Sunday, June 25, 2017

Perspective of a Former Five-Time Champion

Four-Time World Champion Martha Ellis
As a woman entering the fire service in the early 1990’s I felt it was critical to establish myself as a physically capable employee early in my career. Granted, everyone was expected to pass a physical ability test, but I was looking for something more definitive and irrefutable. Opportunities to “prove” one’s self on the actual fire ground are usually few and far between. The subjectivity of field evaluation by my peers also left me feeling vulnerable to misrepresentation and distortion of the facts.

Finding the Firefighter Combat Challenge (Challenge) was heaven sent because it was controlled, measurable and an undeniable representation of both the mental and physical rigors of the fire ground. Participating in the Challenge truly set the tone for my entire career.

First and foremost, it redefined what teamwork in physical and mental preparedness meant to me. I’d been an athlete all my life, including collegiate sports, and I can honestly say I’d never trained as hard for anything prior. Our team pushed each other every day to become stronger, faster and more consistent. Although each of us stepped onto that course alone, the sense of team and commitment to greater representation was embedded in every effort. Our team grew from commitment and sacrifice to each other’s success, values learned only from a strong sense of common purpose. That’s what the Challenge gave us as a team.

As an individual, I gained a deep sense great satisfaction from my involvement in the Challenge. I left no doubt with my peers that I could “carry my weight.” I could walk into the firehouse confident that I was an accepted and integral part of that combat team.

The collateral benefits have continued to pay dividends to this day, 16 years after my last effort on the course. Embracing the importance of physical preparedness in the fire service I became a champion for the cause. I began speaking at fire conferences on the subject of fitness, nutrition and the politics of establishing fitness standards for incumbent personnel. I was also invited to speak to women firefighting groups specifically about the challenges we face and how we can better prepare ourselves to not just survive a career in the fire service, but thrive.

In looking for opportunities to reach a larger audience I began submitting articles to various trade magazines. I developed a fantastic working relationship with Fire Rescue Magazine, becoming their fitness editor and monthly columnist for five years. I also served on their editorial board for several years following, continuing to spread the word on the value of fitness in the fire service.

The Challenge and what followed helped me develop in too many ways to even mention. Suffice it to say I’m a stronger, more engaged, politically savvy member of the fire service largely because I made the choice to step out on the course and compete. Personally speaking, the singularly greatest collateral benefit of my involvement in the Challenge has been my marriage of 20 years to my teammate, best friend, mentor, unwavering supporter and life love, Jeff Ellis. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t dared to participate in the Firefighter Combat Challenge.


Roy Davis said...

Nice article! Glad to see Paul is covering us "old timers" and women. He did a nice blog for me in December 2016.
PS Hi to Jeff

Unknown said...

I competed in the Worlds competition in 2000. I wasn't great as Martha in 2000, but competed for the EXACT same reasons as Martha! I remember meeting her in Las Vegas in 2000! She was a VERY modest and kind person, as I remember. Martha and I talked for a while as we watched the other competitors compete. What an inspiration she was for us girls! I ended up getting SO much "street cred" with the boys, after I competed in the combat challenge! Thank you, Martha, for being a true inspiration and such a kind heart! My name when I competed was Barbara Peters.