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Firefighting champs are red hot
Married couple wins awards again at contest

SHARE Firefighting champs are red hot
Married couple wins awards again at contest

MURRAY -- Martha and Jeff Ellis could give Superman a run for his money.

The couple -- married two years and both firefighters -- easily qualify as "faster than a speeding bullet" and "more powerful than a locomotive."The proof is in their awards from the annual Firefighter Combat Challenge World Championships, a five-part international contest of strength and speed.

Martha Ellis, 35, who works for Salt Lake City, is the four-time women's division champion.

Jeff Ellis, 42, a Murray firefighter, holds five titles, including three in the over-40 division and two overall titles, which pitted him against "youngsters" in their 20s. He also has been a member of the multiple-award winning team from Murray.

Utahns can glimpse the speed and grace of the pair on ESPN today at 5:30 p.m. It is a farewell performance for the Ellises, who met while training in 1995 and married in December 1996, one day before the competition's world finals in Las Vegas.

They retired from competition after the 1998 competition in November in Orlando, Fla., where Martha Ellis again finished at the top of the women's division and Jeff Ellis was third overall and first in the over-40s.

"There are so many other things we want to do," said Martha Ellis. "More kayaking, more skiing, more time with our families. But we're going to miss doing this."

The challenge is a competitive take on what was a standard entry-level training-and-fitness test developed in the 1970s in Maryland that eventually was used by fire departments across the country. In 1991 the test became a competitive event, which has grown from a few hundred participants to more than a dozen regional events in three countries with some 5,000 participants.

Competing in the challenge is no easy task, the Ellises say.

Participants don full gear, including air tanks, as if they were fighting a fire and work their way through an obstacle course.

The course begins with a 43-foot stair climb carrying a 45-pound roll of fire hose, followed by hoisting a 45-pound doughnut roll of fire hose to a platform at the top of the stairs.

Next, competitors run down the stairs and get on a machine that simulates the forcible entry into a building. The object is to advance a 165-pound metal beam 5 feet by striking it with an 8-pound hammer. Then it's on to a 140-foot-long serpentine of fire hydrants and a 75-foot drag of a fire hose.

Finally, competitors simulate a victim rescue by dragging a 175 pound-dummy, named "Rescue Randy," about 100 feet to the finish line.

Martha Ellis runs the course in about 2 minutes and 50 seconds. Her personal best, which also set a world record in 1996, was 2:48.1.

Jeff Ellis scoots through the drill in 1:39.82, also a world record in the over-40 division.

"I think we've far exceeded our expectations," said Jeff Ellis, who, like his wife, had spent a lifetime participating in athletics but had not formerly competed in any event for about 15 years. "But it went from being fun to being a very serious thing, very quickly."

So serious in fact that in training for the event, the Ellises sometimes spent up to 30 hours a week running stairs and lifting weights.

"It takes a lot out of you . . . time and energy," Martha Ellis said. "But it's fun to work so hard, too, and see the improvements in what you can do. And it's fun to win."

The Ellises insist winning hasn't been the motivation to staying involved in the competition. Part of their motivation is just in the challenge of doing their best. The rest has been tied to friends they've made -- they also get a lot of pleasure out of watching others succeed and improve in the competitions each year.

"That part is great. We've made friends from all over the country, from Canada and Australia. We get e-mail every day from somebody we've met at the competitions," Jeff Ellis said. "And every year you go back and it's like seeing family. We'll miss that part."