By: Emily Wood Firefighter/EMT-A, Certified Personal Trainer
It took a lot of trial and error with a big emphasis on the error part, to figure out just who I would be when I finally grew up. Along the way, I had many obstacles to overcome.
When I graduated from high school back in the good old days (you know the ones where music mainly came from the radio and compact discs), there was a graduation song that claimed some of the most interesting 40-year-olds still didn’t know what they were going to be when they grew up. As someone who didn’t get a full-time career offer in the fire service until three days after my 40th birthday, I came dangerously close to fulfilling those lyrics. But first, as they say in show business, a little backstory.
I’m a Special Education teacher from Alabama turned television writer for Twentieth Century Fox in Los Angeles turned first responder in Compton/South Central LA turned career firefighter in East Tennessee.
Needless to say, it took a lot of trial and error with a big emphasis on the error part, to figure out just who I would be when I finally grew up. Along the way, I had many obstacles to overcome. Some obstacles were brought on by bouts of health problems and some were brought on by my own mistakes. I’ve woken up Christmas morning in the hospital, managed times when I failed epically in my personal life, and experienced true rock bottom. I’ve climbed out of many seemingly bottomless pits in my life. When I stepped into my first day of the new hire academy as a 5’3” female, weighing 116 lbs, and 20 years older than the young man who hired on with me, I knew I was facing another climb physically, mentally, and emotionally.
This isn’t one of those stories where I tell you the woes of being a woman in the fire service. While that is the struggle for many women in this industry, that was not my experience. You see, I was blessed to end up in a department and on a shift where I have always felt supported and encouraged. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the most amazing men on this planet, and I’m grateful for that every single day. Rather, my struggles were all personal.
There is nothing light or easy in the fire service. When I was in the academy, full gear with a tank and a set of irons weighed well over 60% of my body weight. Throw in a hotel pack and we were getting ridiculously close to matching it! I knew the only way I was going to be successful in this new endeavor was the exact same secret weapon that had allowed me to rise from the ashes more than once before. My mind.
When I was in the darkest period of my life in my mid to late twenties, I found myself at a crossroads. I could stay where I was, wallowing in the “why me’s?”, and bound to a mediocre life. Or I could pull myself up inch by inch out of the mire and become the person I was always supposed to become. Now, I don’t want to take full credit here. Just as I was blessed with the firemen I work alongside, I do believe I was blessed with a natural fighting spirit. It took intense pressure to expose it.
At the lowest point of my life, I was weak in every sense of the word. I was just learning to climb mountains. By the time I entered the fire service, I had climbed numerous peaks since those “dark days”; however, I was facing a new and unique climb that would turn out to be the most rewarding journey of my life. So how did I do it?
I did it by first getting my mind right. You know that old saying, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, either way, you’re right.” I’m living proof of that. Every day, and I mean every day of the academy, I started by listening to motivational sports psychology speeches. When I felt as if my body would endure no more, I told myself repeatedly that, in fact, it could. And it did.
Did you know that some research suggests when your mind initially tells you to give up that you are only at a fraction of what your body can do? If you want something in this life, you must invest 1000% mentally first. Is that voice in your head telling you something nasty? You aren’t strong enough, young enough, smart enough, and/or tough enough? Well, pardon the expression, but tell that voice to go directly to hell and replace it with a voice that tells you the exact opposite. I’m not saying it will be easy. I am saying it will be worth it.
Get your mind right. Where the mind goes, your body, and ultimately your life, will follow.
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