minutes and 43 seconds. The winning times are less
than 2 minutes.
Smith is in good hands to improve that time, working with
Draper, who won the woman's competition in 1999, and Billapando,
who placed third among females in 2001 and was the top American
finisher at the last competition.
Draper wants Smith to finish this year in 2 minutes and 15
seconds. She's confident he can do it.
"He's born for this event," she said.
On the Net:
Firefighter Combat Challenge:
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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