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Firefighters Train for Challenge

County firefighters get fit and stay fit for the job as well as the challenge in Las Vegas

Fairfax County firefighters are preparing themselves for the Combat Challenge World Championship, to be held Nov. 8-13 in Las Vegas, N.V. Two teams from Fairfax County are training for the event at the Players Edge Performance Center, recently opened inside the Tysons Sport and Health Club.

“We looked at the course they have to complete and devised a training program for them,” said Sharon Willett, the director of the new center.

The Jakes is a team made up of Fairfax County firefighters that is entering the competition for the third year successively. In 2002, the Jakes qualified for the World Championship in Deerfield Beach, Fla., winning the “Rookie of the Year” award after being eliminated in the third round. Last year, the Jakes left the World Championship in Ottawa, Canada, ranked 17th in the world. This year, the team has its mind set on the main prize in Las Vegas.

“This is our third year doing it, and we are progressively getting better,” said Aron Corwin, the team captain. The team came together after three of its members attended the same rookie school and decided they wanted to compete. The fourth member had already been doing the challenge on his own. The Jakes is currently ranked 6th in the nation.

“We are looking to do a lot better in the world championship than in the past, and we are getting better through experience and better training,” said Corwin.

THE TRAINING COMES from Players Edge. Willett herself designed the training program for the Jakes. She has 11 years experience as a physical therapist, working for the Virginia Sportsmedicine Institute in Arlington. Willet is also certified by the National Strength and Conditioning and the International Wightlifting Association as a personal trainer and strength-training specialist. “Many firefighters workout at Tysons Sport and Health,” said Willett, adding that after trying out the facilities offered, the combat teams decided to train there. The new center offers a comprehensive program for athletes using technology, sports psychology and sports medicine. Through the programs offered, the athletes are given an opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Although firefighting is not a sport, the Combat Challenge provides the firefighters with a competition. “The Challenge provides us with another reason to stay in shape,” said Jason Abitz, a member of Team Extreme, the other team training at Players Edge. Team Extreme is in its first year of existence, but just like the Jakes in 2002, it has qualified for the World Championship despite being a rookie team. Team Extreme came together because the members attended the same Fire Academy, and after seeing other Fairfax County Combat Challenge teams decided to start a team of their own. The team is very excited to be a part of the Las Vegas competition.

“We worked pretty hard to get there, and we know it's our first year,” said Abitz, “but we are hoping to go out there and represent Fairfax County the best we can.” Both teams train at least twice a week at the Players Edge. Team Extreme finds it hard to train together as the team members all work different shifts for their Fire Department units, and most of them have other jobs as well.

The Jakes decided on training at Players Edge after one of its members, Brenden Petersburg, did a trial period with the center. He came back to the team with good reviews. The center is able to provide the firefighters with all of the dynamics concerning the course that they have to complete for the challenge.

THE CHALLENGE IS composed of five events. “One of the things that they have to do is carry a 175-pound dummy up a hill,” said Willett, “and they have been training for that in an underground garage until recently.” Players Edge offered the firefighters the use of an inclined treadmill to replace the underground garage. The first event is the high-rise pack carry, where the competitors carry a 42-pound donut role hose to a top of a tower. The second event is the hose hoist. The third is the forcible entry, where the competitor uses a 9-pound shot mallet to move a 160-pound steal beam 5 feet. The fourth event is the hose advance, where the competitors carry a charged hose 75 feet, before opening the nozzle and hitting a target with the water stream. The final event is the victim rescue, dragging the 175-pound dummy a 100 feet backwards. There are many ways to lose points in the events, as they are strictly judged and each has a specific set of rules (visit www.firefighterchallenge.com:8000/firefighter/ for more information). All of this is done wearing the full firefighter's gear.

It is unquestionable that the firefighters have to be in great shape to compete on such a course. “Some NFL stars can't even finish the course in the given time when they put on the gear we have to wear,” said Corwin. Over the years, NFL players have come out and joined the firefighters in regional challenges.

But the firefighters stay in shape for reasons other than the Combat Challenge. One of the leading causes of deaths in firefighters is heart failure. “It pays off to stay fit and watch what you eat,” said Corwin. Abitz agrees that poor physical fitness is a problem in public service officers and notes that many departments, including Fairfax County, are trying to improve the fitness of their officers. The competition, according to Abitz, ìis a great way to encourage and promote [physical fitness].

The Firefighters Combat Challenge is entered by hundreds of fire departments from Canada and the United States. It promotes greater physical fitness among firefighters, while also promoting public awareness of the physically strenuous nature of firefighting. The competition is broadcasted on ESPN, usually with about a month delay.

For more information about Players Edge Performance Center, call the Tysons Sport and Health Club at 703-288-0057. Tysons Sport and Health is located at 8250 Greensboro Drive, McLean.