Western track and field athlete James Jasperson broke the world record for the fastest mile ran while wearing structural firefighter gear during an all-comers meet in Shoreline, Washington on June 6.
He ran a mile time of 5:51.4 to surpass the previous record of 6:08 held by Andrew Drobeck of Missoula, Montana.
Jasperson, a junior, is a captain for Western’s cross country and track and field teams, specializing in the 1500-meter race. He additionally works at the South Whatcom Fire Authority as a part-time paid volunteer.
Both activities served to motivate and prepare him for the attempt, Jasperson said.
“It was cool because I had the guys on the fire department and track and cross-country team behind me on it,” Jasperson said. “It was a fun thing.”
The firefighter gear packed on an extra 30 to 35 pounds to Jasperson’s weight while restricting the full range of motion of his stride, he said.
“Structural firefighting gear is the gear that you would wear into a fire,” Jasperson said. “There are fire-retardant boots that are steel toed and 12 inches tall to cover your shins and calves. Bunker pants with overalls, a bunker jacket and then a helmet.”
Jasperson said the motivation behind his record-breaking run came from a competitive edge and a desire to increase support for his fire department.
“I did it just to do it, and to see if I could help my fire department get into events and find more volunteers, just to help put us on the map a little,”Jasperson said.
Jasperson first attempted the record as a student at Everett Community College. When he first made a run at the record, the time to beat was 6:48.
He beat that record by 37 seconds, but was unable to get his attempt certified by Guinness because the camera filming his attempt lost power during the third lap.
“That made the footage look skeptical of course. But I was OK with knowing that I had the record,” Jasperson said. “But then another guy came along named Andrew Drobeck last June. He ran a 6:08 and beat my time, so I thought ‘OK, now I can actually try and beat it for real.’”
Andrew Drobeck is a firefighter for the Missoula Fire Department and former holder of the record.
“I think James is a much better runner than me as far as shorter distances. It didn’t surprise me or anything,” Drobeck said. “The whole point of this stuff is to have fun, and it’s always more fun to have someone to compete with.”
Pee Wee Halsell, head coach for Western’s cross-country and track and field teams, said he appreciates the competitive atmosphere Jasperson brings to the team.
“He does a good job,” Halsell said. “He helps motivate the guys and works hard. This doesn’t surprise me.”
Jasperson said his desire to seek out unconventional training methods keeps his athletic life novel and fun, as he motivates his teammates to do the same.
“I’m captain of the team, so I feel like I got to show people that you can get after it and not be afraid to go outside the box and have fun too.”