Getting down and dirty
By CRISTINA KUMKA STAFF WRITER | December 01,2009
CRISTINA KUMKA / RUTLAND HERALD
U.S Olympic wrestling hopeful and Army reservist Leigh Jaynes chops wood for a resident of Lower Michigan Road in Pittsfield Monday afternoon as part of one of resident endurance promoter Joe Desena's training camps.
PITTSFIELD — They chopped wood while he contemplated what to make them do next.
Pittsfield's Joe Desena welcomed his latest group of challenge-seeking athletes to his 50-acre Amee Farm, base camp and adjoining properties this week — the nation's top wrestlers vying for spots on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2012.
All four wrestlers, three women and one man, at the endurance camp Monday were of different weight classes, but each had the same goal — determined not to give up no matter what Desena threw their way.
The Olympic hopefuls, sponsored by the New York Athletic Club and most living at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., didn't know what to expect or when they would get a break.
It started Saturday with four hours of rock climbing and five hours of chopping wood shortly after stepping off a plane in Rutland.
At 5 a.m. Sunday, Desena put the trainees through "farm cardio" — lifting, stacking, chopping and cleaning for local farmers, and on Desena's neighbors' properties — then moving onto tasks performed in his internationally-known annual ultimate endurance test called "Death Race."
The wrestlers took at least a 6-mile climb up a mountain, hauling tires and water-logged pipes through swamps and under barbed wire, said 25-year-old Jenna Pavlik of Delaware, a part-time teacher and medal-winning wrestler on the national team for the past two years.
By Monday afternoon, the wrestlers had racked up 10 hours of chopped wood, had stretched and sweated through 90-minute hot yoga classes and swam and cross-trained at Middlebury College for hours.
Then they ran, hiked or lifted their way back to the Pittsfield barn where they were staying.
Pavlik, a stocky 158-pound freestyle wrestler who chopped logs on Lower Michigan Road in the rain Monday, said when she started in the sport she was the only female high school wrestler in Delaware and she did it to keep up with her brother.
On Monday, her Olympic dream was what drove her to endure the rigor and pain of the unpredictable tasks.
"We're using muscles we don't use everyday," she said.
And, as in wrestling, the training was more a mental test than anything else and to Pavlik, it was all about "rolling with the punches."
"You can't control what the other person does, what the referee does, but your mental attitude doesn't have to change," Pavlik said.
JD Bergman, a 211-pound, three-time All-American at Ohio State University and a two-time national team member, said, "Rocky would start crying out here."
Noel Thompson, the chairman of wrestling at the New York Athletic Club, said he partnered with Desena after doing one of his races last summer, knowing it would put the athletes to the test.
"No question, I think that Joe brings a different, cutting-edge mental training that our wrestlers may not get outside of the wrestling mat," Thompson said. "It allows them to dig deep within themselves."
Desena, a Wall Street stock trader, said he paid to fly the athletes to his home in the Green Mountains that racers have started calling the endurance capital of the state, if not the nation.
Desena, along with race coordinator Andy Weinberg, created race production companies Peak Races and Peak Camps about two years ago, drawing national publicity and word-of-mouth clientele for their nearly unsurpassable endurance tests.
Athletes, executives and members of the military have participated in the companies' activities.
For Desena, it's always the same game, only with different players.
There's never an itinerary, diet regime or set plan.
"It puts everything into perspective," Desena said Monday, behind his yoga studio and brokerage outpost. "If I make you run 100 miles, you aren't going to complain about the grocery store not having your brand of bread."
Desena said the camps are ultimately meant to bring people back to the basics.
"People have lost the survival instinct we had 1,000 years ago," he said. "I just bring them back to that."
The last wrestler leaves Pittsfield on Wednesday.
For more information, go to www.peakraces.com or www.peakcamps.com.