Arsenal member Aaron Taylor worked 15 years as a firefighter. When I sat down to chat with him he had just worked his last day.
“I just left a job that people don’t leave,” Aaron said.
Firefighters can retire with full benefits after 20 years, so this was no small decision.
“This is the first time since I was probably 15 that I haven’t had a paycheck come from somebody.”
To sit down with Aaron was to sit with a man in the middle of a monumental life shift. No doubt there are plenty of people scratching their heads wondering why he didn’t stick it out another five years. My mind went there too, until Aaron offered this:
“My daughter had a Snapchat story going called ‘Angry Dad’ and would post pictures of me being grumpy.”
Aaron was no longer happy being Angry Dad. His divorce, an injury working, and years of bottling up his emotions left him ready to make a change.
Putting out Fires
Aaron was a community of one. His problems were his to carry on his own. He’s the strong and silent type. The kind of guy that doesn’t talk about feelings. He worked out alone.
“I was one of the guys who went to the Y with my headphones in, my head down and didn’t talk to anybody. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be working out with other people.’”
CrossFit was popular with firefighters and police officers, but Muncie didn’t have a gym until The Arsenal. A few months after The Arsenal opened, Aaron came in for his first class.
“We did back squats and a 2000-meter row for time. I got off that rower and I thought, ‘This is the worst… but I’m coming back tomorrow!’ Coach Greg made it fun. So then I did the free week. The coaches always let me know if I could do more, but not enough that I was going to hurt myself. We have been very fortunate the entire time I’ve been at The Arsenal to have outstanding coaches. Over time, The Arsenal became my comfortable place to go. The whole community part of it for me was huge. A huge part of me stepping out of my comfort zone.”
“Slowly I got myself down to 240 from 300. Everything feels better doing CrossFit. I can’t imagine not doing the workouts. I’m in the best shape I have been in since I was 21.”
After Aaron started CrossFit, he didn’t work a fire for three months. When he did, he noticed a big difference.
“It was amazing how much easier it was after CrossFit. It was amazing how much easier it was to not go through air. I wasn’t sore. Normally I’d wake up the next morning after we’d have a big fire and everything hurt. I felt great. I remember going in, I think Greg was coaching, and I said, “Dude we had a fire last night. I was great. This stuff works.”
“I can see why Crossfit is popular with firefighters and police officers. The variation is so much like what we do. You go from nothing to super intense. There’s also the mental side of it. CrossFit allowed me to do my job better physically, and emotionally it’s a good hour to work frustrations out. You don’t think about anything but getting some work done. It’s a nice break to help clear your head. For me, I was so much more productive after I worked out.”
He was working out more and eating better, but something was still missing.
“I didn’t have the tools to deal with the stress. I ate too much, drank too much. Anything self destructive. It added stress to family life. I felt terrible, physically. Knees hurt, back hurt. I was lonely, depressed. I just felt beat down. The weight was just the symptom of everything that was going on.”
“Going into the fire department, I never developed good coping tools. You see a lot. If you can shut it down and keep moving you are great, but eventually it’s going to come out sideways. It’s stressful being away from home, especially when you have kids. You get the stress of being gone from home, and then the stress coming home. And then the stress of the things that you see. You see terrible things.”
“I was good at seeing the good qualities in other people, but I was never that way with myself. I feel like the Arsenal has been good for me in that way. I learned I can’t compare myself to Adam, Skyler, or BJ. I get beat on a regular basis by most of the ladies in there, and that’s ok. It’s the whole concept of you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be trying.”
When he injured his wrist which kept him from working and from working out, he started doing something that he never thought he would do: journaling.
“Just doing a self check. Writing about what’s going on with me. I know for me, it wasn’t my problem, someone else was being an asshole. It wasn’t me, it was them. For a long time, I was like, ‘I just have bad luck, that’s just the way it is.’ My first couple weeks journaling I thought it was stupid. Then it gradually switched, I could check in, brain dump what I was thinking about and feeling. It got into a more organized system of journaling. Things that are weighing on me, things that I’m dreading. And then details of things, more desires. That was huge for me. Before I was not able to identify my own emotions.”
Aaron quit firefighting to fight for firefighters.
“I think I can help a lot of firefighters, if I can just get out of my own way of trying to look like nothing’s wrong, like I’ve never screwed up.”
He’s in the beta stages of launching Firefighter Overhaul. It’s a six-week course to help firefighters deal with stress and be healthier. Here’s how his journey and new direction is described on the Firefighter Overhaul site:
After enjoying success as a high school athlete, Aaron slid into a sedentary lifestyle of booze and junk food. He was in “decent” shape when he joined the Muncie Fire Department but quickly picked up the common bad habits of drinking too much, eating too much and not exercising. On top of his poor health, Aaron became emotionally closed off, shut down and isolated.
For ten years, Aaron tried diets, detoxes, weight loss systems and workout programs to try to lose weight and get healthier. He would consistently lose ten pounds only to gain fifteen back. Aaron was the master of making himself the butt of fat jokes. After hitting a weight of 300 pounds, this big fella realized that the diet wasn’t the problem. Aaron found a workout program that helped and managed to lose forty pounds but gained it all back while recovering from an injury. It became very apparent that just working out wasn’t going to solve his weight loss struggles. Aaron needed to change the way he dealt with and (didn’t deal with) his stress.
Aaron sought stress management strategies and began to pick up different tools. He began creating a stress toolbox so that he could better handle exhaustion, temptation, and working in a stressful, unhealthy environment. Regularly using his stress toolbox, Aaron maintains his 60 pound weight loss and healthier lifestyle and to encourage others to do the same. On top of the weight loss, Aaron enjoys a better relationship with his family, friends and coworkers. He co-founded Firefighter Overhaul™ to help his fellow firefighters create their own stress toolbox and maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the job.
“My story is what’s going to make it relatable to people,” Aaron said. “That’s the goal anyway. There’s so much with fire departments with PTSD, suicides. I think if guys can develop the tools earlier, maybe they won’t have to go through that or can handle this stuff better.”
Angry Dad No More
It’s a brave new world for Aaron Taylor. He moved to an apartment in downtown Muncie. He’s visiting Arizona to see his girlfriend, Heather, who he has known since high school, taken an extended vacation to San Diego, wrapping up his certification as a health coach, and working on Firefighter Overhaul. Those close to him have notice how he has changed.
“I am happier. I think my daughter is starting to notice. She notices that I eat better. She and I have a much better relationship. That’s been huge for me.”
Angry Dad is gone. Recently Aaron’s daughter started a new story on SnapChat: Happy Dad.