Almost a year into retirement and living in a new town, I found that I had some available time on my hands and felt that I could add some greater purpose to my days. A client of Michelle’s who serves as Captain at a volunteer fire fighting station told her that there’s a strong need for volunteer fire fighters available during the daytime when most volunteers are out of the area, or otherwise occupied, and that age was not a restriction. After sharing this with me, I did some research. Key areas of the services include fire, rescue, medical, and education. I was beginning to get excited about the possibilities. It spoke to my interests in continual learning, bringing value to and connecting with more people in my community, helping others, and fitness.
Michelle and I discussed the possibility and saw that it was possible, after which I met with two station Captains and applied. My application was accepted, reviewed, and approved during the annual recruitment after which I was sent medical examination forms to have completed by my physician.
Despite recovering from the flu, I was otherwise active and healthy and so I passed the comprehensive medical examination and also received my MD’s medical clearance to proceed with the CPAT scheduled for five weeks on. The CPAT is the Candidate Physical Ability Test which while fairly self-explanatory is the North American standard assessment for measuring an individual's ability to handle the physical demands of being a fire fighter. For those interested, a video demonstrating the CPAT is available on YouTube from the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters).
A week following my medical exam, my flu appeared to be rebounding. It was impacting my fitness training and I began developing some pale rashes on my body which I attributed to some reaction to Tylenol which I was unaccustomed to taking. However, I made another appointment with my doctor for a confirmation and was assured that it was just a post-viral rash.
Two weeks later, my symptoms were much worse and I returned to my doctor to discover that I had Lyme disease which was later confirmed by serology tests. Antibiotics were prescribed and within 48 hours I was much improved. With two weeks to go before my CPAT, I had a lot of training to make up... about five weeks’ worth, while still recovering from Lyme. And so I got to it, albeit in a measured way.
Fast-forward to the time for my CPAT test and I was called in following my pre-test vitals check. I rose from the waiting room filled with 25 year old males and put on the 50 lb. vest which would accompany me throughout the test course. 25 lbs. of weight was added to my vest for the first event, the frequent breakpoint for candidates, the three minute stair climb. I stepped aboard, my Proctor hit the stopwatch, and I began my CPAT.
Over 11 minutes later, I completed my CPAT, without even a single warning. While I caught my breath, several of the more senior fire fighters came over to my Proctor and I. One said that he was impressed that I finished the weighted stair climb; another said that he and others didn’t think someone my age could even finish the CPAT course. It was then that I asked my Proctor what my time was and learned that I’d exceeded the 10:20 time limit.
I was surprised to learn that, and certainly disappointed. Admittedly, it was a long shot and I got over it very quickly. While I may not have made the cutoff time for the CPAT (this time around) and won’t be invited to the third stage of the fire fighter hiring process, I don’t consider this a failure. I did my best given everything, and did well, many things considered. I’m proud of being selected as a candidate. I’m proud to have completed the CPAT evaluation. I’m happy that it was without any warnings. I’m proud that I even persevered longer than other candidates had to. I’m thankful to Michelle and others who supported me on this adventure. And I’m extremely honoured by everyone (especially my beautiful wife) who said that they’re proud of my accomplishment in spite of the competition and the hurdles. I’m hopeful and I’m happy that I’ve inspired others (middle-aged fire fighters in attendance, young candidate fire fighters, readers of this post). Which brings me to the purpose of this post.
In retirement, as it is throughout one’s lifetime, it’s important to have challenges. Not those daunting challenges that life can throw in your way, but ones that YOU choose... challenges that have value and meaning to you. Whether you “succeed” in the face of adversity, you benefit / win simply by undertaking the challenge. Challenges can help us grow. They certainly help to give us purpose. And regardless of the final outcome, they build confidence and make us stronger.
Are you approaching or undertaking a challenge of your own? If so, we invite you to share it with the ORA community in the comments below.
We wish you all the best in your challenges and congratulate you on your strength and determination.