“Sugoi!” say some Japanese (awesome). Others say “Arienai” (impossible). But Chief Petty Officer Mike Raney cuts to the chase.
“Perhaps we are a bunch of knuckleheads,” Raney writes in an email from Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, where he is stationed. Raney, along with three comrades stationed at Yokosuka, will attempt to climb up and down Japan’s fabled Mt. Fuji four times in 24 hours, happening on September 1.
However, the so-called “4-in-24 Challenge” is not just an exercise in sheer physical and mental toughness—it’s also a fundraiser, a way for the Navy to give back to the community where Raney and his team are located. All proceeds from the feat will go to the Shunkou Gakuen, an orphanage that Yokosuka Naval Base has helped support for a number of years. Their goal this year is $10,000, a total already tantalizingly close to being achieved. Yet with only two weeks to go (as of print), they need help to reach the top of that mountain.
Raney, now 38, attended Etiwanda High School where he set records in distance running and won medals at the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational in the 1980s. From a running standpoint, his biggest thrill was besting former Olympian, world record-holder and Upland-native Steve Scott in a 10K run. (Raney stresses that it was Scott’s second race that day). Married with two young children and a teenage son who lives in the US, Raney joined the Navy in 1990, soon after taking third in his age group in the San Francisco marathon—his first ever.
Former coach and mentor, Steven Sullivant—who still acts as the head football coach at Etiwanda High—recalls Raney with fondness.
“He’s a good kid—Mike went the right way, did all the right things,” he says. “He has more motivation than the law allows.”
According to Lt. Doug Szwarc, who organized the first challenge run last year—a run that was a mere three trips up and down Fuji-san—Raney made a proclamation after listening to him boast about the climb for months in the locker room. As the story goes, when Szwarc was looking to up the ante to four climbs this year, Raney stood up and said, “That’s easy!” Such confidence and swagger lead the rest of the team—which includes Lt. Robert Lovern and fitness coordinator/tri-athlete Luke Nelson—to embrace the feasibility of the idea, despite Raney’s status as the old man with the “plastic hip.” Still, Szwarc says he will be chasing Raney up the mountain.
“He and Luke will be the fastest,” says Szwarc.
Just how daunting is the task? Consider that the Kawaguchiko 5th Station, where the challenge is to begin, is located at 7,562 feet, and the Fuji summit is at 12,388 feet. Compare that to the local Mt. Baldy Run-to-the-Top event— coincidentally also run on September 1—which starts at 6,000 feet and ends at 10,064. What Raney and his pals are doing is the equivalent of four Baldy runs in a single day.
Ascending Mt. Fuji is a rite of passage for many Japanese, who often climb for a few hours, stop and sleep on tatami mats in bungalows until the middle of the night, then reach the top to experience a breath-taking sunrise. Even without breaks, it takes the average climber five to 10 hours to complete one round trip. Cramming four roundtrips into 24 hours is a cause for reverence and bafflement to the locals. Last year, one Japanese newspaper reported, “the local people smiled in a scornful way and thought—what are they thinking? They achieved harsh goal.” Others just thought them in over their heads.
For Raney, who has organized clothing drives to help the homeless in Tokyo and other refurbishment projects in Yokosuka, the chance to help those in need comes natural to him.
“I do try to be a good neighbor and ambassador here in Japan.”
Though it’s a local story, the 4-in-24 Challenge is becoming a global story. CNN International program iReport featured their video on last weekend’s show, prompting positive response from all over the world.
Though Raney’s Japanese wife, Ai, thinks the whole thing is “arienai,” Raney is only worried about his low body fat and the accompanying freeze in the night air. Having run the Tokyo marathon last February, he thinks he’s ready, but he’s not without trepidation.
“Let’s see how awesome we’re feeling once September 2 rolls around,” he says.
To donate to the 4-in-24-Challenge, go to www.fujiclimb.com