NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – North Salem High School graduate Justin Hellwinkel is training to run 100 miles through the Rocky Mountains as a participant in Colorado’s Leadville 100.
The course is run non-stop for 30 hours on a trail ranging from 10,000 to 12,500 feet in altitude. Participants leave Boulder at 4 a.m. Aug. 17 and finish the course by 10 a.m. the following day.
Running at high altitudes is fatiguing because there is not much oxygen, Hellwinkel explained. Only about 40 percent of the 600 people who have signed up are expected to finish within 30 hours.
Hellwinkel was athletic throughout his youth, participating in BMX racing and competing with the North Salem High School ski team. When he discovered he could run the Leadville 100 for the benefit of the American Brain Tumor Association, he seized the challenge.
A close friend, Ken Merz, had recently died from a brain tumor. “Kenny was like a second father to me,” said Hellwinkel. “He loved his family and never took a single day for granted.”
Hellwinkel feels he has an advantage because he has been living in Colorado since his 2007, so he is accustomed to the climate and the altitude. He studied molecular biology and human physiology at the University of Colorado after high school, and continued on to earn a master’s degree in neuroscience. Now he is applying to medical school.
Hellwinkel says he owes his choice of career to his experience in the OPTIONS program at North Salem High.
OPTIONS is an optional, full-year course designed to help seniors prepare for college and/or the workplace by teaming each student with an outside mentor, business person or professional who can familiarize the student with the ins and outs of the career.
In Hellwinkel’s case, his mentor was Dr. Evan Karas, an orthopedic specialist at Mount Kisco Medical Group.
“I was very involved in sports when I was growing up, and so I ended up with a lot of injuries,” he explained.
“Whenever I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, I was impressed by how happy patients seemed when they came out of his office," Hellwinkel said. "It touched me that this doctor had such a profound influence on people’s lives. It was a transformative experience for me.”
Hellwinkel said he shadowed Karas everywhere, including the clinic and operating room.
“He would explain each patient’s case to me," he said. "I learned about the everyday life of a physician. And it solidified my decision to go down that path.”
To find out more about Hellwinkel’s Race Across the Sky, or to contribute to his team, go to his blog.