Snowshoeing has the reputation of being an excruciating sport, even when performed recreationally rather than competitively. The sport is known to test the cardiovascular system, core strength, and total-body conditioning thanks to the extra equipment and the unpredictable terrain during the winter.
So, what drives athletes to compete in a sport that involves running up and down mountains, through multiple feet of snow, all while donning cumbersome footwear?
For Chief Warrant Officer 3 David S. Kleparek, human resources technician with the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Army Reserve Aviation Command, his drive comes from the thrill of the challenge and his pursuit of superior physical fitness - part of the Army's Holistic Health and Fitness integrated approach.
Kleparek has a history of participating in endurance events, such as the 70-hour Death Race and multiple marathons. Nevertheless, after victoriously completing them, he regularly finds himself searching for the next big challenge.
"I feel the fulfilling events are the ones that take my entire body's effort and attention for a great period of time," Kleparek said. "So, after marathon distances, I decided ultra-events were the next logical step."
Subsequently, on Feb. 28, Kleparek was one of 17 registered participants to show up and compete in the Snow Devil Snowshoe Race: Winter Ultra in the Green Mountains of Vermont.
During the race, Kleparek recalls having a lot of time to think, something that can often mentally challenge athletes, but he refused to lose control of his emotional and mental state.
"I know how running for hours can quickly lead to anger and depression," he said. "But I never considered the idea of quitting. I had trained so hard and traveled so far that even if I wasn't going to make the cutoff time, I was still going to go until the end of the race."
On the evening of Feb. 29, Kleparek's mental and physical stamina paid off when he placed first in the snowshoe race after completing 100 miles in 36 hours, 54 minutes, and 30 seconds. Needless to say, he was also the only competitor to complete all 100 miles, and the second in the history of the race.
Master Sgt. John Follett, senior human resources noncommissioned officer for the 11th ECAB, recalls telling Kleparek he was "a nut for registering for the race." However, there was never a doubt in Follett's mind that Kleparek would succeed.
"When he told me he was the only person to finish the race, I told him 'You're a machine,'" Follett said. "His response to me was, 'I'm a very broken machine at the moment.'"
"Nevertheless, I think I speak for everyone when I say it's amazing to witness Kleparek's mental capacity to push through the physical anguish, hunger, and sleep deprivation to finish the race," he added.
Capt. Paul A. Castellini, Headquarters and Headquarters commander, agreed with Follett.
"This is quite an accomplishment, and it shows his dedication, fitness, and ability to persevere in the face of adversity," he said. "Under the Army's new physical fitness requirements, you need to be fit and resilient in more categories, which means a greater commitment to health and fitness. Mr. Kleparek's ability to endure this race, in freezing and snowy conditions, proves he is capable of excelling in anything that comes his way."
Kleparek's next challenge will be to compete in the Peak Bloodroot Ultra, another 100-mile trail race also in Vermont. According to Kleparek, he intends to continue challenging his limits while pushing himself into uncomfortable places. At the same time, he hopes to motivate his Soldiers to be more physically active by stepping outside of their comfort zone.
The most significant piece of advice he offers to those considering ultra-endurance events is not to let excuses enter your mind.
"I don't expect people to try to do what I do because it's taken me a decade or more of training to get to this point," Kleparek said. "Start at your level, but increase how often you train. After you've gradually improved, try to compete in more challenging events progressively. If you find you have energy left over after an event, you know you could have done more. Stick to a plan, and you'll be surprised with yourself after just a couple of months."
For now, Kleparek will continue to train by running six to eight miles three days a week, cross-train with weights, and loop Colorado's Manitou Incline for 12 straight hours.
"I want to prepare my mind for what I'm going to do next, whether in combat or hard endurance events," he said. "As Soldiers, we have to maintain a certain level of fitness to be ready to move and fight, and this is what motivates me to be that Soldier and make healthier decisions."