Before competing in a four-event relay race with a 12-foot wall to scale at the end, Dominic Janus spent his morning catching geese in Delta.
When he got back to Vancouver, he discovered that one of the valves on his bike had broken and he had minutes to switch tires with his roommate before booking it to campus.
It was the last day of Storm the Wall — a four-day period where the UBC campus turns into an adult playground with sections cordoned off for swimmers, sprinters, cyclists and runners as they all race to complete their events before attempting to scale the 12-foot wall that is waiting for them at the end.
While onlookers cheer and shout, participants attempt to clamour up the wall in teams of five, two, or completely unassisted. Those who climb up unassisted are Iron Legends — a league known for its rarity of completion.
The last time an Iron Legend made it up the wall was in 2019. This year, Michael Dowhaniuk, outside hitter on the UBC men’s volleyball team, placed first as an Iron Legend with a time of 21:23.
“It was an amazing experience,” said Dowhaniuk. “Getting up the wall and turning around and seeing the big crowd of people, you know, really showed how much of an accomplishment it was. I put myself out of my comfort zone doing this, and getting that achievement in the end, makes it worth it.”
Storm the Wall combines the thrill and competitiveness of racing with community and teamwork. Iron Legends may make it up the wall alone, but most of them do so with friends and teammates cheering from the sidelines.
“[Storm the Wall] was definitely not the easiest — a lot of sacrifices were made,” said Dowhaniuk. “It was challenging, it takes a lot of mental toughness to do it on your own.”
“Especially in volleyball where we have such a strong team culture and everyone’s uplifting each other while we play. To go out on my own and do it all by myself — that’s where the support from the crowd and teammates really helps. I had a great support system.”
Dowhaniuk had made it up the wall in 2018 but didn’t take the title. This time around, he made it up the wall in just one try.
Despite his rough start to the day, Janus climbed the wall on his fourth try and placed second in the Iron Legend category with a time of 24:49. He had previously never made it up the wall unassisted.
“[Back in 2019] I couldn’t sign up for the Iron Legend league because it was full. But I tried a couple of practice sessions, and I could just touch the tip of the wall,” said Janus. “And my buddy shot a video on my phone of me trying to do it. And so, I had that video pop up every year after that, showing my fingers touching the top. I knew how close I was and in the back of my head, I always knew I had to do it.”
As students, both Dowhaniuk and Janus had busy schedules that kept them from deliberately training for Storm the Wall. However, both were able to integrate physical activity in their day-to-day as active members of the UBC community.
“I have some friends in other varsity sports, and that helped me kind of train for swimming and running,” said Dowhaniuk. “And I've been biking a lot on my own. So that helped a lot.”
For Janus, his master’s fieldwork helped prepare him for the event. Janus is a master’s student in the faculty of Forestry and researches invasive Canada Geese in the Fraser River Estuary.
“A lot of my research involves carrying equipment, and a lot of pounding wood into the mud and building fences,” said Janus. “A lot of the work I do is pretty physical.”
“I don’t play as many sports as I used to so my competitive nature comes out a bit less these days. So, this was so physically satisfying — just being able to push myself and achieve things.”
Dowhaniuk had some advice to students thinking about trying Storm the Wall.
“Put yourself out of your comfort zone,” he said. “You never know what you can achieve until you try it.”
— With files from Miriam Celebiler