Challenges to Finish Lines with Frank Fumich
Frank Fumich is no stranger to long distance competition. The endurance athlete has completed some awe-inspiring endeavors that most wouldn't even dream of attempting, let alone completing. And Fumich himself is the man who's come up with many of the endurance challenges he's put his body through. From completing an ultra marathon on each of the seven continents, running from DC to Boston (in honor of Boston Marathon victims) to hiking to the North Pole, to racing in standup paddling's largest long distance races, Fumich has an athletic background that seems unreal. But, to Fumich, all of the challenges are nothing more than different ways to test his limits, mentally and physically.
Whether it's standup paddling, running, or cycling, Fumich thrives on trying to kick new challenges to the curb. When the Virginian was looking for a non-impact sport for cross training, he fell into standup paddling.
"I paddled into my first wave on my race board, caught a wave quite unexpectedly and also became hooked on SUP surfing. But, getting some nice distance paddling in is great for the core, legs, and really, whole body," Fumich said.
Shortly after getting the SUP bug, naturally, the endurance athlete was dreaming up long distance paddle crossings. And, by 2012, Fumich was part of the crew making the first attempt to standup paddle from Cuba to Key West.
"We were motoring out on our boat and were about 70 miles from Key West when one of the engines blew," Fumich said. "So, we had to scrap it and limp back to Key West. By the time we secured another boat, our weather window had shut."
So, after hours of planning and preparation the entire expedition unraveled. And the challenge remained open for others (like Ben Friberg who completed the crossing) to go after it.
But, as an athlete that's not willing to let one snag hold him back, Fumich decided to take on other challenges within standup paddling, competing in and completing some of SUP's longest races, including the 32-mile Molokai2Oahu and 31-mile Chattajack 31. "I’m mostly motivated by long and hard things," Fumich said. "It seems to me that the more something hurts, the more meaningful they seem once accomplished."
So, this year, after primarily focusing on completing back-to-back marathons, as well as a Quintuple Ironman (IM)—which entails a 12-mile swim, 560-mile bike, and 131-mile run, non-stop—Fumich decided to take on the Chattajack 31. He'd only paddled a couple times in over a year, but that didn't discourage the athlete from giving the race a go.
"Mentally, at this point, I’m pretty prepared for anything. Coming off my Quintuple IM, nothing could be nearly as bad as that or many of the things I do," Fumich said. "Physically though, I was a little beat up going in it, plus I had only paddled literally two times (two five-mile races) in the last year and a half, so I knew it was going to hurt bad—and it did. I could hardly lift my arms to brush my teeth the next day, but then again, I ran a marathon the next morning."
With a racing schedule as demanding as Fumich's is, we wondered how a middle-aged man is able throw his body into challenge after challenge with virtually no downtime, and without experiencing any injury. "You know I’m either lucky or just kind of a freak because I don’t do anything special. Even my diet isn’t very good outside of a race," Fumich said. “I just keep going and stay in shape. Sometimes I think if you rest too long or take a long break, then getting back into things you can hurt yourself. So, at this point, I just keep it going."
And, while many of us are motivated to train hard because of the potential embarrassment or disappointment that naturally comes with failure to perform to a certain level or poor results in competition, Fumich said neither drive him. More simply, Fumich finds motivation in knowing there's another upcoming challenge that he needs to try to complete.
"The fear of failure motivates me to continue. The thought of me not being able to do something, keeps me going and I decide going into something, the only way I won’t finish is if I leave on a stretcher. I’m known for finishing races and endurance adventures, and so that's my goal," Fumich said. "Right or wrong, I’m not one of those people that says, 'It’s not finishing that matters, but the journey that counts.' I say bullshit to that.
"Sometimes I say, 'It’s not finishing that matters, but the journey that counts…as long as you finish.' So, crossing that line I think means more to me than some. But, little things, even like social media, is a great motivator," Fumich said. "As soon as I sign up for something, I’ll post it on Facebook so that it’s 'out there' and then basically etched in stone. And knowing I have so many people following me, it motivates me to follow through and finish."
Despite who’s following Fumich or not, his thirst for the next big challenge is constant: “My only real motivation [to compete] is pure and simple…just to see if I can do something. That’s it,” Fumich said. “I love pushing myself and searching for my limits, and these endurance events are the best way I think to find them. Most everyone can do any of this stuff for the most part physically, but their minds are what limits them.”