- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - They attract curious glances as they trudge through downtown, giant backpacks strapped to their backs and dragging weights on makeshift sleds behind them.

They are Fort Worth firefighters, but they’re not training for the next big blaze or building collapse. They’re preparing for a self-imposed challenge - to climb to the highest point of North America.

Four of the firefighters - Kasey Gandy, Matt Magoffin, Clint Brewer and Jerry Bays - have already scaled two of the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent.

In 2010, it was Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and in 2012, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina.

In late June, they’ll be joined by firefighter Daniel Ory as they attempt to conquer Alaska’s Mount Denali, all 20,237 feet of it.

“There are three things that are really cool to me about these trips,” Gandy told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1fWsG1z ). “The first is the challenge. That really entices all of us into it. We all just dig the challenge. No. 2 is the adventure portion of it. It’s not just climbing the mountain, it’s stopping for a second and looking around and being like, ‘Wow, I’m in a place that very few people have come.’

“And third, to me probably the most important thing, is the camaraderie because we share the experience as a small group. It’s an amazing experience. It’s a bond we have just amongst ourselves for basically suffering on the mountain for two weeks or three weeks at a time.”

To their advantage, the five men are already in top physical shape.

“Fitness for us, especially in this job, is a full-time job in itself,” Brewer said. “It’s not like we come back and we take six months off. As soon as we get back, I start running again, he starts training again, he starts swimming again. It’s every day for us.”

But in preparation for their climb, the firefighters kick their workouts up a notch.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Brewer and Magoffin carried more than 50 pounds of sand in their backpacks as they trudged up and down 108 steps at Farrington Field, just west of downtown.

The next morning, also wearing their overloaded backpacks and dragging weights behind them, Gandy and Ory were climbing the same steps - after trekking the 3 miles from Station One in northeast downtown.

While the other men use metal weight sleds they bought, Ory built his own.

“I had to rebuild it recently because mine is made out of wood,” Ory said. “I had 2-by-4’s on the bottom of it and it ground them down. Now I put 4-by-4’s on it so it slides better but it’s also heavier so it’s kind of a Catch-22.”

The support they get from those they encounter is overwhelming, Gandy said.

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