Firefighter Ray Gallatin was facing a bleak prospect: not being able to serve as a firefighter anymore. After suffering a knee injury on the job, his weight and lack of proper physical activity were preventing him from serving. So Ray decided to take matters into his own hands and embark on a health and fitness transformation that would make him ready and able to perform the job he loves. At the same time, his heart-health drastically improved, his sleep apnea disappeared, and he feels stronger and more fit than ever before. Read this Q&A from August 2010 to follow Ray’s amazing journey and learn the steps he took to become – and stay – a Heart-Healthy Firefighter.
Briefly describe your lifestyle before becoming Heart-Healthy.
My fitness was no longer a priority in my life. I had achieved my goal of becoming a fulltime professional firefighter but I had not come to terms with staying healthy in order to continue with my career. I was lifting weights and doing some cardiovascular workouts, but I was not training for functional job performance. My diet to simply state was horrible. I was eating whenever and whatever I wanted. My weight had ballooned to 280 lbs from my college weight of 180 lbs. I had high blood pressure and severe sleep apnea. Still, even my weight along with the obvious health issues were still not enough to make me get serious about my health and fitness.
Describe the reasons behind making these changes.
While working in Nov. of 2007, I fell from a fire truck and injured my knee. The fall resulted in bone and cartilage being broken off inside my knee joint. The surgeon preformed "microfracture knee surgery" on my right knee. He said that this was the only surgery available for my injury. He told me my fire service career was pretty much over since he could not really guarantee me a positive outcome from the surgery. During the next 2 months on crutches from post surgery, I gained 50 more lbs and now weighed 330 lbs. I ended up taking a disability from my fire department since I believed I would never be a firefighter again. After a year off, I decided not being a firefighter again was not an option for me. I at least had to attempt to give myself another shot at returning to active duty.
What were the results?
I went to my doctor and he put me on the "Medifast" program. In four months I lost 90 lbs. With this weight loss I was able to start my fitness program again. I wasn't able to run but I could lift weights and walk. In the next four months with my fitness levels improving, I started running and was able to get my weight to 210 lbs. I then joined a CrossFit gym and with this high intensity training I was able to get my weight to 190 lbs. I was now running from 4 to 7 miles a day, lifting weights and doing my CrossFit workouts. I felt stronger and more fit than when I was in my twenties.
The main result of all this was my old fire department gave me an opportunity to retest and return to full duty. At 47 years old I took what is considered to be one of the most challenging physical agility tests for a department in our area of Houston, TX. I ran the 1.5 mile run in 10:08 and completed the rest of the agility which included a 100 ft ladder climb, dummy drag, hose drag, foam bucket carry, and 7 story tower climb with a hotel pack, all while wearing a 40 lb weight vest. Of the 80 people who have taken the agility tests, my times put me in the top 5% of those who completed it. I was also the oldest person to pass the physical agility. The other main results are my blood pressure is 110/60, my resting heart rate is 40, and my sleep apnea is gone. I don't even snore and the guys let me sleep in the bunk room now.
Not only did I get my fire service career back after being out for over 2 years, but I have a whole new quality of life that I never imagined I could have again.
How do you choose to maintain your healthy lifestyle?
I am totally addicted to my CrossFtit The Woodlands Gym. It not only keeps me fit, it also provides me with functional strength and cardiovascular capacity specific to doing the job of a firefighter.
As my CrossFit trainer Scott Wells told me, "Ray you can't out train a bad diet." Maintaining a healthy life style is 70% diet I believe. One of my favorite quotes is: "Eat to live, don't live to eat." I also weigh myself daily and keep an exercise and fitness journal. I want to maintain my weight between 180 and 190 lbs. If I weigh over 190 then I know I need to make an adjustment to my diet or exercise routine. By keeping a journal and having a weight number that I won't go over, it makes me accountable every day to my fitness goals.
I also approach my firefighter job like a professional athlete. I am only going perform as far as my body will take me. Finally I keep a fat picture of myself on the fridge as a reminder of what happens when you are not accountable to yourself when it comes to health and fitness.
What is the most significant thing that has happened or that you have noticed since you’ve become heart-healthy?
I am able to do the job the Woodlands Fire Department is paying me to do. I have full confidence that I will be able to perform physically and mentally in any emergency situation that I am in. I didn't have this kind of confidence when I was a 300 lb firefighter. Also I hope I can be an inspiration to young firefighters who may get complacent with their fitness and nutrition, and I hope I can motivate older firefighters that with a healthy life style you can be a physically fit firefighter at any age.