Vail hosts firefighter challenge |

Vail hosts firefighter challenge

Jill Beathard
Vail CO Colorado
NWS Fire fight challenge 1 KA 6-11-11

Ford Park played host to an event Saturday known as the “toughest two minutes in sports.” Vail Fire Department is holding a Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge event for the second year, and one Vail team has a special motive to compete.

The challenge takes place at more than 25 locations in the U.S. and Canada throughout the year. Competitors must complete a course of five tasks, all while wearing full gear and a breathing apparatus.

Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said the challenge serves two purposes.

“It certainly showcases what firefighters do, what is expected of them, the job requirement to be able to lift, to pull,” Miller said. “But just as important if not most important to me, it really promotes firefighter fitness. … I’m big on fitness and my guys being fit, so this is a good way to promote this. We really get to be part of it and see firsthand how important it really is to stay fit.”

Two teams of Vail firefighters are competing this weekend, one to raise money for Nick Asoian, a friend and Vail native who was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2008. John Alley said the team plans to compete in 10 different challenges throughout the year and raise $1,000 in donations at each event.

“Nick has the most positive outlook on life,” Alley said. “His medical expenses have been racking up over the year, and the $10,000 is Nick’s average annual copays. So we’re barely scratching the surface to help out Nick.

Team Nick Asoian is working with the Vail Valley Charitable Fund in supporting Asoian, as well.

“The support from the valley’s been amazing,” Asoian said. “And it’s cool to see people from other fire departments in other cities, other states, buying my gear.”

Asoian said the team also has created a coupon book to raise money for the Vail Valley Charitable Fund that he hopes to start putting out annually.

“I’d like to keep my name on it as a brand. I grew u p here, graduated from Battle Mountain High School, so fortunately or unfortunately my name’s throughout the valley,” he said. “So I’d like to continue raising money and then give money to other people that need it when I’m healthy.”

Alley said the competitors on the team would like to cut their individual times down to 1 minute, 50 seconds to qualify for the world championships in November. At last year’s Vail event, he and fellow team member Todd Burtar came in at about 3:00. On Saturday, they completed the course in 2:21 and 2:23, respectively.

“This is the worst I’ve felt after any of them,” Alley said. “The thing that keeps me pushing is knowing that we’re doing it for a cause, for Nick. And as bad as I feel right now, it’s still nothing compared to what Nick’s been through.”

Alley and Burtar recently started training together at the Vail Cascade. They have a month off before their next competition, so with the time to train and with the lower elevations at the future challenges, they expect success in cutting their time.

Miller said the Vail event is held at the highest altitude of any combat challenge in the country.

“Last year we had about 65 individuals,” Miller said. “I think we had less this year for two reasons. One is it’s a little earlier in the year and a lot of people are held up fighting wildfires. And two is last year we had people from seven different states, and I think the altitude scared them away.”

Courtney Van Marter, of the Westminster Fire Department, has been competing for four years and placed seventh at worlds the past two years. She plans to compete in three events this year before the worlds in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in November. She finished first individually in the women’s category Saturday.

“I love the event. I love Vail. It’s gorgeous. I mean, can you get a much better view?” she said, pointing at the mountains to the east of Ford Park. “You get up on that tower, and you’re thinking, ‘Am I really looking at this right now?’ The altitude does do a number on me.”

John Woolery, of Omaha, Neb., ran in the featured race against Bill Gates, of the Air Force Academy. Woolery also has competed for four years and placed third individually in the men’s category.

“I love Colorado,” he said. “That’s why I come out here. It’s beautiful country. I have family out here. Unfortunately I had to race against Bill Gates. But I made a little vacation out of it. I brought my family.”

The competition continues Sunday with the team and tandem competitions starting at 9 a.m. Asoian said he hopes more people will come out to watch the competitors Sunday .

Alley said Team Nick Asoian has received a lot of support from the Scott challenge, other fire departments and Miller.

“It’s a great cause,” Alley said. “The Nick Asoian project has motivated the other guys to compete. If anybody’s off they try to tag along. It’s been a lot of fun. It helps us to stay physically fit, but it’s also nice to use our skills to give back to the community in some way.”

Jill Beathard is an intern at the Vail Daily. Email comments about this story to

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