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Climb Mount Fuji four times in 24 hours? Sailors raise the stakes to help kids

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Doubt plagued Navy Lt. Doug Szwarc early in his run up Japan’s Mount Fuji.

Sweat dripped off him, and after a couple steep grades and inclines, he worried about his ability to conquer Japan’s highest peak once, let alone fulfill his pledge to scale it three times in 24 hours.

But the voice of doubt clammed up, allowing Szwarc and a Commander Sub Group 7 colleague to complete the triple climb with 22 minutes to spare, raising about $4,500 for charity.

But if you thought last summer’s goal was steep, this year’s cops a whole new altitude.

Szwarc, with a new crew, is tackling Fuji this September with the motto "four in 24," or four climbs in 24 hours.

"We couldn’t just do ‘three times’ again — there has to be some kind of twist," Szwarc said in Yokosuka last week. "And I’m just not creative enough to think of anything else."

Moreover, there are four Yokosuka-based climbers — Lt. Rob Lovern, Chief Petty Officer Michael Raney and Luke Nelson, Yokosuka MWR Fitness Programs Coordinator.

Doing the race means practicing what he preaches, Nelson said Monday.

"As the organizer of fitness events, I’m always asking people to push themselves and step outside their comfort zone," Nelson said. "This is a way of leading by example."

Nelson is also no stranger to physical ardor; the triathlete will compete at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii this October.

Raney, too, is a seasoned endurance athlete, former All-Navy runner and frequent marathoner.

A gym locker brought him into the mix, as his locker is next to Szwarc’s and he happened to "chime into" a conversation about Fuji one day, he said.

"Doug told me about the climb and I thought ‘That sounds cool. I’d like to get in on that,’" Raney said.

Lovern was under way and not available for an interview, but is an experienced climber, according to Szwarc. Lovern is also, luckily, a medical professional.

All pledged to make four round trips from Fuji’s 5th station, for a grand total of almost 20,000 feet up and down — or as the Web site says — equivalent to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in a single day.

But the challenge is not "merely an act of vanity," stresses Raney. The group wants to double last year’s donations to $10,000, with half going to the Shunkou Gakuen Orphanage in Yokosuka city, and half to the South Carolina-based Guardian ad Litem Program, which recruits, trains and supervises advocates for children involved in cases of abuse or neglect.

Last year’s climb bought the orphanage eight bikes, a washing machine and a DVD projector, Szwarc said.

"Making it up there was not just an ego trip; it was the greatest thing to be able to give those kids gifts last year," Szwarc said.

And with a fresh, new Web site able to accept online donations, the organizations will hopefully be "awestruck" by what they can raise, he added.

Granted, this year’s climb will be tougher for several reasons.

Beyond the standard sleep deprivation, altitude sickness and Fuji’s famous tempestuous weather, at least last year’s triple trip climbers were able to take leisurely breaks and watch the sunrise, Szwarc said. A quadruple run will be more strenuous, not to mention that the Sept. 1 climb is after the official close of climbing season, and some of the water vendors and other services might be closed.

But naysayers hold no sway with the group. Nor does the famous saying about Fuji that goes something like "If you never climb Mount Fuji you are a fool, and if you climb it more than once you are a great fool."

"Yes, I’ve heard that phrase," Szwarc said. "In fact, I’ve heard it a lot."

For more information about Fujiclimb 2008 and to donate, visit www.fujiclimb.com/.


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