Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Guess You Had to be There...

For those of you who came to Cedar Point last year, you may have had a sense of deja vu (http://youtu.be/55Ay8W_IRpw).

We thought moving the event up by a month or so should ensure that we’d not encounter another 50kt, non-stop, white-capping, sideways rain storm. The two-week long, intense 90°+ heat wave was broken by a number of squalls that dumped on us- yet again, precipitating (no-pun intended) more of those kinds of issues brought on by the extreme disdain that electrons have for water. 

Apologies to those guys who ended up not doing their best- which would include just about everyone. All I can say is that this was a tough course, made more tough by rain-swollen hose that added mass to the gear- on both the red and the blue course equally. 

But for me, the camaraderie transcended it all. In some ways it was like homecoming week for the Challenge. Don Kempf, now a retired battalion chief from the Cleveland Fire Department set a new world record for guys with bilateral hip replacements. He remarked when I pointed this out, “At last I won something!” Carl Keith, now a chief officer with Elyria stated that the last time he ran the course, there was no such thing as cell phones. That took me back to those days in the mid ‘90’s, waiting on some street corner for Ross Lowery to show up, driving our Hackney support vehicle, and having absolutely no idea as to where he was and when he would show up. 

I remarked to Randy Kalan, now the chief of Thames Center FD (ON) that it took Mike Word longer to read his list of accomplishments than it did for him to run the course (2:02). Mark Condrich, stand-out scholastic athlete and now-over 50 competitor brought Martin Shea, another Cleveland firefighter with him. It was Martin’s first run- ever, and absent any task-specific training turned in an impressive 2:55. He remarked that “...it was fun.” His understatement made me ponder, “this is as it should be; any firefighter roused from the dead of night might be faced with a working fire of enormous proportions.” To be fully prepared, the Challenge is a great benchmark by which one knows that they do have what it takes to go in harm’s way. 

Mark, Paul Jeske and Bernie Nypaver (Lakewood) and I had a far ranging conversation on an assortment of topics ranging from “where did the plasticity in our legs go“, to “do you think you can get it back with plyometrics?” We talked about the benefits of chondroitin and the prophylactic value of pediatric (81mg) aspirin. Here, we have a bunch of guys, some with over 30 years on the job who are still fascinated with competition, work performance, training regimens and overall vitality. Bernie’s major focus has been cycling- participating in the World Games and other amateur competitions. Shaun Henderson and I discussed over-the-counter supplements and the problems with truth in labeling (you can’t trust the manufactures to disclose banned substances). So much to talk about and not enough time. 

Even our two sponsors, Ron Snizek of Finnley Fire Apparatus- who brought a Pierce engine to the event and Mike Olney of Horton, both firefighters with more than 30 years enjoyed the rare atmosphere of being around firefighter jocks who love their jobs and bring with them an infectious vitality. 

Chances are if you’re reading this column, you’re pretty dialed in to the ethos of what makes the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge a blast. It’s not what happens on the course, it’s all the cool people- guys who would be insulted if you visited their town and you didn’t tell them you were coming. Relationships that have been forged, now spanning decades- that never would have been, had there not been this exciting platform for sport. 

I watched the march on of athletes in London. Bob Costas pointed out that the president of one of the country teams from Africa had said that it was about winning- not participating- having reversed the whole premise for the games as espoused by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Well, I think we got it right. If you could have been in Sandusky, we validated ”just being there." 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Montgomery, Alabama: A Winning Combination

The city of Montgomery was named after the American Revolutionary War major general, Richard Montgomery- born in Ireland and first served in the British army.  He lead the failed invasion of Canada and was killed after capturing Montreal. A battle of another sort took place in his city namesake this past weekend. Our 368th Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge was an exceptional event. It is noteworthy for a lot of reasons. First, the temperature was 20°F cooler than last year- or at least it felt that way. Absent the torrential downpour that took out some of our electronic sound components, the weather was near spectacular. We were positioned on a virtually flat parking lot that was in good repair. The slight grade helped considerably in quickly removing the standing 2 inches of water that Mike Word and I observed from our relative place of safety, inside the Kentucky semi-trailer. 

