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Extreme Athlete Plans to 'Bear Crawl' 5K Polar Dash on Hands, Feet

By Justin Breen | January 8, 2013 6:19am | Updated on January 8, 2013 10:14am

LINCOLNWOOD — Even Rodrigo Velarde's mother thinks her son's plan to "bear crawl" the entire 5K course at Saturday's Polar Dash along Chicago's lakefront is nuts.

While about 2,500 runners slosh their way through the wintry conditions, Velarde — a 24-year-old former Albany Park resident — plans to race the entire 3.1-mile course crouched on his hands and feet.

"When he told me, I said he was crazy," said his mom, Teresa Velarde. "I guess it's just another thing for him, a bigger challenge."

Velarde, a University of Illinois at Chicago graduate who's now a personal trainer at the school, is used to extreme sports. He's competed in six GoRuck Challenges — military-style events where large teams carry hefty pieces of wood and sometimes each other — over multiple hours.

The former Taft High School student, who now resides in Lincolnwood, also trains by running with up to 30 pounds of bricks in his backpack.

"Life isn't always easy, so neither should training always be easy," Velarde said.

Velarde will have an accomplice, 30-year-old Lincoln Park resident Dennis Pilson, a personal trainer at Orange Shoe Personal Fitness.

He said his goal is to simply keep up with Velarde. Pilson — who like Velarde hasn't practiced for the race, let alone "bear crawled" anywhere near 3.1 miles — expects the exercise to especially hurt his shoulders and triceps.

"It's not supposed to be enjoyable," said Pilson, who met Velarde during a GoRuck event in 2011. "It might suck, but it will be worth it once we're finished."

Velarde came up with the idea to "bear crawl" the event in November. He contacted the Team Ortho Foundation, which runs the race, and was answered by Zach Edmonson, the company's director of operations for Chicago.

Edmonson, a Lakeview resident, said Velarde will have two chaperones wearing high-visibility neon orange-and-blue vests — one in front and one in back — to alert him of potential hazards.

"We've never had anyone 'bear crawl' one of our events before," said Edmonson, 32, whose nonprofit company organizes several races throughout the country. "It's a thing that we all hope will go smoothly."

Besides finishing, Velarde's other goal is raising money for the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund. As of Monday night, Velarde's efforts had drummed up $660 for the fund, which awards scholarships to immediate family members of fallen Reconnaissance or Special Operations Command Marines.

Velarde wants to raise $1,000, and interested parties can donate at a website he created.

"The Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund would not exist without individuals like Rodrigo," said Marine Brent Phillips of Hampstead, N.C., who runs the organization with his mother Deborah and also knows Velarde through GoRuck connections.

Phillips said he was "extremely impressed" when hearing about Velarde's "bear crawl" attempt. Phillips also was curious to see how long it would take Velarde to finish.

Velarde and Pilson, who will be equipped with several sets of gloves, hope to finish their race in less than two hours.

And they both expect countless bewildered looks in their direction, even though Velarde doesn't think of himself as crazy.

"It's not that insane," he said.