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Brentwood native Craig Longobardi completes world's highest-altitude marathon at Mount Everest
With a badge of an American flag sewn to his backpack, Craig Longobardi greeted silence as he crossed the finish line of the most difficult and unforgettable marathon he’d ever attempted in his life.
But that didn’t matter much to him. Longobardi, 35, achieved the adventure of a lifetime on May 29 when he completed the highest altitude marathon in the world, the Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon in the Himalayas.
“It was no Long Island marathon. There was no cheering crowd to greet us, but it felt amazing to finish,” said Longobardi, of Brentwood. “The whole trip was surreal.”
The Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon has been held annually since 2003 to honor the first successful ascent of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa, and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953. This year's event included the 60k Extreme Everest Diamond Jubilee ultra marathon, which Longobardi participated in, in addition to the half and full marathons to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Tenzing and Hillary’s accomplishment.
Before the marathon could begin, Longobardi hiked on May 18 to a point 11,000 feet up Mount Everest. From there, continuing through Sherpa villages with views of the world's highest snowcapped peaks to get to the starting line of the marathon -- the Everest Base Camp at the edge of Khumbu Icefall at 17,598 feet. After racing uphill to 18,200 feet, the 134 competitors then raced down the mountain to end at 11,306 feet, Namche Bazaar.
Hiking six to eight hours a day for 14 days, Longobardi finally reached the starting line of the ultra marathon at the Everest Base Camp. Resting there for two nights, he said he could hear the glacier creaking beneath him and avalanches in the distance.
An experienced Ironman triathlete and avid mountain biker, the mostly downhill 37-mile trek was just another challenge. Longobardi has coached triathlon teams and was assistant race director for the Long Island Triathlon series from 2001 to 2006.
Longobardi finished the ultra marathon in just under 15 hours, which put him in first place this year among Americans, fifth among international hikers and 11th overall, he said.
“At times, we couldn’t even make out the path,” said Longobardi, who is an aviation maintenance technician involved in search and rescue for the U.S. Coast Guard. “We hiked along four foot wide trails, slippery crags, jagged rocks and suspension bridges. It was definitely an adventure.”
During the required three-week altitude acclimation period before the marathon, Longobardi made a stop at New Children’s Home, a three-bedroom orphanage in Katmandu, Nepal.
Troubled by the conditions of the orphanage, which housed 46 children, provided one set of clothing for each child, had a single toilet bowl with a broken lid and only a nearby stream to bathe in, Longobardi became its permanent sponsor and U.S. ambassador.
Since returning from Nepal, he has already enlisted three of his friends to sponsor three children by funding their education, medical and school supplies for $50 a month. His ultimate goal is to raise $27,000 to rebuild the orphanage.
During his off time from the Coast Guard, Longobardi, who is stationed at Group Air Station in North Bend, Ore., trains for his next achievement -- to be the first to summit Mount Everest and complete the Tenzing-Hillary ultra marathon in the same day, conquering the world’s highest mountain peak along with the highest ultra marathon.
While tackling the marathon in May, his highest point was still 10,829 feet from the top of Everest.
“It’s gonna be tough, weather permitting and all about timing,” he said. “But why not? I have 10 fingers, 10 toes, two legs and I’m in good health. Why wouldn’t I be able to finish?”
To accomplish his goal, he needs to come up with $35,000 for oxygen tanks, equipment, a guide and transportation, among other necessities, by May of next year. He is attempting to raise funds on his website, www.Everest2Ultra.com, but may also use his own money.
Jerred Williams, a C-130 pilot in the U.S. Coast Guard who worked with Longobardi at the USCG Air Station at Barbers Point in Hawaii for three years, trained alongside him at a number of marathons, 24-hour mountain bike races and triathlons.
“He’s an inspiration to me,” said Williams, 37, of Mount Laurel, N.J. “When he sets his sights on something, he reaches his goal. It’s just the way he is. He pushes me to be better.”
Their five-person co-ed team competed in the “24-hours of Hell in Paradise” mountain bike race on the east side of Oahu in the Ka’a’awa Valley in August 2011 and in 2012. They won the last race for their division, finishing 44 laps of 5 to 7 miles each, barely making rest stops or sleeping.
“I had no doubts he’d be able to do what he set out to do,” Williams said. “Now, I’m looking forward to seeing pictures of him standing atop Mount Everest. Now that’s a big deal.”
Longobardi’s family friend, George Gyarmathy, who he’s known all his life, remains impressed by what Longobardi has accomplished so early in life.
“He’s very driven to accomplish things most of us just can’t do,” said Gyarmathy, 45, of West Islip. “He has an adventurous spirit and is carefree in a good way.”
There’s no doubt in his mind that Longobardi will be able to summit Mount Everest.
“The kid just doesn't have quit in him,” he said.