          Justin Beliveau: 1:39

On both of our competition days the colors were presented by the MFD Honor Guard and the National Anthem was sung by Police Sergeant John Mackey and Police Officer Roderick Montgomery in a duet. This was one of the best renditions ever. I remarked that they should have tried out for American Idol- and we should have recorded them. The Mayor, Todd Strange made opening remarks and was around for all of the competition for both days, as was the Director of Public Safety, J. Christopher Murphy. That is, I believe a first. 
Here’s another first: Justin Beliveau of Hattiesburg (MS) took first place with a 1:39.82- a Lion’s Den criteria for his first time running in the Open category. That’s remarkable! The top 9 finishers were under 2:00. As expected, the Relays delivered the promised excitement. Sixteen teams from the MFD were in the competition- representing almost every station as well as headquarters. 

The 25-member recruit class, all in their red PT gear reset the course with precision and harbor ominous forebodings of great things to come for the Montgomery Fire Department.  Tuscaloosa, Hattiesburg, Pearl, Seymour Johnson AFB and of course MFD made a great contest of the final eliminations with a run only <3 seconds off the World Record. 

Media coverage was also exceptional; here are some of the links: 

I characterized this event as near perfect in every category and an exemplar of what we’d like to see at every regional. Kudos to Chief Milford Jordan and his staff. We’re already looking forward to a return engagement in Montgomery next year. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Economic Value of Exercise- Cheap Therapy

The Supreme Court’s decision on the ACA has been headline news for the past week. Health care would not be the profound economic problem it is if people simply took personal responsibility. Most of our runaway costs are related to self-destructive behaviors such as the absence of any form of physical activity. The numbers of obese individuals in the world have now surpassed the numbers of malnourished. Of course, the fact that you’re reading this validates my point. The membership of the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge understand and embody the principles of a disease-free and exuberant lifestyle. If you were looking for an authoritative resource to back you up, read on...

A news release from the American College of Sports Medicine
Experts prescribe physical activity to promote health, cut costs

INDIANAPOLIS – The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), awaited amid much speculation for its impact on the act’s ongoing implementation, changes nothing about one fundamental truth, according to medical experts and scientists. Leaders of the American College of Sports Medicine point to physical activity and exercise as a powerful prescription for what’s ailing the U.S. citizenry, health system and economy. There is widespread and bipartisan support in Congress for effective steps in preventing disease rather than trying to pay for treating people after they get sick, including major promotion of physical activity and healthy lifestyles.

“Americans’ lack of exercise will cause seven million early deaths in this decade, according the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services,” said Janet Walberg Rankin, Ph.D.,  ACSM president and an associate dean at Virginia Tech. “With chronic diseases—including heart disease, stroke and diabetes—responsible for seven out of 10 deaths, and with physical activity and exercise shown to help prevent and treat more than 40 chronic conditions, healthy lifestyles must be a part of the health care equation.”
“It’s good medicine, it’s sound science, and it’s an economic necessity,” said Robert Sallis, M.D., FACSM, a physician with Kaiser Permanente and past president of ACSM who chairs the Exercise is Medicine global health initiative. “Chronic diseases account for 75 percent of the nation’s health care spending. Increased physical activity can play a powerful role in treating these problems and, even better, in preventing them from occurring in the first place. If the benefits of exercise could be captured in pill form, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world.”

Walberg Rankin and Sallis recommend that, given the ability of physical activity and exercise to help people of any age or health status gain and maintain better health, these considerations should be central to any discussion on health policy. “Governments worldwide, from the community level to national legislatures, are wising up to what businesses are already finding out,” said Sallis. “Keeping people healthy has a profound impact on the bottom line. Lack of physical activity has an estimated cost of $223 billion to $381 billion per year, which is now going to treat preventable diseases.” Exercise can cost next to nothing, with enjoyable activities such as walking available to almost anyone.

“Beyond the avoidable cost in health care dollars, we need to look at the loss of worker productivity and the impact of non-communicable diseases on families and on individual quality of life,” said Walberg Rankin. “Research shows that physically active people have fewer hospital stays and physician visits. Our nation—and every community, workplace and organization—must act on the growing evidence base supporting Exercise is Medicine and collectively shift focus from overspending to treat preventable diseases to keeping people healthy. That’s a proven prescription for individual health and America’s bottom line.”