Firefighter excels at ‘toughest 2 minutes in sports’
By ANDREA BROWN THE GAZETTE
Two minutes. In the time it takes most people to make a fridge run during a TV commercial, Juliet Draper can: Run up a five-story tower, hoist a 45-pound hose pack by rope, run down, ram a 165-pound steel I-beam five feet with a sledgehammer, sprint a 140-foot course, drag a hose full of water 75 feet, shoot a target, and haul a 175-pound “Rescue Randy” dummy backward 100 feet to the finish line. It’s what she and some other firefighters do for fun. “At the end your legs are burning, you are dizzy, you can’t breathe,” said the Colorado Springs firefighter. Draper, 39, recently won a regional Firefighter Combat Challenge in the women’s division with a time of 1 minute, 48 seconds — breaking her previous world record. For the women’s world title, she must win the world event in Nevada in November. Most men can’t finish in under 2 minutes. Still, that’s not fast enough to suit her.
“I wrote ‘1:45’ and put it on my locker (at Fire Station 3),” she said. “A little tweaking here and there. I think I can make it.” She knows about making it. “As a kid, I played football in the streets with the boys. They used to call me ‘Truck’ because I hit people so hard,” she said. The rebellious daughter of strict parents, she was forced to leave her Cleveland home as a teen when she came out as gay. She quit school. She lived on the streets. She was a “crackhead.” “Anything you can imagine. The least expensive and most readily available,” she said. Staying fit saved her from jail. “As a crazy, drug-addicted teenager, it gives you the ability to run really fast and jump fences. The 40-something cops could never keep up with me,” she said. She went back to school at night, got her diploma and joined the Army, winding up at Fort Carson. “The sergeant said, ‘OK, you want to be a firefighter? Come over and lift this.’ I lifted the whole stack,” she said. Draper hired on as a city firefighter nine years ago. Her winning Combat Challenge World Title time was 2:13 in 2003. She tripped but still nabbed the world record for women. She took three years off from that event, during which time she won the 2004 World Police and Fire Games Powerlifting Championship and the 2005 State Games of America Powerlifting Championship. Pam Jones, her coach and 15-year partner, compares the Combat Challenge to the Olympics. “They train for four years, and this is your one moment. You have to have the perfect day,” Jones said. “It’s like a second job to train,” said city firefighter Stacy Billapando, 43, a former second-place finisher whose top Combat Challenge time is 2:16. “You realize how hard you can push yourself, and it really builds confidence,” she said. Said Fire Lt. J.J. Halsey, 41: “They call it the toughest 2 minutes in sports.” Draper said most women don’t like to face off with her in the event, where two people compete at a time. Ditto for guys. “A lot of guys don’t want to run against me because they don’t want to be beat by a girl,” Draper said. “They’ll say, ‘That’s the guy who got beat by that chick.’ The caveat is, have you seen that chick?” The “chick” is 5 feet 9 inches and 185 pounds of brawn. “I can bench over 250 pounds, squat over 350 pounds, deadlift 405,” she said. She can do 90 pushups in 2 minutes. “Little kids usually go, ‘Are you a man or a lady?’” she said. “I say, ‘Well, I’m a lady, but I’m a very special lady. I’m a fire lady. I work at the fire station, and I get to ride the big red firetruck’ and then all they want to talk about is the big red firetruck.”
BRIENNE BOORTZ, THE GAZETTE - Firefighter Juliet Draper trained Sunday at the World Gym for the Combat Challenge world championship event, which takes place in November in Nevada. Draper has the world record for women.