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Seth Wolpin completes first ever documented run around Mt. Kilimanjaro

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MASSENA - When Seth E. Wolpin decided to pick up running again in 2006, it would have been hard to imagine what he would accomplish in the next seven years.

Climb Mt. Everest? Check. Run a handful of marathons? Check. Run a handful of ultramarathons, which are more than 26.2 miles? Check.

Those achievements are only the beginning of an extensive list of remarkable journeys that Mr. Wolpin has taken in his life.

Mr. Wolpin grew up in Potsdam and is the son of Susan Jackson and Dr. Miles Wolpin, a retired professor at SUNY Potsdam. He credits Ms. Jackson as an important source of inspiration when it comes to his world travels. When he was 12 and his sister was 14, the trio went to Spain for a year and then after dropping out of high school in 10th grade he accompanied his mother to China before going on a solo excursion across Asia and Europe for six months at the age of 17.

The 41 year old eventually went to college in Vermont before jumping around to a few schools and receiving a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo in 1994. The high school dropout also received a PhD and MPH in Public Health from Oregon State University.

“The next time I visited (Geneseo) would be 18 years later when Google maps automatically put my transcon run through the town. After Geneseo, I spent three years in South Korea and then moved to Oregon, where I finished my PhD in 2004. I have been at the University of Washington since then,” Mr, Wolpin said.

Mr. Wolpin now lives in Seattle, Wash.,n and teaches at the University. In 2006 he says he began “running seriously” again for the first time in 17 years.

“For a long time I was sedentary through grad school. I became a couch potato. I got inspired to run again after my sister was training for a marathon and several other friends were doing it,” Mr. Wolpin said.

His sister, Robin Wolpin, is a math teacher at SUNY Canton College and lives in Massena.

By 2007 he was doing something that most people could never even consider doing; running marathons. He didn’t stop there though and ran his first ultramarathon on April 25, 2009.

Around this time, Mr. Wolpin, who ran track and cross country in high school, discovered mountain climbing and became passionate about the sport. He explained that he has enjoyed going on personal adventures for much of his life.

“I think in a way I’ve always tried to do adventures, like doing that overland trip when I was 17. You can start running whenever. You don’t need anything but a pair of shoes. That’s a good message to people,” Mr. Wolpin said. “I really enjoyed running in school. Now I just find running as great therapy. And seeing the world is amazing, and it’s simple to do.”

He also said that he enjoys both group organized and self organized activities but prefers the latter.

2010 included another intense physical experience for Mr. Wolpin, one which he feels was one of the more difficult of his life.

“In 2010 I ran a 100-mile trail run. It was called the Western States 100 miler, basically the Super Bowl of trail running. That was really hard,” Mr. Wolpin said. “Up until then that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. You really have to monitor your body and your brain. You have to separate the two.”

2011 brought on yet another tremendous, almost unfathomable hike; Mt. Everest. At an elevation of over 29,000 feet, the highest mountain in the world was another tough adventure for Mr. Wolpin.

“On Everest there’s a section called the Cornice Traverse and honestly I thought I was just going to die there. That was a bad point. I was able to pull ship together and do it,” he said. “The Cornice Traverse is between the south summit and the Hillary step, above 28,000 feet. It is a few feet wide and has a drop of over a mile on each side (down to Tibet on one side and Nepal on the other.) It is by far the scariest place I have ever been and the only place I truly felt like quitting. I think I was low on oxygen, hypothermic, and just plain freaked out. But no one can rescue you there and quitting means you will die so I kept going.”

Also in 2011, Mr, Wolpin led a group of undergraduate students from the University of Washington to the base of Annapurna base camp at an elevation of 14,500 feet.

Recently Mr. Wolpin completed something that could be his rarest achievement yet. At the beginning of July, he and his friend, Jacob Slaa, ran around Mt. Kilimanjaro on high altitude trails averaging around 13,745 feet for a total of 27 miles in 12 hours and 35 minutes. This, according to Mr. Wolpin is the only documented time of this journey ever.

“What I have is that we ran 27 miles in 12 and a half hours. We probably spent two and a half hours of down time. When I look at someone running 27 miles in 12 hours I think that’s so slow. But I realized with the altitude, etc. that it’s tough,” he said.

Mr. Wolpin says he felt comfortable throughout the duration of the journey, but unlike typical issues hikers face, Mt. Kilimanjaro brought on a different type of animal.

“During the Kilimanjaro run ,I felt great the entire time. My fear was running into trouble (injury or altitude sickness) on the northern half, where there are very few people and no descent trails. We ran with minimal gear so our first aid kit was pretty laughable,” Mr. Wolpin said. “Had we gotten injured we would have been in trouble because we also didn’t have enough insulation for the freezing night time temps. Descending, if possible, we would have been down into areas with lions, elephants and buffalo. Not a great option. Luckily it all worked out.”

Just coming off of an incredible adventure such as this, one would expect Mr. Wolpin to perhaps take some time off, maybe relax and take a break from the mind-boggling climbs, hikes, and runs he enjoys so much. The rest of 2013 though, starting this weekend, will be packed with more and more unbelievable treks.

This weekend he plans on running the White River 50-mile trail run for the third time. He is also hoping to set speed records for running around Annapurna and Manaslu mountains this fall in Nepal, both of which are over 100 mile runs.

As far as words of wisdom or advice from Mr. Wolpin, like his mother and sister’s inspiration that affected him so greatly, he has some inspirational thoughts as well.

“I don’t aspire to be the best. I’m not the best runner or the best climber. It’s not the destination; it’s the journey,” he said. “I think it is important that people challenge themselves at least once a year. Anything that makes them step out of their comfort zone a bit and work hard toward a goal. It need not be a mountain or a run, it could be writing a book or learning a foreign language. Life is too short, play hard. It is amazing what we can accomplish if we take things one step at a time.”

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