Spend a few minutes with a firefighter after a tough day, and it'll put the worst of your work-related woes into perspective. Stressed about your upcoming budget meeting? Try being required to walk into a burning building on a moment's notice—knowing that one wrong move could put someone's life at risk.
That's why it's crucial for firefighters like Aurora Skarra-Gallagher, who is based in Santa Monica, California, to stay nimble and focused. A former pro beach volleyball player, Skarra-Gallagher knows what it takes to keep her body lean and fit. But when she hits the court now, it has less to do with winning championships than it does helping her feel mentally and physically prepared for the grueling demands of firefighting.
On the surface, Skarra-Gallagher admits the two careers "aren't even slightly related," but finds that the plyometric movements—squatting, diving, jumping—"serve the cardiovascular aspect of firefighting." The explosive power she generates on the court, in other words, comes in handy when emergency situations call for heavy lifting.
"The minimum amount of gear going into a fire is going to be 50 pounds," she says. That's before she shoulders the weight of a ladder, unfurls a fire hose, or schleps an adult to safety.
To keep her body in peak physical condition, Skarra-Gallagher also hikes up and down a set of 75 steps while wearing a 40-pound vest several times a week. "I feel more springy once I've done my weight training," she says. "There will never be a time in my career where it won't be important for me to be physically fit. So if I ever let that go by the wayside, I'm doing a disservice to the people I'm working for."