February 7th, 2011

Marathon Man Makes Waves with Sensational Snowman

Canada's most colossal snowman rises from the middle of a frosty ballfield in Saint John, several hundred metres off Route More than two storeys tall and with a traffic cone for a nose, the frigid figure was fashioned in an enterprising flurry last week.

Chris Brake looks up at the gigantic snowman he has built on the Allison Grounds in Saint John.   Working alone and with only a shovel and a bucket, Chris Brake completed the towering sculpture in 55 hours, finishing last Friday as a storm raged.

At one point, a friend, Mel Speight, had to talk him into taking a break.

"I had to convince him to go home," says Speight, who posted videos of Brake building the snowman on Facebook and YouTube, and a photograph on the Weather Network's website. "He had three inches of water in his boots."

Diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome six years ago, Brake is relentless when he sets out to accomplish something, whether it is running a marathon or making a snowman.

"I stayed out until I was almost getting hypothermia," Brake, 28, says.

One of the most talented runners in Atlantic Canada, Brake did cartwheels once as he crossed the finish line at the New Brunswick Marathon, which he has won seven times. In a promotion once at Exhibition Park Raceway, he outran a horse.

"He gets started on something, and gets possessed," Speight says.

Two winters ago, Brake built a massive castle out of snow on the same ballfield in Saint John's north end. Several weeks ago, he was in the process of another similar snow job in Rockwood Park, when, overnight, it was knocked down.

"I came down here and worked my butt off to forget all about it," Brake says as he stands beside the field, known locally as the Allison Grounds.

As a means of celebrating the year 2011, the snowman he built is 20 feet, 11 inches tall. It has eyes fashioned from dinner plates, and a series of plastic bowls forms its mouth.

"It was my New Year's resolution," he says.

At the base, his mammoth Frosty is about 20 feet around. It is so huge that it has steps built into the rear, climbing all the way to the top.

"I tried to build one 30 feet tall a few years ago, but it didn't work," he says. "I don't think it could ever be done without help. But I get more satisfaction when I do something by myself."

In 2001, Brake ran in the Boston Marathon, finishing in 3 hours, 17 minutes. Last year, he won one local race in 2 hours, 32 minutes and another in 2 hours 39 minutes - the latter while running into a 60 kilometre-per-hour headwind. If he ran again in Boston and recorded a time close to either of those, he would likely finish in the top 50.

On Monday, with temperatures in the minus-30s, he ran 20 kilometres, which is what he does just about every day, snow or shine.

On Thursday, the forecast calls for temperatures to rise and wet snow to fall, and Brake plans to do a little maintenance work on his snowman.

"I need to touch it up," he says. "I'll feel guilty if I don't."

Then, he will run.

"I enjoy running around the snowman," Brake says. "It takes my mind off how cold it is, and makes me feel happy, rather than feeling depressed."

The same goes for everyone who sees it.


Marty Klinkenberg is the senior writer of the Telegraph-Journal. He can be reached at

Photo: Kate Braydon/Telegraph-Journal