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College firefighter sets world record in Middlebury

Some of the more than 120 spectators cheer on Middlebury College senior Emily Jones Saturday evening as she sprints the final 100 meters in her successful attempt to set a Guinness World Record for a woman running a mile in firefighter gear. Independent photo/John S. McCright

Emily Jones picks up speed in her mile run on Sunday cruising through the first lap in 2 minutes.

MIDDLEBURY — When Emily Jones first came across one particular Guinness Book of World Record mark “on a weird day of scrolling through the internet,” she thought it was “goofy.”

But that perspective changed on Saturday.

“Now it feels different,” an ecstatic Jones said while cooling off next to Middlebury College’s Dragone Track.

The Middlebury College senior and Middlebury Fire Department volunteer firefighter had just broken that record in front of about 120 friends, fellow firefighters and Panther water polo teammates.

What Jones accomplished was challenging indeed: She ran a mile — four laps around the oval track — wearing 60 pounds of firefighting turnout gear, all while breathing through a respirator.

She did so in eight minutes and 25 seconds, a full two minutes and 35 seconds faster than the previous Guinness world record of 11:00 for a female runner.

To put that in perspective, that gear weighed more than half of Jones’ own body mass, and she lugged it with a limited air supply.

Most onlookers were sure she would smash the record when she crushed the first quarter-mile in two minutes flat, on pace for an eight-minute finish. But Jones said it wasn’t until much later in the race until she had a moment when she felt confident in the achievement.

“To be honest I didn’t let myself have it until the last straightaway,” she said. “I was pretty nervous I was going to puke into the mask.”

Middlebury Fire Chief David Shaw said that fear was not unrealistic, although he believed Jones’s air supply would be OK if she paced herself. But he estimated the maximum time for respirator use, depending on effort and body mass, to be around 15 minutes.

“If she consumes all of her air, she’s done,” he said while Jones was warming up.

Even though she had run a practice time of about nine minutes, Jones said she didn’t have a goal for Saturday other than setting the record. But she was thrilled with the result.

“I don’t know if I had a time in mind. I was just excited to be out here and also to have the crowd out here. It helped a lot, obviously,” she said “So, yeah, it exceeded my expectations.”

The crowd was happy to be there. Her water polo teammates brought a “WaPo” banner and broke into song when she completed her run.

More than 120 supporters, including these members of the Panther water polo team, came out to Dragone Track at Middlebury College on Saturday evening to cheer on Middlebury senior Feb Emily Jones go for a mile record in firefighter gear.

About 15 members of her other team, the fire department, also showed up. Chief Shaw explained why. In general, he said, the college volunteer program has been a success over the years in bringing in energy and new ideas. And, he said, Jones’s tenure of almost two years has been no exception, both in performance and personality.

“She’s not afraid to share her feelings, how she feels about certain things. And she’s a doer. She reworked our website, we got that back up and running. And once she sets her mind to do something, she does it,” she said. “And in our group, we’re constantly busting somebody’s butt about something, and she takes it pretty well. And absolutely she can give it right back.”

Jones explained why she signed on with the fire department.

“I’ve always been interested in service, and I like discipline as a person. I was interested in applying to military and navy schools,” Jones said. “Once I got here it seemed like a cool opportunity to blend all those interests. They treat me great. It’s an awesome department. I’m really lucky.”

A cyclist followed Emily Jones shooting video as she completed a mile run on the Middlebury College track Saturday. Independent photo/John S. McCright

But even after coming across that record online, why put all that heavy gear on and run a mile?

“I always wanted to break a Guinness World Record as a kid. I read the book,” Jones said. “And I joined the fire department two years ago, and it seemed like a cool opportunity to do two dreams at once.”

Sports science certainly has come a long way, but no regimen exists to prepare for what Jones planned to undertake. Still, she felt ready for the challenge, especially with aid from Middlebury Fire Department Captain Jeff Carpenter, who helped her prep for and then timed her successful practice run a week before.

After the run, official timekeepers are amazed at the 8:25 mile as Emily Jones laboriously sheds her firefighting respirator.
Independent photo/John S. McCright

“I’ve been running my whole life, so I feel pretty comfortable as a runner and as an athlete in general. But there’s a lot more that goes into this specific event,” Jones said. “So Jeff was kind enough to help me practice with all the gear on, and obviously being a firefighter and going out with all the gear on helps a little bit.”

Then the weather cooperated with a cool, clear and almost windless late afternoon.

“I didn’t plan for it, but I’m glad I’m doing it before it gets too warm, because the gear’s quite hot,” Jones said.

Record in hand, Emily Jones greets the cheers of the crowd with a cheer of her own.

She said she felt great about the accomplishment, and the support.

“It’s pretty cool. It feels pretty surreal,” Jones said. “And it’s really cool to have to the department with me, and all my friends, faculty and people from the town. It’s really cool to have the community come out for this. I appreciate it a lot.”

Looking ahead, Jones believes her time might be hard to beat, but that it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen if someone does.

“I think people are going to have to work pretty hard for it,” she said. “I would love to see someone break it so I would have an excuse to come out here and do all this again. It was really fun.”

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