Stuyathlon: The Best Sport Stuyvesant Has to Offer

I describe the sport of Stuyathlon and recount a couple stories from its history

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Earlier this year, breakdancing, or “breaking,” was officially recognized as an Olympic sport. It is expected to appear at the 2024 Summer Olympics, assuming the world is still around at that point. This occurrence has invigorated Stuyathletes, who now hope to take their place among the other Olympic athletes in Paris four years from now.

The Stuyathlon, which gets its name from the well-known TriBeCa high school in which it originated, is a grueling multistage contest incorporating elements formerly unseen in sports.

The first leg of the race has gained notoriety in the Stuyathlon community for turning off potential Stuyathletes from the sport. It serves as a filter for those unwilling to commit—and boy is it one hell of a sieve. Before they can advance to the subsequent sections, Stuyathletes must endure what is commonly known as “the liquid mile.” This first portion requires competitors to down a hideous cocktail of caffeinated beverages from a brimming S’well thermos, courtesy of the Department of Education. Though the precise composition of the liquid has varied throughout the long history of the Stuyathlon, the most traditional and widely accepted blend of substances is one part coffee, one part green tea, and one part Red Bull. An extra-strength shot of 5-hour Energy is then added to top it off.

Many Stuyathlon champions started out as speed drinkers, and for good reason: running the liquid mile quickly provides an incredible advantage. Being able to finish the loathsome fluid without your stomach voiding or your heart exploding doesn’t matter if your competitors did so minutes ago. Professional Stuyathletes are known to chug lime juice or Caesar dressing in order to hone their disgust tolerance and up their speed. Gus Ullet emptied his horrid thermos in an eye-watering 5.37 seconds one cold morning in March 2014.

The second portion of the relay is no less trying than the first. Once competitors gulp down their entire bottle, they must enter a 10-story building and make their way to the top using only the staircases. Once they reach the top, they must retrieve two standard number two pencils. They then return to the first floor, again using only the stairs, and begin the third and final step of the race.

This middle leg of the Stuyathlon has been subject to much controversy. Undergoing such a grueling physical challenge with half a liter of jungle juice in your body sounds like it violates the Geneva Conventions. There have been tens, if not hundreds, of recorded injuries in the history of the Stuyathlon, with the vast majority having been inflicted by unforgiving flights of stairs. Even more controversial is the fact that there are no strict guidelines for athletes to follow in regards to sportsmanship. Seeing as the Stuyathlon has the world’s briefest rulebook, competitors are bound only by the laws of the nation in which the race takes place. On numerous occasions, athletes have been charged with aggravated assault.

Stuyathlon legend Steve Tretch has been given the pseudonym “the lord of lap two” for his adeptness at traversing the stairs. A lofty 6’5”, Tretch and his trunk-like legs have been known to skip four steps at a time going up and full flights at a time going down. “If there was someone in my way, I just went over them,” Tretch said in a 2018 interview.

Once the Stuyathletes have made it back to ground level, they must use the pencils they retrieved to complete a brief math test. The questions are all based around the Advanced Placement Calculus BC curriculum and are fiendishly written by math teachers with too much free time. There are typically 10 questions on this exam, all of equal and extreme difficulty, and the competitor’s grade will affect their overall time. For each question answered correctly, a minute will be deducted from their overall time. If they answer incorrectly, however, they will receive no time reward and lose the time they have spent on that question. A safeguard against Stuyathletes receiving unearned bonuses is a 10-second penalty for not showing work on a question.

There is, however, another way to approach this final leg. Some Stuyathletes have been known to purposely fill in wrong answers on the test as fast as possible so they can escape with a guaranteed minor time loss instead of risking a major time loss by solving questions incorrectly. This technique is often looked down upon and has its faults.

One such case was the near-mythical Stuyathlon match between Nelson Ryder and Josh Braun in August 1999. Throughout the entirety of the showdown, Braun built his lead. He slammed down his elixir in under 10 seconds and was out of the building by the four-minute mark. He utilized the forbidden technique and called time at an impressive 4:24 (which was really 6:04 due to the penalties for not showing work on his wrong answers). Ryder, on the other hand, choked the liquid mile and stumbled down the stairs, sitting down to take his test at a less-than-great 6:01. Braun was confident as he sat straight up in the summer heat. What he didn’t know was that Ryder was on the math team. Ryder laid his pencil down, breathing heavily and almost crying at 15:57, and Braun’s face was as bright as the sun. When the news broke that Ryder had achieved a perfect score, Braun passed out and fell onto the sizzling sidewalk, defeated.

