By GRACE GADDY
PALESTINE — Two years ago, the thought of flying to San Diego to compete in a national fitness competition had not “crossed” – or perhaps, “fit” – Jonathan Duncan's wildest imaginations. But that's exactly what the 25-year-old Palestine firefighter will do Feb. 19 and 20 at a nationwide CrossFit competition for firemen.
The “Firefighter Throwdown,” as the event is called, will be the first annual event of its kind at the Firehouse World trade show, which will take place at the San Diego Convention Center. The two-day event was created to give firefighters the opportunity to compete on a national level in endurance, stamina and overall fitness through high-intensity CrossFit workouts.
Duncan, who started training with CrossFit a year ago, said he was “very surprised” when he found out he qualified for the event, which will bring together 100 of the fittest firemen in the nation.
“I read about it online and some people I train with there in Jacksonville, they talked me into signing up to see where I would be with it,” he said.
Duncan said when he found out he made it, the moment was “kind of surreal.”
“I was actually here at work that day, and got the email over my phone. I was just kind of in awe – like 'Really, me?' And I really just couldn't believe it.”
To qualify for the competition, Duncan has to send in personal times and statistics on a series of high-intensity CrossFit workouts. Jody Dyess, a coach at CrossFit Truth in Jacksonville where Duncan trains, said he helped his friend record the required stats.
“Once a week they would put up a workout (online), and you would have to do that workout and send in your stats, whether it was weight or time or whatever they put up,” Dyess said.
And just what kind of stats did those include? Well for one, Dyess described a workout combination of “dead-lifts at 225 lbs” and “handstand pushups.”
“You'd flip up against the wall, your head touches the ground and you lock your arms out,” he said.
Now do that 45 times. As fast as possible.
Dyess said the CrossFit training program is attractive to members of law enforcement because it builds core strength and conditioning through a combination of aerobics, gymnastics, weight lifting and other routines.
“It's very popular with firefighters and policemen. CrossFit training teaches you to train for the unknown, and their jobs are unknown day-to-day,” Dyess said, a thought Duncan echoed.
“The main purpose for why they're doing this competition is to promote firefighter health and wellness, and to get more people into it to better themselves and better their health,” Duncan said.
Since starting the CrossFit program in January of last year, Duncan said he has pushed his body to new limits of strength and endurance. In addition to “being able to move around better,” he has noticed an increase in overall energy, strength and flexibility on the job.
But the transformation wasn't overnight.
“I was pretty out of shape for the longest time,” Duncan said. “Whenever I first started doing it, I was about 240 lbs. Now I'm down to 180.”
Duncan said his favorite part of the program was learning how to “push through” plateaus.
“There's so many times you break yourself down to a point you think you're not going anywhere, you're kind of stuck. You'll do it for two or three months, and you're just not doing anything, you're not going anywhere,” he said. “But if you keep putting in the time, keep putting in the effort, you finally get past that plateau and keep on going.”
And that is something the 25-year-old fireman described as truly rewarding.
“You've got to try,” he said. “It takes little steps at first. I didn't start out in this doing anything tremendous; I started off pretty mediocre. I was one of the weakest. I had no form. I had no technique. I had to learn how to do a squat all over again.”
But from his starting point, Duncan began to work up his strength and started competing in beginner-level CrossFit competitions.
“I slowly starting going up more and more,” he said. “I think I've done a total of 15 competitions, and the first one I ever did was a beginners competition. It only had two workouts in it.”
To improve, Duncan began tweaking his daily routine, which included altering his diet and going to bed earlier in order to get up by 4 a.m. and train before work at the fire station.
“Every month, I'm doing something different and slowly progressing forward,” he said, “to fine-tune what works for me and what works the best. Eating-wise, I had to clean it up and try and take out as much sugar as possible.”
Does he miss anything? Well, mostly just a swig of southern sweet tea.
“That was my biggest addiction. I had to have a sweet tea every day,” he said with a laugh.
Now, the fireman keeps it strictly to water, with an occasional flavored electrolyte sports drink.
“The working out is actually the easier part. The having to take care of yourself afterwards and beforehand, that's where it starts to get a little hard,” Duncan acknowledged.Dyess – who Duncan said is his biggest supporter – began coaching Duncan in July. The two have been inseparable as training buddies ever since. Dyess said they spend approximately eight to 10 hours in the gym each week, performing a combination of endurance and strength-building routines.
“I've been coaching Jonathan for the last six months. He shows up early, he stays late, and he puts the work in,” Dyess said. “Any success that he has is because of what he has done and the hard work that he has put in.”
Duncan said he likes how the training program has forced him to grow.
“I like being able to challenge myself with it,” Duncan said. “You're going in there in a competition that you do every now and then, but when you're going in there and working out every day against yourself trying to beat yourself, always bettering yourself — you can see yourself progressing. That's what I love most about it.”