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." 

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