Jorge Blanco sets the timer, grabs his bucket and begins to run.
He sprints across the room to the faucet. He swiftly snaps a robe hook and a towel ring onto their respective wall mounts, and then, in a effortless move, pulls off the faucet handle and swaps out its ceramic cartridge for a new one. Dropping to his knees, he installs the hot and cold supply lines below the faucet. He gets up, dashes back to the starting point and slams both hands on the timer to stop it.
That's when he sees it: One supply line is still dangling. Clumsy.
"That would've been a callback," he says. And a callback would have sent Blanco home empty-handed from the Maintenance Mania National Championship.
Thankfully, this is only a demonstration. On June 17, at the 10th annual competition, held at the San Francisco convention of the National Apartment Association, Blanco, took home the top prize by completing eight maintenance-focused events in a combined time of a mere 1 minute 11.618 seconds.
It was the fifth try and the first win for the 28-year-old Rockville, Maryland, man, a service manager for Kettler Properties. He beat out not only 19 other finalists on the national stage but the roughly 6,000 other aspirants who competed at the regional level. He also claimed the fastest individual time in the ceiling-fan assembly event.
When his name was announced as the overall winner, he leapt into the center of the stage, pumping his palm in the air, as if to show off his trophy before it's even been handed to him.
It had been a long time coming.
The El Salvador native moved to the Washington, D.C., area when he was 8. In high school, Blanco remembers, his mother would often try to persuade him to become a doctor or lawyer. He told her he wanted to be a maintenance man.
"I was good with my hands," he says. "I wanted to use my hands on my job."
Blanco became a maintenance man, and he soon came to be known for his speed. Early on in his career, when he was just a maintenance tech, his service manager asked him if he wanted to enter the regional competition for this thing called Maintenance Mania.
He gave it a try. That first year, 2012, he barely missed the cut in the D.C. competition, a mere second short of qualifying for the national championship.
Undiscouraged, Blanco made it to the championship every year since then, four times in all. In 2014, his second year at the national championship, he placed third overall. Cindy Clare, president of Kettler Management, recalls that he was disappointed for not winning.
Blanco isn't embarrassed by his singular drive to win — it's a passion he said is shared by his Kettler co-workers, many of whom also compete every year. The company even put together a training space for its competitors that replicates eight of the national events — toilet repair, icemaker installation and others — in the basement of the Fields of Bethesda, a Kettler apartment complex in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
But it's clear that Blanco's mania for the Mania exceeds that of his peers. As he's traveled to each championship, he's never taken the time to sightsee in the host cities, which have included San Diego, Denver, Las Vegas. He needs to concentrate, he says.
Blanco estimates that every year he practices for roughly 150 hours — in addition, of course, to the practice that comes with his actual work. As the competition nears, he often practices on Saturdays for six to eight hours. Sometimes his kids tag along. His wife often brings him lunch.
His family's support is such that they forgave him for missing the birth of his second child in order to compete in nationals. And her first birthday. And her second birthday. (In his defense, the baby arrived a couple weeks ahead of her due date; and thankfully, this year's competition's date allowed Blanco to be present for his daughter's third birthday.)
But it all paid off with Blanco's big win this year. His prize money totals roughly $7,000 for his overall win plus his achievement in the individual event, but Blanco says he's still unsure of how he'll allocate the money — "just spend it when it comes." For him, the title matters more than the prize.
The point of the competition is to celebrate men and women whose work often goes unrecognized, says Doug Culkin, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association. This year, the NAA also established a hall of fame for Maintenance Mania competitors who have qualified for the national championship five years in a row.
And yes, Blanco plans to compete in next year's Maintenance Mania to defend his title — and earn a spot in the hall of fame if he qualifies.
"Anybody that competes knows that it's serious," Blanco says. "You want to be the fastest in the country. You want to represent your company."