Jasper Stenstrom carries at least 60 extra pounds when he dons his firefighting gear, which he compares to a full-body oven mitt.
“The gear doesn’t let air escape,” said Stenstrom, a 26-year-old firefighter with Graham Fire & Rescue. “Once it heats up around your body, you start sweating pretty good.”
In September, Stenstrom put on his gear to participate in the Portland Firefighter Stairclimb. He took first place in the race to climb 40 flights, with a time of 6 minutes, 54 seconds.
The Portland event is one of a handful of stair-climbs across the country to which Stenstrom travels every year, dedicating his time, strength and skill to raising money for charities.
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Portland’s event raises funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a cause close to Stenstrom, whose friend’s wife lives with the disease.
Stenstrom sees stair-climbing as a way to lend his everyday skills to a larger cause.
“I like to use the strength that I have and translate it into something positive,” he said.
Since he began in 2013, he has competed in 15 stair-climbs in the United States and Canada. Out-of-town events cost him an average of $1,500 in expenses.
He participates annually in the 69-floor Scott Firefighter Stairclimb in Seattle, which supports the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
In March, he traveled to New York to join 342 firefighters in a climb to honor the firefighters lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“The New York City climb is my favorite event,” Stenstrom said. “They only let 343 firefighters climb” — the number of firefighters killed — “because each firefighter (symbolically) carries one of the fallen up to the top.”
He took first place in this year’s event, racing up 72 floors in 14 minutes, 52 seconds.
In the weeks before an event, Stenstroms trains in the stairwells of Tacoma’s 27-floor Hotel Murano. He does at least five runs, averaging 2 minutes, 30 seconds from bottom to top.
For him, climbing stairs is as much about mental strength as it is about physicality.
“You’re climbing these stairs, you have a mask on, it’s hard to breathe, and you really have to get your mind straight to continue to keep climbing,” he said.
Stenstrom has raised $17,000 for charity through climbs. He plans to raise more in Seattle in December and at the New York climb in March 2017.
As much as he climbs for foundations, Stenstrom says he also climbs to benefit his future and that of his comrades.
“Firefighters have a huge risk of getting cancer, more so than the general population,” Stenstrom said. “Anything I can do now to help people out to raise money for research with hopefully help people that I know as well as myself in the future.”