Adam Baylor, second place winner of Extol’s Inaugural Benchmark Mile, is nearing the completion of his first year as a New Albany Firefighter. On the other hand, he’s also a Spartan, Tough Mudder and Rugged Maniac, to name a few of his prestigious titles.
By Grant Vance | Photos by Danny Alexander
Firefighting, in and of itself, is a tumultuous idea. The act of “fighting” an elemental agent of extreme heat and chaos— dedicating one’s life to protecting others and preventing mass destruction— is quite the career. Whew. It’s quite a lot to think about, not to mention the level of fitness and physicality that goes into the job. Can you imagine donning the weighted protective suit, oxygen tank and (fairly heavy) helmet into a fiery structure on a regular basis?
Adam Baylor did.
Close to his one-year anniversary as a firefighter, Baylor, 36, is also a seasoned race competitor, traveler, churchgoer and a husband and father of two.
“Family is number one, and a lot of church. I go to church in Jeffersonville, and I’ve grown up in the same church since I was a kid,” Baylor said. “You know, family and God first— or God and family first, I should say.”
But Baylor, though only fighting fires professionally for close to a year, spent 10 qualifying. That’s a decade of dedication working to get the opportunity to don the suit, tank and helmet into a fiery structure on a regular basis.
“I started trying out when I was 25,” he said, “(but) I didn’t grow up as a kid dying to be a fireman. I kinda wanted to go into the military. I never did. I don’t know why I didn’t pull the trigger on it.”
Baylor, though relatively new to the world of firefighting, is no stranger to the required levels of fitness and health required to be a firefighter. He’s been an athlete all of his life and regularly competes in different races and physical challenges around the country.
He’s competed in roughly 16, including but not limited to: Rugged Maniac 5K, Tough Mudder Mud Run, Spartan Challenge, King’s Domain Obstacle Course’s OCR Championship, Firefighter’s Challenge and the Extol Sports Inaugural Benchmark Mile presented by Norton Sports Health.
Baylor has always had a love for fitness, but he needs a goal— a new challenge—to keep it interesting. He can be hard to keep up with.
“As a kid I played everything: baseball—that was my first love, baseball—football, I wrestled for a little bit, and then as I got older I just sort of stuck with football,” he said. “But I love shooting basketball, even with friends and stuff. I love sports in general.”
Baylor grew up in Floyds Knobs, attending Floyd Central and Indiana University Southeast, eventually taking a job with his family plumbing business, where he’s worked 15 years.
In the meantime, before starting to dedicate his time to competitions and becoming a firefighter, Baylor traveled the world with his wife.
“We went to the Caribbean—we went everywhere we could. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica, we went to the rain forest. It was pretty nice,” he said.
Despite an athletic background, it was not his love of sports and fitness that first got him into racing, even if that’s what kept him into them.
“In my mid-twenties, I kind of was out of shape. Not kind of… I was out of shape a lot,” he said. “I was overindulging, I guess.
“(My wife and I) went to Marco Island in Florida, and when we got back, I was looking at pictures of us. She looked really good, and I didn’t. And I didn’t want my kids to remember me as being out of shape, because I never was. I saw those pictures and I immediately started exercising.”
Baylor’s wake-up call took him to all kinds of interesting places before he took off to the races, one of which was jiu-jitsu. Alas, a lack of motivation progressively made exercising less and less appealing for the newly-revitalized workout guru. That is, until his top motivator, his wife, gave him a suggestion that led him down a path to his passion.
“There was a Rugged Maniac race in Paoli, and it’s an obstacle race,” he said. “So, my wife was like, ‘This is kinda like military, obstacle style stuff—I think you would like this.’
“So I did it, and it just about killed me. But it got me motivated.”
This was the first of many, as Baylor jumped around from race to race, competition to competition. He placed around 30th in his first Rugged Maniac, gradually placing higher in each various race from then on out. This includes the Rugged Maniac, a race he revisits each year. Last year, he placed second.
“I became obsessed with it,” he said. “The more work I put in, the better I got at it. And the cool thing about it is you can’t just go run. There’s carrying five-gallon buckets of rocks up hills. There’s rope climbs and barbed-wire crawls.”
