Tents camped out on the top of a West Virginia mountain

Three West Virginia businessmen share their experiences with extreme adventures.

Originally published in West Virginia Focus magazine

Marathons, mountain climbing, extreme kayaking, and high-speed racing—when it comes to an after-work release it seems there’s nothing West Virginia’s businesspeople won’t do. We asked a few to share their experiences with thrilling sports and their inspirations to do them.

A Race to See the World

One thousand five hundred and seventy. That’s a low estimate of the number of miles Charleston commercial lawyer Jim Sturgeon has run in competition throughout his life. “I’ve been running marathons and racing for close to three decades,” Sturgeon says. He claims he’s finished more than 60 26.2-milers in that time, including three Boston Marathons, two through New York City, two through Chicago, and two through Berlin, plus races in Prague, Dublin, and Edinburgh.

Why so many races? “It’s a hobby,” he says. “Why do people play tennis or golf?” Marathon racing is perhaps a little more extreme than golf, but his running is more about seeing the world. Travel, his real hobby, has taken him across the globe—sight-seeing in Iran, trekking through Patagonia, and, recently, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

The trip was Sturgeon’s first real high-elevation experience. “Kilimanjaro is a doable mountain climb,” he says. “It’s not like Mount Everest, which has an incredibly high risk factor. I thought it would be a fascinating thing to see.” Sturgeon’s tour went up the mountain’s western breach, described as the most challenging way to climb Kilimanjaro but also the least crowded. “We started climbing at 4 in the morning,” he says. “At that hour of the day the temperatures are so low that the rocks are more likely to be frozen and less likely to come down on top of you. You have to be up over the rock fall areas before the sun comes up.”

After a long climb, the group camped out at 16,000 feet, on top of the clouds. “It’s an incredible view from that height,” Sturgeon says. “You usually can’t see the top of Kilimanjaro from the base of the mountain because of the clouds. When you get above the cloud level it’s unlimited visibility and quite bright.” Despite the breathtaking views, Sturgeon says he has no plans to climb Kilimanjaro again. The tents were too cramped. Instead he’s heading off on a two-week bird-watching trip to Japan.

A Whirlwind of Family

When Kevin Bealko was just a boy, the youngest of five brothers, he was bitten by the racing bug. After his father, a miner, was killed in the mine, Bealko’s brothers became his mentors. “My oldest brother, Rob, was a gearhead up in Uniontown, Pennsylvania,” he says. “Carts, bikes—whatever it was—we loved to race.” Once he started college, however, that family pastime sort of fell away. “Between basketball and getting a college education, racing was way down on the list.” Getting married, raising kids, and founding the Bridgeport coal-loading business Marion Docks didn’t allow much time for racing, either.

But several years ago when Bealko’s mother passed away, he says the five brothers realized the glue holding their family together was also gone. “We didn’t have a reason for everyone to get together, other than the holidays,” he says. They decided to get back to that old boyhood passion and create a drag racing team. “Everyone thought it was a wonderful idea. This would be a great way to stay in touch and do what we do.”

They called their team Black Diamond Motorsports, after the family’s history with coal mining. What started as a fun hobby has turned into a sponsored gig with an entourage and more than a dozen events per year. “We have two cars in our arsenal and we’re just loving it,” Bealko says. “I do it mainly to network with my brothers and our friends, but there’s nothing like driving these cars. It’s the thrill. Six seconds, 225 miles per hour. When you let up the clutch it’s a real kick.”

Defying Death on the River

Navigable rivers can range in difficulty from Class I to Class V, the latter defined as “hazardous” and requiring expert moves to avoid serious injury or death. Fred Glotfelty’s first white water trip was on a Class IV run. “I came out of my first river kayak with two broken ribs,” the West Virginia tire heir says. “I jumped into it headfirst. It was a rough adventure, but it didn’t discourage me.” That was in 1995. Glotfelty, now vice president of the family-owned Glotfelty Tire empire, was looking for something to do on his own.

His family, he says, is full of enthusiastic hunters and, while Glotfelty has always enjoyed the outdoors, hunting wasn’t for him. Before kayaking, he was into mountain biking. Before that he was traveling in the military. “It gave me a bug,” he says of his time in the military. “It’s part exercise and part my love of nature. I spent a lot of time in the woods my entire life, exploring, climbing rocks, and being outside.”

He’s completed hundreds of river runs since those first broken ribs, including three rivers in South America, three in Costa Rica, and dozens throughout the United States. “Wild and scenic rivers are hard to beat,” he says. One of his favorite memories was a run in Peru that requires a three-day commitment. “The everyday can get you stressed out a bit, but the scenery of the river and the adrenaline release takes it all that away. It cleanses you.”

Written by Katie Griffith
Photograph courtesy of Jim Sturgeon

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