Courtesy Photo

On any given Saturday or Sunday, people run, walk, bike, swim, play golf, or sip wine in support of charitable causes. To this list, add a diabolically simple activity: the plank.

“It feels like the worst stomachache of your life,” said Mike London, a daring participant in the Olympic Hero Plank-athon that occurred on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at the UCSB track.

The plank is a trendy exercise that strengthens the muscles through the core of one’s body. You begin by lying face down with your elbows at your side, palms flat on the ground. Rise up so that your weight is on your forearms and toes, keeping your back locked in a straight, flat position. Beginners will exhaust themselves after holding that position for 30 seconds. A reasonable goal is two minutes.

London, a lanky UCSB sophomore, kept himself elevated for 55 minutes before he sagged to the surface of the track. That left Ryan Garcia, his Gaucho swimming teammate, as the last man planking. Garcia showed why he is known as “Tank the Plank” with an extraordinary display of willpower. “My goal was just to win it,” he said, “but I was so close, I decided to go for an hour.”

Garcia’s form was far from perfect at that stage. He squirmed from side to side. His shoulders and legs trembled involuntarily. Sweat poured off his face. “Tank left a small lake on the track,” UCSB swim coach Gregg Wilson observed. “He’s an incredible sweating machine.”

Wilson had learned not to underestimate the abilities of Garcia, a senior from San Jose. “He’s short, not a championship physique,” the coach said. “You make up for deficiencies in other ways. Tank has a huge heart. He’s extremely proud about being a Filipino. He’s made himself our best backstroker.” And he is the Plank-athon champion of 2011. At exactly an hour, Garcia dropped to his knees and raised his arms.

He was applauded by several Special Olympics athletes, the beneficiaries of the event. Participants raised almost $3,500 through donations, enabling Santa Barbara Special Olympics to send 35 athletes to the upcoming Southern California Fall Games in Fountain Valley.

Dawn Schroeder and Marcie Kjoller, doyennes of the community fitness organization Momentum4Life, staged the Plank-athon. They both competed in swimming at UCSB two decades ago. Wilson, who has been coaching the Gauchos for 35 years, eagerly got his teams involved. “This is win-win,” Wilson said. “It engages our freshmen right off the bat into the ‘Gauchos Give’ mentality.” They were left with signs of their effort. “Everybody’s elbows were rubbed raw,” Wilson said.

Emily Stucky, a new Gaucho swimmer from Colorado, stuck out the plank for almost 31 minutes to place third. Fourth-place honors went to Emilie Johnson, the senior point guard on the women’s basketball team, at 28 minutes and change.

Garcia and London both tapped into inspirational thoughts during their ordeals. “I dedicated it to all those who lost loved ones, and it’s my mom’s birthday,” Garcia said. He listened to his favorite music through a headset. “Hip-hop, Bay rap, Mac Dre, Andre Nickatina. It got me in my happy place for 45 minutes.”

A week earlier, London had been at the deathbed of his grandfather, Homme Zondervan, in San Jose. “He lived a day after 85,” London said. “I wanted to do this for him. He was my role model.” Zondervan served in the Dutch Navy, and London wants to become a U.S. Navy pilot. He figures planks and swimming will give him a head start. “I swim the 200 free, 500 free, the mile sometimes,” London said. “I’m used to pain.”

GAMES OF THE WEEK: The San Marcos High Royals play their first varsity football game on the new turf of Warkentin Stadium on Friday (Sept. 23) at 7 p.m. against Hueneme. … The Santa Ynez Pirates, who traded last-minute touchdowns to beat Bishop Diego in a 23-22 thriller, come over the pass to play Carpinteria at 7:30 p.m. on Friday … UCSB, ranked No. 9 in the nation by Soccer America, tries to bounce back from its first men’s soccer defeat (3-2 at UCLA) in two matches at Harder Stadium, 7 p.m. on Friday against San Diego and 5 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 25) against Sacramento State.

VAQUEROS VALIENTES: SBCC is naming honorary captains at every Vaquero home football game. Captain of the opener was 2-year-old cancer survivor Eliana Georges. For the Moorpark-SBCC game at La Playa Stadium on Saturday (Sept. 24), the captains will be Gwendolyn, Bill, and Victoria Strong of the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, which raises awareness of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a deadly genetic condition. The remaining captains will be the Goleta Boys & Girls Club (Oct. 8); SBCC’s 1961 Sequoia Bowl team (Oct. 22); and Bradley Ebner and the Santa Barbara School District Transition Program (Oct. 29). All games kick off at 6 p.m.


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