While you’re reading this, I’m getting ready to go on another cruise for my job with Sixthman. This week, it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man Cruise, a cruise loaded with southern rock legends and upcoming bands.
While I’m out cruising through the Caribbean, I figured today would be a good time to introduce you to Alexander, a 25 year old Wildland Firefighter from Salt Lake City, Utah. Essentially, Alexander went from being an online hero in World of Warcraft to a real life hero in the world of wildland firefighting. This is quite the lengthy read but pretty freaking cool, so set aside 15 minutes when you get a chance to read through it all.
Hi, I’m Alexander.
Like many people my age, I was raised on video games. Instead of team sports and learning to hunt, I was finding raiding parties and calculating drop rates. There is nothing wrong with the wide world of virtual sports. However, I feel there is a side of man that is lost when he delves too deep into the virtual world. You can see it in the fitness and health levels of our peers. Obesity is rampant. Real world communication skills are being left by the wayside. Our connection to our bodies and nature is deteriorating with every new app that is developed. I found Nerd Fitness and realized I had found a group of kindred sprits: people who wanted to make that connection with their bodies again, but retain the wonderful world of geek.
Settling for “Meh.”
My typical days used to go like this: Get up, speedily take a shower, eat some captain crunch, and rush downstairs to cram a little gaming in before I had to go off to my retail job. I was a paint salesman at a local paint store. Not terribly exciting or lucrative, but I could fund my geeky endeavors well enough.
While at work, I would usually “nourish” myself with a run to Carl’s Jr. or Del Taco. As soon as I returned home, I would glue myself right to that computer or console until it was unreasonably late and do the whole process again the next day. Dinner usually consisted of whatever my mom was making that evening. Everything seemed great. Living in my parents basement, playing lots of video games with my friends. I had a girlfriend who tolerated my geeky obsessions. I felt content.
However, as I started into my 23rd level (year) on this planet, I began to feel a growing emptiness. I couldn’t put my finger on it. After all, I had the life! What did I possibly have to be empty about? I noticed my family was beginning to irritate me more often. My normal activities didn’t seem to fulfill me any longer. I felt antsy and nervous playing video games, as if I were doing something wrong. 14 to 16 hours of World of Warcraft didn’t feel acceptable anymore. I was skinny. I didn’t feel healthy. I didn’t feel alive. The answer to every question in my life was “Meh.” As Khalil Gibran so eloquently put it, “Desire is half of life. Indifference is half of death.”
Something had to be done.
I began searching. I wanted to fill this emptiness. I searched the internet and only found people selling magic cure all pills or juvenile advice from Ask Yahoo. I tried different hobbies. Piano. Started running more often. Ran 3 marathons. Nothing seemed to help.
I thought to myself, “Maybe I need a fulfilling career. People always say a fulfilling career is important.” I had obtained my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) license a few years back in search of some excitement. While I found some of EMT life exciting, a lot of it is cleaning up vomit and arguing with hobos. But I digress.
The Wildland Quest
While working on the ambulance, I had heard mention of something called, “Wildland.” Just the word sounded intriguing. So I investigated further. From what I could tell, these “Wildland Firefighters” climbed up and down burning mountain sides with chainsaws slung over their shoulders, cutting down trees and ordering around aircraft. That sounded like it could fill some emptiness!
I found a local fire department who had a Wildland division. I was informed that in order to be considered for an interview, I had to pass a physical test. 1.5 miles ran in under 11:30.
“No problem!” I thought to myself. “I’m a runner for Crom’s sake!” Sure enough, the trials rolled around, and I passed them with flying colors. Then it was onto the interview. I traveled to the fire department and had my panel interview. I’d been through plenty of interviews. This will be no problem right?
I did not wear a tie, I was red and flushed, and I stumbled over all of my words. I gave cliché’ answers to their questions and did not let my personality show through. I was not hired. I was devastated.
This was the turning point.
I will say it again: failure was my turning point. It is an important lesson to learn in life. You will benefit and develop far more from your failures than from any of your successes. I had finally begun to understand it. The metamorphosis had begun. I had found what I needed to fill that void in my life. A quest! A quest to become like the heroes I had always pretended to be, but in real life. “Meh” was no longer an acceptable answer to any question, and I knew it.
Hero Class: Wildland Firefighter
Up until this point, fitness had been a secondary aspect of my life. Despite having two Ironman / sponsored bike racers for uncles, my passion for fitness did not extend much further than running.
I never enjoyed weight lifting, no matter how many times I tried it. Despite my desire to have a muscular body, I never had the true fire to follow through.
My defeat became my fire. I was now determined to succeed at obtaining a spot on the 2009 season, Unified Fire Authority, Wildland Fire Crew. I set specific goals for myself. I began lifting weight and running daily. I didn’t change my diet very much, for at the time I didn’t understand how vital it was to fitness. I trained hard, I didn’t want any reason to exist to not be hired. I started forming relationships with local firefighters and learning more about the job.
