Exercise to the Rescue
I was a good kid in a bad crowd, but my family's values got through to me. It's what saved me from a fate most of my hoodlum buddies met in the end, AIDS, death or jail.
Two other things got me through my late teens, exercise and preparing for the FDNY. I stated training for the physical exam (some say the hardest fire physical ever given) and that gave me a new focus in life, and got me off "the avenue" and into the world of extreme fitness. For the actual test, I did a 5 minute mile at the end of seven intense events. I was fit and ready for anything - I thought.
The job was nothing I ever expected. It was super hard and crazy scary. So much pressure came out of that hose line, it's was almost ludicrous to even hold it, never mind make a push against a raging inferno down a long black smokey hallway. In a very short time I realized only certain people answered this call.
Life on the means streets of Sunset Park meant kill or be killed. I couldn't kill, so I had to leave. At 17 that makes you feel like a coward, not willing to die to be the baddest guy on the block. When I made the elite ranks of the FDNY, I got a chance to prove my bravery day in and day out, without ever hurting a soul. It suited me perfectly, and was the answer to everything I wanted in life. I got a chance to use my mental and physical abilities to save lives, and kick down a few doors in the process. Who could ask for more?
When it was ripped away from me in 1999, after only 17 years, I was crushed. I'd risen to the rank of Captain, and was in charge of the best little fire house in Brooklyn, 239 Engine. I was the "mayor" of Park Slope (very close to where I grew up), and in my glory when I contracted Graves disease and thought I was losing my vision, and had to relinquish my spot on the front line.
I lasted in an office for a few years, actually in a firehouse that turned out an engine company as well. When the unit's alarms would come in my heart would sink, instead of skip a beat, in anticipation. It was difficult being a "make believe captain", and then it got worse, 9-11 changed everything. However, this article is not about the attack on America and the FDNY, or the loss of my brothers, including Deputy Chief Charles Kasper, my blood cousin and mentor.
Again, exercise to the rescue. I wrote the Firefighter's Workout Book and eventually met world champion kettlebell lifter, Valery Fedorenko, and my life changed once again. I'd learn how to become more physical than I'd ever been in my entire life, even as a firefighter and fitness trainer 20 years younger. Graves was gone! The system I adopted from Fedorenko has molded me into a truly strong, healthy, very mobile individual, who at 55 can keep improving. It's another chance to grow and improve, both mentally and physically, and I'm milking it for all it's worth.
Posted by Mike Stefano at January 11, 2014