Sobieraski writes how grit can take you from ‘gray’ to great

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 June 2022 at 8:31 am

In new book, ultra-endurance athlete and retired Rochester PD sergeant from Carlton gives tips on conquering challenges

This cover image on Brett Sobieraski’s book shows him getting wrapped in a flag after swimming 32 miles over 21 hours from Fort Niagara to Toronto.

CARLTON – A Carlton resident who worked more than 30 years as a police officer, including as a sergeant and SWAT leader for the Rochester PD, has written a book about his experiences as an ultra-endurance athlete.

Brett Sobieraski, 55, grew up in Lockport and sat the bench on the sports teams and was in the back of the pack in track events. He wasn’t exceptional.

But in his mid-40s he tapped into a reservoir of grit and determination to finish extreme challenges, such as swimming across Lake Ontario, running 175 miles along the Erie Canal and completing the 135-mile Badwater in California’s Death Valley.

In his new book – “Gray Man – An Average Man’s Journey To Personal Greatness” – Sobieraski shares how he gets past his self doubts, the exhaustion and pain, to keep going to the finish line, and then embrace another new challenge.

“The change is incremental,” Sobieraski said in an interview. “For it to be long-lasting there has to be setbacks along the way. Compare yourself to where you started and the obstacles you overcame.”

Sobieraski retired two years ago from the Rochester Police Department. He ran for Orleans County sheriff in 2019, losing a close race to Chris Bourke.

Sobieraski said he is enjoying retirement. He wrote the book after being encouraged by people to share his experiences as an ultra-athlete and some of the motivational messages he often used as a physical fitness and narcotics instructor in the Monroe County Law Enforcement Academy.

A gray man, Sobieraski said, is someone who isn’t extraordinary. A gray man isn’t in the top 10 percent or bottom 10 percent. The remaining 80 percent are in the middle in various shades of gray.

“A gray is someone who moves around the periphery without creating any stimulus,” Sobieraski writes in the book. “He blends into his surroundings and is overlooked, unnoticed and forgotten, mostly because he is average.”

Sobieraski said he was the “consummate gray man” for his childhood and most of his adulthood.

“It took me many years to learn that personal greatness is still obtainable for average folks like me,” he writes. “It wasn’t until I looked past my lack of physical attributes and focused on my mental toughness, that I began experiencing personal success.”

Sobieraski takes you into his mindset in taking on a challenge such as the 100-mile Beast of Burden race in the Lockport area. He doesn’t always hit his goals for time in a race.

Provided photo: Brett Sobieraski runs the final stretch of a 50-hour journey on July 15, 2018, carrying a torch for the Special Olympics. He started in Buffalo on July 11 and would run more than 6 1/2 consecutive marathons in six different counties. He finished the challenge near Syracuse. He has completed several endurance challenges to raise money for the Special Olympics, veterans and police officers.

He signs up for the challenges even though he knows there will be pain. He saw his friend Brian’s feet after he went more than 60 miles in the Beast of Burden in Sobieraski’s hometown.

“When he took his socks off his feet looked like they had gone through a meat grinder,” Sobieraski writes. “They were red, full of blisters and badly swollen. There was something eerily fascinating about it, that it was earned through the will to continue to push forward.”

Sobieraski trained for the 100-miler and decided to use the challenge as a fundraiser for two police officers – one who had Huntington’s disease and another who passed away suddenly leaving behind a wife and three children. Sobieraski raised $18,000 – with half going to Huntington’s disease research and other half for his fallen friend’s family.

Sobieraski writes about friends who help push him in the races, especially near the end when the pain is intense and the body doesn’t want to keep moving. At those times you feel yourself unraveling, and searching for a reason to continue, he said.

Sobieraski finished that race in 21 hours and 52 minutes. He went to work the next day but felt it took four months for him to recover from the 100-miler on Aug. 20, 2011.

It was an empowering experience and Sobieraski was ready for more.

“I once again gained a new perspective when it came to hardship,” he writes. I now feared very little of it. I knew what it was like to hit rock bottom and continue on.”

He has finished Ironman triathlons – swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, pushing through the temptation to stop. He even did a double Ironman where he nearly gave up but kept going and finished in just over 29 hours. He didn’t want a DNF (Did Not Finish) next to his name.

He ran one 100-mile race in Knoxville, Maryland in memory of Rochester police officer Daryl Pierson, who was shot and killed by a parolee on Sept. 3, 2014.

He swam 32 miles in August 2015 to Toronto as a benefit for the All In, All The Time Foundation which assists surviving spouses and children of fallen Navy Special Warfare warriors.

In July 2016, Sobieraski conquered the 135-mile Badwater ultra in California’s Death Valley, finishing in 34 hours, 22 minutes.

In July 2018 he ran 50  hours straight, covering 175 miles, as a benefit for the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics.

Sobieraski is still at it as an endurance athlete, at age 55. On May 7, he completed the 12-hour “Mind the Ducks” ultramarathon in Webster.

He is considering an ultimate challenge, running across the country – about 2,700 miles.

Sobieraski encourages people to set goals and not necessarily compare themselves to others.

“I hope most of it will make you wonder what is possible if you are willing to make incremental changes in your life, coupled with sacrifice and determination,” he said about the book. “After all, personal greatness is obtainable for EVERYONE!”

For more information on the book, click here.