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CrossFitter Fights for Fire Fighters

Everything feels better doing CrossFit - Aaron Taylor

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.

Helping Firefighters

“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.

Firefighter Overhaul

“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.

CrossFit helps mother set example for daughter

I am in way better shape now than I was in college & high school. - Charity Voth

Charity is a virtue. In fact, theologian Thomas Aquinas (perhaps influenced by Bill and Ted) called charity, “the most excellent of the virtues.” The word charity is often synonymous with love.

Charity (Voth) is a member of The Arsenal.

And whether a virtue or a person, both are defined by love.

What I knew about Charity before I sat down with her to chat was that she loves her job, she loves her boyfriend Blaine (they are my vote for Arsenal prom king and queen!), and she loves her daugthers. She seems to love CrossFit. She seems to make friends easily. And she smiles a lot.

She loves and is loved, but her story is more than that. She has lost and been lost.

Loss & Lost

When Charity was nine, her dad killed himself.

“You didn’t talk about it,” Charity said.  “You didn’t bring it up. He was 28. I was a kid so I don’t know all the details, but what I can tell you is my mom and dad were going through a divorce, my mom was dating my step-dad, my dad was an alcoholic and battling depression. We just didn’t talk about it. Even to this day, I only have a couple pictures of my dad. I talk about some memories now. Not having my dad probably bothers me more now as an adult. My dad is not here to see my kids.”

Her dad wasn’t there to see her compete as a gymnast growing up, watch her in her roles as the Anderson Highland’s mascot and a cheerleader, compete on the basketball court in junior high, or in the pool as a swimmer in high school.

After she graduated high school, she enrolled at Ball State.

“Nobody in my family had ever gone to college. My parents and even my grandparents worked in factories. I had applied for IU and Ball State. I decided I was going to go to Ball State and major in nursing.”

Charity lasted three semesters.

“You know Ball State used to have the reputation of being the party school. That’s pretty much what I was majoring in! I got put on academic probation.”

She had a cousin who lived in Florida, so she moved down there and got a job on the beach at an ice cream shop. She met a guy. She followed him to a community in Illinois where she felt isolated and alone. They got married. Moved back to Anderson. They had a daughter. They moved back to Florida trying to recapture the life they had known there. They moved back to Anderson. They had another daughter. Charity went back to Ball State and got a degree in nursing 14 years after she first enrolled. She got a job at Ball Hospital.

There’s a lot of life in that paragraph. I’m sure there were plenty of happy moments along the way. But there was also something Charity couldn’t ignore: her husband had been cheating on her.

“But even through his many years of extracurricular activities, I made a vow, I cannot get divorced.”

Charity had made the vow when she saw her parents go through their own divorce and the terrible aftermath that resulted. She told herself that she would never be a person who would get divorced or put her own kids through that.

Deserving to be happy

A co-worker told her that everyone deserves to be happy.

“I decided I wanted a divorce, and that was it.”

Charity got divorced and she felt guilty about it. The kids had to be shuffled around. Then there were the holidays. They were kids of divorced parents.

Charity had been depressed before her divorce, but things got worse in the aftermath of guilt.

“I slept a lot. I’d work and have the girls. Honestly I know, looking back now, that my girls suffered from it. Depression runs in my family. I think it just compounded into guilt and embarrassment. I was drinking a lot and not making smart decisions. I gained a substantial amount of weight. I didn’t run with people who motivated me, who were family-oriented. My mom finally told me to get my shit together or I was going to lose my kids. My girls are my world so it was then I realized I was going down the wrong path. I started to pay more attention to who I was spending time with.”

Charity credits her mom for being there for her.

“Mom understood there was nothing she could physically do for me. My brother and my stepdad did not understand it, they couldn’t grasp it.  It was really hard coming off antidepressant medications. I cut the drinking and started paying more attention to the kids.”

Charity started running. Physical activity became her new antidepressant. She kicked the meds, lost weight, and reconnected with Blaine with whom she had graduated high school.

“I got to the point where I was getting bored of running, so I asked on Facebook if anyone knew of a CrossFit gym around Anderson, Muncie, or Pendleton. Megan White chimed in.  She had just recently started at The Arsenal. I’m in way better shape now than I was in college or high school.”

“I am very thankful for The Arsenal. It’s helped physically just being in better shape, but mentally I can probably better deal with things now.  I enjoy it.”

Strength in our struggles

Charity is now the Regional Supervisor for the Richmond Lifeline Base. She’s a flight nurse. She gets to ride in helicopters!

“It’s fun stuff. I’m on call 24/7 pretty much. If they would have any emergency issues or maintenance issues, they have to call me. I work for some very very wonderful people.  They realize that I have a family life as well.”

Charity’s eldest daughter, Bailey, recently started college. As Charity experienced and as many of us experience, it is tough being 18 years old and deciding what you are going to do the rest of your life. Bailey floundered a bit after a semester at art school at IUPUI. She moved back to Anderson and attended Ivy Tech before heading back to IUPUI.

Like Charity, Bailey also battled depression.

“The doctor wanted to put her on antidepressants, but I was like, ‘Let’s work through this.’ Bailey took a liking to running, and that was her out. We try to do a lot of stuff together. We take the dog to the park and run there. If we find a log down, we’ll do box jumps. It’s just kind of making fitness fun. She enjoys it.”

Charity had been there. Bailey had seen it. Bailey had seen the mental and physical changes that came with running and CrossFit. Bailey followed in her mom’s footsteps by turning to physical activity to combat her depression.

In the depths of our struggles, we may not see farther than our own problems. But pain can shape us and help us help those we love the most. We may feel alone, but we’re not. Someone is always watching.

Charity’s journey uniquely prepared her to help her daughter.