|The Five Elderly Rookies Relay Team|
The Relay event at the Mississippi State Firemen’s Convention took on a whole new twist when five guys decided to take a shot at competing a little over a week ago in Jackson. They made three clean runs, without penalties before getting knocked out. But the backstory is what’s mesmerizing. All of the crew, Mark McCormick, Donald Leonard, Steve Seal, Chris Banks and Tosh Hawke made an impromptu decision to put a team into the competition, running as rookies over the age of 40 and some older.
But what’s really incredible is the story that was told to me by Mark McCormick, a 20-year veteran ER nurse- about fellow team member Chris Banks. In December of 2004 while attending a training session in Meridian, Chris went into a cardiac arrest. This story was so intriguing that I followed up with a phone call to Chris. His fellow class members performed at least 18 minutes of CPR until definitive care could be started. He suffered additional arrests at the hospital and was in a coma for over a month.
This 16-year veteran, now a B/C has no recollection of the incident. In fact, when he awoke from the coma, his first thoughts were, “Where am I?” He did not recognize the people around him, could not talk or walk. All of his major life motor functions, including swallowing had to be re-learned.
Chris has not squandered his second chance at life. To literally come back from the dead gives one a totally different perspective. This was evident in a lengthy conversation about how he’s turned his life around and his efforts to reach out to his fellow firefighters to raise their awareness about practices that are consistent with reducing the risk of heart disease and sudden death.
This extends to eating habits and participating in regular physical activity. The Challenge has provided a huge incentive for improvement and motivation. He commented that “...there’s no feeling like that of hearing people call out your name and cheer you on at an event.” He believes that every Mississippi firefighter should participate in the Challenge at least once. In the out years he believes that everyone of the State’s 82 counties should have a team at the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge. He also says that he wishes that he knew at 25 what he now knows about better living.
Chris, in reflecting about his personal experience harbors no regrets for the experience. While he was in physical therapy for his foot drop that had to be corrected with a brace, he was inspired by the people who were striving mightily, and were far worse off than he. He said, “I can do this on my own; you have bigger problems here than me.” And so he did take responsibility for his own rehabilitation program, returning to work four months after his clinical death.
I was compelled to share this incredible story- a real life drama that deserves a wider platform like 20/20 or Dateline. It is inspiring to talk to people who have triumphed over unexpected adversity, making many of your own problems seem petty. Chris and his buddies will be back; they’re looking forward to running the individual’s category. He says it won’t be pretty, but before he hangs it up, he want’s to have that accomplishment under his belt.