With the Spartan Beast in Asheville, Tough Mudder in Kentucky and rehashing the Rugged Maniac once again, Baylor is planning on six to seven races this year alone. Luckily, his competitive drive lends itself to more than top-tier fitness, travel and networking with like-minded competitors.
“It (lines up) perfect with what we do in the fire department,” he said. “You’re carrying a lot of weight, and it helps a lot being in good shape.”
The Firefighter’s Combat Challenge is a competition directly associated to the practicality of staying in shape as a fireman, blurring the line between Baylor’s competitions for sport and the demanding physical requirements of firefighting.
“Aaron Sparks, another guy on the department, he gets a team together every year to do the challenge,” he said. “You run up so many flights of steps with a hose, and then somebody pulls the hose up with a rope – it’s all timed—and there’s Louisville and New Albany and departments (from) all over the country. … They’re doing their biggest one in Louisville this year, so I think I’m going to do that with Aaron.”
These competitions focus highly on cardio, the most important aspect of a firefighter’s fitness regime, according to New Albany Fire Department Chief Matt Juliot.
“Statistically, the leading death in firefighter is cardiac arrest,” Juliot explained. “(Their) hearts are going from a resting state to running a marathon, high adrenaline, zero to 100. … (A firefighter’s) cardiovascular health is very important.”
Another leading health scare for firefighters is acquiring cancer derived from the burning plastics found in most homes. Juliot strives to prevent this by highly emphasizing gear cleaning after runs.
“Toxins soak into gear,” Juliot said. “If they aren’t properly cleaned, they’ll be absorbed when they sweat.”
As far as general health goes, Juliot says it comes down to the individual. Not everyone is competing in regular high-octane competitions like Baylor, for example. But, as Juliot explained, firefighting is a “very physically demanding job” and he’s grateful for all the exterior strives made in order to acknowledge this, including the state-of-the-art exercise facilities provided by Mayor Jeff Gahan.
On top of everything, Juliot also brings in a dietician on occasion to encourage healthy eating.
Baylor, with all of his competing and training, yields to a healthy diet of his own. He regularly drinks protein shakes with the “good organic stuff,” especially beets, which he is very fond of. Some other favorites include tuna salad, salmon, grilled chicken and broccoli. But that doesn’t mean he’s always healthy.
“I’ll eat pizza on the weekends,” he laughed.
Although Baylor is talented and prepared in a lot of different health-oriented ways, he is still very new to the world of firefighting.
“There’s still so much to learn on the department and there’s a lot of great guys to learn from in New Albany,” Baylor said. “You can do all the training in the world, but some of these guys have seen stuff I may never see. I’m in great shape, but, you know, I’ve never been there. I have a lot to learn before I’ll be as good as I want to be as a firefighter.
“Some of these guys are so sharp. … You could put them in any field of work and they would thrive. Fighting fires is a lot more complex than people might think. It’s not just running in,” he said. “There’s reading smoke and knowing when to vent something and when not to, and car fires and medical. We had to do three months of EMT. You have to pass the state exam. There’s so much that goes into it.”
These aspects of firefighting are rewarding, Baylor said, but it’s not without its sacrifices.
“Being away from family and the kids… that can really suck” he said. “There are certain things we’re going to miss. You can get guys to trade with you, but you’re going to miss a birthday, you’re going to miss a Christmas. … I dwell on that sometimes.”
As he’s made abundantly clear through his multiple wins in competitions spanning the country and career choice as a firefighter: Adam Baylor is a tough guy to keep up with. But despite all his accomplishments, he still attributes his luck to a little bit of timing, God and his wife.
“I tried out (for years to be a firefighter in Jeffersonville), Louisville, New Albany. Looking back now, I probably didn’t deserve it, then,” He said. “I wasn’t doing anything to better myself as far as physical (health). You know, there were probably a lot of guys who deserved it over me … they did. But, through the years and years, I got to the point I was like, ‘I feel like I deserve the job.’ But I feel like it was God’s timing.
“I got hired at the cut-off date—35 was the last year I could get hired (in the state of Indiana). My wife and I were out late and I almost didn’t go (to the tryout) … but I was going to work out (that day) anyway, and that’s the year I made it.”