Watch: Female soldier attempting record runs mile in 80-pound bomb disposal suit
Army Lt. Ashley Sorensen gives a thumbs-up moments before her attempt to break the record time for running a mile in an 80-pound bomb disposal unit suit.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — Some athletes compete in suits that are aerodynamic. Ashley Sorensen's happens to be bomb-resistant.
Wearing an 80-pound green-and-black explosive ordnance disposal suit, including a helmet, the Army first lieutenant from Schofield Barracks set an apparent new female world record for a 1-mile run in the bomb suit Monday morning.
Sorensen, 25, chugged four times around the Clarence T.C. Ching Field track at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, hitting the finish line at 11 minutes and 6 seconds to the cheers of fellow soldiers, cutting more than two minutes off the best time.
The Milwaukee native read a news story 18 months ago about a female soldier setting the world record in Germany. According to a Stars and Stripes story, that time was 13 minutes, 14 seconds.
"My first sergeant was like, ‘You can beat that,'" Sorensen recalled.
Sorensen, who is with the 706th EOD Company, has been practicing ever since, running once or twice a week in the bulky suit and even competing in a 5K run in it in May.
"I think I'm still a little bit in shock that there's going to be a little certificate coming to me saying that I'm going to be in the Guinness Book of World Records," Sorensen said after the run. "I've been working hard and waiting a long time, so it feels good."
There's not exactly a huge field of bomb-suit competitors, much less female competitors.
Only about 5 percent of Sorensen's higher headquarters in Hawaii, the 303rd EOD Battalion, is female.
The bomb-suit runs have caught on a little more on the male side. At the time that the female soldier set the former 1-mile record in Germany, a male soldier on the same base beat the time of a Navy EOD technician from Florida.
Sorensen said she gets some strange looks while running in a bomb suit.
"I think the first thing they think is, ‘Is that a girl?' because usually when they think of military people doing stuff, they think of men, and a lot of people don't even know that there are women in EOD. It's still a surprise to some," she said.
"So I think that's the first thing they think. They probably think I'm a little crazy, and then usually they are pretty impressed and I get a pretty good clap out of it."
Lt. Col. Mark Faria, commander of the 303rd Battalion, said female EOD bomb technicians do everything that their male counterparts do. "And they do it just as well," he added.
But running in a bomb suit isn't one of those things.
"Normally, we're not running in them," Faria said. "Normally, we're walking, and we have to keep a calm head in what we're doing and focus on what we're doing, so running is usually not part of that."
The bulk and weight of the suit make any running at all an accomplishment in and of itself.
Eighteen layers of Kevlar, a chest protection plate, a back support plate and a 16-pound helmet with an internal fan to keep the mask fog-free go into the suits, the Army said.
"The first thing is, you can't run normally because you have a big plate right in the front that keeps you from having any sort of knee lift," Sorensen said. "Most people, when they run with weight, there's nothing wrapped around your legs, so (the bomb suit) is restricting your leg movement. Each step is twice as hard."
Sorensen made the run toting nearly 50 percent of her 170-pound body weight.
Faria predicted that Sorensen, an Olympic-caliber athlete, would "absolutely crush" the old record.
She played rugby at West Point and was offered a co-captain position on the military Combined Services Team before she was assigned to Hawaii.
Sorensen also was invited to try out for the Olympic bobsled national development team but focused on her EOD career instead, the Army said.
Sorensen hasn't been on a combat deployment as an EOD technician. Hawaii is her first duty station, and she was with another unit when the 706th deployed to eastern Afghanistan for a year, returning about 10 months ago.
Staff Sgt. Samuel Harris, 25, who was on that deployment, said he got up close and personal with improvised explosive devices probably 30 times in a bomb suit, including working to render harmless 220 pounds of explosives placed in a culvert beneath a road.
"It's pretty nerve-wracking," he said. "I know what I'm looking for, and I know what I'm doing in my job, so it's a little easier to do that. But it's nerve-wracking."