After hearing about the story of a child with cystic fibrosis, Jon Rutishauser embarked on an epic challenge that took him to his limits.
If you’ve ever been on a paddleboard, you’ll understand the challenges the sport poses. Stability, strength and stamina are essential. Most of us can manage it for a short while, but imagine sustaining momentum on a paddleboard while crossing 83 miles of the open ocean. That’s exactly what Jon Rutishauser has achieved, all in aid of cystic fibrosis (CF) charity Piper’s Angels.
“You leave Bimini in the Bahamas at midnight and you’re on the paddleboard in the pitch black. Then you’re paddling straight on through to sunrise to get to Florida mainland,” explains Jon.
An iron challenge like no other
This was his third attempt at The Crossing for CF, an endurance challenge and international championship race that stretches across the Gulf Stream. Its current is strong and brings with it changeable sea conditions that hampered his second attempt at The Crossing.
“Last year, there were six-foot swells, so when we were about 45 miles in they radioed that it’s not getting any better and it’s pretty dangerous, so we had to get on the boats to safety.”
The challenge has three levels, the first level allowing you to take breaks on the boats and stop at various beaches. Jon was committed to the third level – the iron challenge – no stops, just continuous paddling all the way across the ocean. This year, his hardest challenge wouldn’t be the waves, it would be focusing his mind and body on the task at hand.
“The biggest thing is staying on top of your nutrition plan, your hydration plan, and then being attentive and aware. I tried to work a lot with my team for us all to stay on top of hydration and eating snacks, because you have to replenish everything.”
“I’ve never been broken so hard mentally”
Being a part of the SweatWorks team, Jon knew the value that technology would bring to the challenge. He used his Garmin smartwatch as a critical tool to support his pacing by tracking his heart rate and stats throughout. His physical endurance was solid, but there was nothing that could prepare him for the mental strain…
“I like distance events, I like ultra-endurance stuff. I did Steamboat Gravel last year, which is 140 miles in the mountains of Colorado on a gravel bike, and I did across Florida that same year, which is around 170 miles. But The Crossing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been broken so hard mentally. There were times out there where it was really hard to control my emotions, and I would just be frustrated with all of the exhaustion and everything else.”
Despite the mental strain, Jon’s drive didn’t falter, as he remained motivated by the story that led him on his journey to the open water – that of Piper, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cystic fibrosis when she was four years old and continues to battle the condition. Piper is the inspiration behind Piper’s Angels, which her Dad Travis Suit set up to fund support and research for people with CF. Cystic fibrosis is life-limiting. Although research and advances are being made all the time, the current average lifespan for someone with CF is around 40 years.
“When Travis gives his talks, they call people associated with CF ‘warriors’, and they’re going through this fight all the time. I was just suffering on the day of the event. So, when I was paddling Travis and (Jon’s mentor) Ryan’s voices were in my head non-stop, motivating me.”
Jon succeeded in completing the challenge in around 17 hours and raised over $5,000 in the process.
Training as a Dad of two
Like all successes, a solid training program was imperative. But as a 37-year-old Dad of two, finding the time to get long stretches on the water was difficult, though helped by SweatWorks flexible approach to working and our Wellness for All Days, when the whole company signs out to focus on their wellness for a day.
“I’m not a professional paddleboarder, so I can’t just focus on that every day. But you really need time on the water, there’s no replacement for being on the paddleboard a bunch. So I scheduled a few 25 to 30-mile paddles, but a paddleboard is not the fastest craft in the world. To do that kind of distance is the best part of the day.
“I’m lucky enough to live right by a lake, so I would get out on a paddleboard three or four days a week for an hour. Then each weekend I’d try to go to a bigger lake and do at least 10 miles. Every month or two I would try to do a 20-to-30-mile paddle. This year I’m going to be more focused on the strength aspects.”
Jon is attempting to beat his record this year and is leaning on the expertise at SweatWorks to support him in the areas he’s less experienced in.
“Honestly I don’t know much about strength. Lifting weights is definitely not my forte. So I’ve been reaching out to a lot of people here that are experienced in that stuff. My colleagues Nolan and Dominic, I’ve been talking to those guys to get their input.”
Jon has relied heavily on mentorship both at work and within the Paddleboarding community and will himself be a mentor for The Crossing for CF next year. He’s excited about how technology focused on mentoring could improve fitness outcomes for people even more in the future.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of mentorship through different products, providing suggestions that are more targeted to each individual. Like most people, I’m not a pro athlete, so I think things that can help your training be more efficient to get the best possible outcome with limited training will be great to see.”
SweatWorks champions fitness in all its forms and are proud to support our
staff achieving great things. Please visit Jon’s fundraising page for The
Crossing for CF challenge in 2023.
About the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis
“The Crossing For Cystic Fibrosis is a movement and vehicle of change for building a platform of advocacy to spread awareness, fundraising, inspiration, improved quality of life, and social innovation in the cystic fibrosis community. Through the Piper’s Angels Foundation and our programs, we are able to make a lifelong impact on the patients and families facing the challenges of this heart-breaking terminal disease. With every stroke of your paddle during your training and on the Crossing, you can hold this understanding and intention in your mind and heart. This is why we paddle.”
Jon would like to thank his The Crossing for CF mentor Ryan Burgas.