Spring of 2009 rolled around, and it was time for attempt #2. When I arrived, I was informed that the cut off time had been lowered this year to 10:30. This was due to the high volume of applications they had received to be a firefighter. Over 200 applications had been received to fill 12 spots. I knew I had to give it my all, so I pushed through all 5 and 1/2 laps in 09:30 minutes and lapped two people. On to the interview.
This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I had any of my firefighter friends call the station and make a recommendation on my behalf. I had practiced my answers to the interview questions. I wore a tie. I remained calm. The interview went well. I was hired.
Now the real work began.
Fireline Fitness: FINISH HIM!
Now that I’ve bored you with my life story, lets get down to the meat and potatoes of the matter. Wildland Firefighter Fitness. I thought I was in shape for this job. Then I worked out with the guys. Here’s what we did and what happened. First of all, we have a certified Crossfit trainer on our crew, which meant many of our workouts consisted of Crossfit circuit training.
Here’s one of the workouts that we do on occasion: Draw from a deck of cards,
Where the value of the card equals the reps of the exercise and the suit of the card equals the exercise.
• Hearts = Sprint a given distance
• Clubs = Pushups
• Spades = Leg Lifts
• Diamonds = Pullups
• Joker = 15 burpees
Brutal. Not only do we do lots of these bodyweight exercises, but we also do tons of sprints, weight lifting, and hiking through the woods with 50-80 pounds of equipment (Helmets, tools, water filled, gas cans, chain saws, and packs). A lot of us even play team sports together like Rugby, Ultimate Frisbee, and Softball.
I finally Change My Diet
On an average day on the fireline, a Wildland Firefighter is likely to burn anywhere from 4000-6500 calories a day. This means the food he must consume must be of high nutritional value, for every bit of it is going to be used up. During my first season, I did not change my diet much- I simply just ate a lot more of the stuff I was used to eating.
However, once the season ended, I inquired to the CrossFit trainer as to what I should eat in the offseason, and he recommended I switch to either the Zone Diet or a Paleo Diet – no bread, very little sugars, some fruit, unlimited vegetables, lots of meat, lots of seeds and nuts, and tons of water, coffee and tea. As a result, my body fat percentage has decreased greatly with a good deal of muscle definition developing. Once I began to understand how the body broke down nutrients, I really started to see results.
Due to my recent plunge into wildland firefighting I have found a new fire for life. My previously developing gut has been stopped and reversed. I gained a healthy 15 pounds of muscle.
I have more energy than I ever. I spend more time focusing on training and fitness and less on video games. I feel fulfilled and have set up a system for a achieving goals. Its basically a quest system, but for life. I write my quest on a white board, and the things I have to do to complete that quest. I achieve it. Erase it and replace it with the next one.
I look at myself like a character sheet. I have a level, a class, stats (STR DEX CON etc.) that I always want to improve. I have a skill section that I want to add too. I use movie characters for inspiration.
I have come to the realization that Nerdiness does not need to be left by the wayside in order to become a healthier and more whole person. It simply need to be channeled and used as a tool and means to an end, as a opposed to an end in itself! We are intelligent people. Intelligence can be harnessed into braun!
A Few More Questions
Steve asked me some interview questions I thought I’d include at the end here.
Q: Favorite videogame of all time?
A: Starcraft. People are still playing this game in tournaments. Its replayablity is unmatched. Its just an all around great game and a classic that is has been fine tuned over 10 years.
Q: Are you playing any game right now?
A: Borderlands! Roleplaying + Guns = Awesome. Simple concept executed very well. Lots of fun builds to make. Great co-op action.
Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and why?
A: Tied between invulnerability and the ability to fly. Both would enable me to do all sorts of heroic things. That is what I would do with a superpower, just go around and find people to help.
Q: What’s your movie to live by?
A: 300, hands down. Love your woman. Love your children. Fight with and for your brothers in battle. Have convictions. Be rugged. Don’t complain. Face and revel the challenges of life!
Q: If you had to give one piece of advice to a complete stranger, what would it be?
A: Always remember, the past no longer exists. The future is not certain to come. You could die at any moment, for any reason. Treat every moment as if it were your last. Are you living up to your potential? Are you grateful for every moment? Are you living the way you want to be remembered?
Thanks Alexander! Readers, if you’re interested in hearing more about his story, you can shoot him an email at [email protected].
Alright guys, I’ll be out at sea until Monday afternoon, so I apologize that I’m so backed up on email responses to you all. I promise I haven’t forgotten about you. If all goes according to plan, I’ll have a new article on Monday, and things will be back to normal on Tuesday.
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