Why This Firefighter Runs Races While Wearing 50 Pounds of Gear

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Courtesy of Jake Sinkiewicz

Ever considered running a 5k, a half-marathon or a marathon? We’ve all been there at some point. You’ve thought about it, hoping you could check it off your bucket list or that perhaps the onerous training might get you in shape, but whether you can actually talk yourself into it is a different story. But have you ever considered running the same race in 50 pounds of extra clothing? Impossible, you’d say. That’s exactly what Jake Sinkiewicz’s friend told him, fueling his desire to both prove his friend wrong and raise awareness for firefighters everywhere afflicted by the same thing: cancer.

“As a little boy, it was just looking at lights on the firetruck and seeing fires,” Jake says. “I didn’t know the risks that were associated with the profession.” Neither did his father who was a career fireman for 9 years before retiring early and moving to Chapel Hill.

Once Jake saw what others were doing to raise awareness, he knew he had to find a way to make an impact himself. When he found out about Code 3 For A Cure, he learned more about the adverse effects of his profession on his health than he had intended. The prevalence of cancer in firefighters was new information to him. “Learning that was kind of shocking,” he says.

Code 3 For A Cure, whose name comes from the firefighting code for an emergency response, is an organization founded by a three-time cancer survivor, Lorenzo Abundiz, who spent 27 years as a career firefighter only to be diagnosed with a rare form of cancer right before he was about to get married. The organization has devoted itself to raising awareness and providing financial assistance for those firefighters who are not covered under workers compensation, which unfortunately, is most career firefighters.

As for Jake, he blames the firefighter mentality for the lack of concern for the health of firefighters everywhere. “It used to be, the more soot you had on your face, the better off you were,” Jake said, “The fire service is evolving; it’s just evolving slowly.”

Greater awareness is the key to speed up the process of change. Enter Jake with his seemingly impossible goal to run marathons in full firefighter gear. “Without the gear, I wouldn’t run the races,” he says, “You’re not going to fail with all the kids cheering you on.”

Though the high fives from adoring kids is a major perk, he’s trudging on with 50 pounds of extra weight to inspire people to take a second glance at the well-being of firefighters, not to mention raising money for those in need. “I want my fellow firefighters to know support is out there. My biggest fear is that a firefighter is struggling, and they should know they’re not in the battle alone.”

If you’re in the crowd or participating in the Tar Heel 10-Miler this weekend, look out for Jake in full firefighting gear. (He’s known to carry lots of snacks and never runs out of high fives.) You can do your part to help firefighters across the country by donating on Jake’s page for Code 3 For A Cure.

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Martha Upton

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