As I previously mentioned, the rules of the Stuyathlon are few and far between, and they deal specifically with the pencils that are retrieved. There can only be two pencils in a Stuyathlon match—if there aren’t, it’s a wildly different sport. If an athlete fails to retrieve both pencils, they may not receive another, cannot proceed to leg three, and are disqualified. If an athlete is unable to write an answer for every question on the test, they are disqualified. Every pencil shall be from the same pack, specifically Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, and are to be handled by a single person, a third party, who personally sharpens each one. These pencils are to be laid out in a line at the very top of the 10th-floor stairs so they may be accessed easily by the athletes.

Perhaps the most famous Stuyathlon match ever recorded was between Tom Canny and another person whose name has been intentionally wiped from the annals of history. The match, which occurred sometime during spring break in 1987, caused a change in the Stuyathlon rulebook. When Canny’s opponent reached the top of the 10th-floor stairwell just seconds ahead of him, he made a particularly heinous choice that, at the time, was perfectly legal: he broke the tips of Canny’s pencils before taking his own. When Canny sat down to take the third step of the race, he noticed this, and in a move as ingenious as his opponent’s was malicious, snapped his pencils in two. He proceeded to take his test using the mangled wood and lead objects he had just created and defeated his enemy by several seconds. The act of sabotaging your opponents’ pencils has since become grounds for not only disqualification but also being banned from the sport.

I would be remiss, however, in my recounting of Stuyathlon history, if I omitted what has been often cited as the sport’s greatest tragedy.

The Stuyathlon was invented by Leroy Riats in the fall of 1970. It evolved from a petty competition between Riats and some of his friends over who could run up and down Stuyvesant’s five floors twice the fastest. It quickly gained popularity and was the talk of the school for months. Over winter break, Riats’s friends largely forgot about the newly born sport and put it out of their minds. Riats, though, spent those weeks in training. He chugged liter after liter of lemon juice, ran up and down thousands of flights of stairs, and crammed his calculus books until their spines were broken. On the first day back to school, his classmates noticed that a dark transformation had befallen him. Riats spent every class with his head down and didn’t speak to a soul. He marched through the halls between classes with a sinister look in his eyes and shoved everyone out of his way. At the end of the week, he strode up to Stuyvesant’s then-gym-teacher, Greg Fats, and challenged him to a Stuyathlon duel. Now, it has been frequently debated why Riats targeted Fats in particular, but Stuyvesant alumni who attended the school in this period have attested that the gym teacher was a particularly robust and capricious individual who earned the scorn of many a student. Fats, not to be shown up by some ballsy upperclassman, accepted his proposal.

The fateful day arrived on January 16, 1971. Fats showed up to the match in his work clothes, which were tie-dye, of course. Riats wore a heavy coat to the site but tossed it off at the starting line, mimicking the swagger of a WWE champion. Though Fats was perhaps in the best shape of his life with an afro fit for a disco king, he seemed wimpy next to the freakishly muscular Riats. The crowd that had gathered released a gasp when they saw his physique and were convinced they’d been witness to the return of the Greek gods of antiquity.

In order to discourage such an event from ever occurring again, the records that Riats set that day are discounted from the official rankings but are recorded nonetheless in memory of the student. According to the frenzied scribbles of the reporters attending the match that day, Riats performed at an inhumanly perfect level.

He is said to have burned through his thermos in no more than three seconds and proceeded to crush the bottle against his head like a beer can.

It is rumored that he then dashed through all 20 flights of stairs with such a ferocious intensity that he left burn marks on the pavement exiting the building.

According to the account, which by this point had descended to the level of hieroglyphics, Riats sat down to take the third leg with only three minutes on the clock.

From the oral tradition of the story—since the written account past this was indecipherable—Riats’s skin began to glow as he raced through the written portion at such a rapid pace that a dust storm was kicked up.

Once he finished, he stood up from his desk and looked from side to side at the large mob that had gathered, and his image began to shimmer. He then rose high into the air and dissipated with a blinding blast of blue light.

The time was then called, at precisely 10:00. Accounting for Riats’s test results, he had achieved a time of 0:00.

Nobody remembers what happened to Fats that day, but from then on forth, he was described as overweight, timid, and balding.

In conclusion, Stuyvesant High School should formally recognize and celebrate the sporting tradition that Leroy Riats and his pals started all the way back in 1970. It is very important that we as a school not only acknowledge our history but also keep it alive. This is why I will personally be hosting the annual Stuyathlon tournament this coming spring, coronavirus or not, for it is of the utmost significance to our institution. If there is one thing you should take away from this long-winded tale of poor choices and daredeviling, remember to never overcommit to something, for it will become all that you are.