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Work hard, play hard: 6 extreme sports first responders would absolutely crush

From triathlons to parkour and beyond, these extreme sports align ever so nicely with first responder functional fitness workouts

Adventure sports such as jet-skiing, whitewater rafting and bungee jumping can be performed by supervised beginners who haven’t visited a gym in years. But when it comes to extreme sports, like snowboarding, motocross and surfing, these activities often take years to master. Going one step further, there are many extreme sports that are tailor-made for exceptionally fit tactical athletes – and even tactical athletes in training. If that sounds like you – and you’re game to push your body – we’ve got six extreme sports that align ever so nicely with first responder functional fitness and off-duty interests.

1. Triathlons: Swim, bike, run for fun

Who doesn’t love some variety in their workouts? You’re already used to functional training for multiple types of moves so you’re well versed in a sport that mixes up the events, in this case swim-bike-run, aka the triathlon. And don’t worry, not all triathlons are Ironman events – a behemoth competition that combines a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run (yes, a full marathon is just one part of the event). You can start small with a sprint distance event (half-mile swim/12.4-mile bike ride/3.1-mile run) and work your way up to Olympic distance (0.93-mile swim/24.8-mile bike ride/6.2-mile run) and eventually a full Ironman event.

Buy some tri-gear:

Learn more about the Ironman Pro Series

2. “Strong Man” competitions: Can you bench this Plymouth, bro?

If you were ever flipping through the channels in the 1990s and landed on ESPN only to find a Herculean-looking man pulling a semi-tractor trailer via his sheer brute strength, chances are you had stumbled upon one of The World’s Strongest Man competitions. Current events in the competition include the “arm over arm pull,” “car walk” and “overhead press.” Hit the gym twice as much before and after shifts to prepare and walk around the block carrying a full keg of beer when you can.

Get your strong man essentials:

1997 World’s Strongest Man Final

3. American Ninja Warrior: No nunchuck skills necessary

Ninjas were secret agents or mercenaries in feudal Japan who specialized in unorthodox arts of war. Films portrayed ninjas as experts of weaponry such as nunchucks and throwing stars. American Ninja Warriors, on the other hand, are experts at navigating obstacle courses and using their strength and balance to complete these courses in the quickest time possible – all televised, of course. Failure for traditional ninjas could often result in death, but for American ninja warriors, failure typically results in landing in a pool of water, perhaps a bit embarrassed. If you find yourself doing random pull-ups on the tree outside your station, then American Ninja Warrior could be the outlet for you.

Ninja necessities:

Incredible American Ninja Warrior runs

4. Extreme Lumberjackin’: Making a case for chainsaws in the sporting goods section

Do you sometimes find yourself staring at a random oak tree, wondering how long it would take you to chop it to the ground with an axe? Do those thoughts progress into visions of yourself competing with others in wood-intensive events? If so, you may be a prime candidate for the Lumberjack World Championships, which according to the website, celebrates the skills of the world’s greatest lumberjacks and lumberjills – their speed, balance, lightness of foot, strength, focus, and amazing timber skills. The competition showcases some of the best sawing, chopping, speed-climbing, logrolling, boom-running and axe-throwing athletes from around the world. You’ve chopped enough wood to heat every station for half a decade, why not take those skills to the next level?

Start choppin’:

2023 Lumberjack World Championships finals highlights

5. Parkour: Climbing walls isn’t just for Spiderman

One could argue that the Pennsylvania inmate who crab-walked up two adjacent walls to break out of prison in 2023 was showing off his parkour skills. If you’ve seen those videos of fitness enthusiasts jumping from building to building, running up walls and tumbling and free-running through cities, chances are you knew what it was before you knew what it was called. And it’s very possible you already knew about this sport simply by responding to calls for injuries that resulted from failed attempts at stunts. If you have the skillset for it, parkour appears to be a fun way to transform your city or neighborhood into your personal obstacle course. The discipline emphasizes artistry over efficiency, so similar to activities like surfing and skateboarding, style is a key factor.

Parkour gear:

Greatest moments in parkour history

6. Rock-climbing: The original wall climbing

If you are lucky enough to live in a region where hills and mountains are plentiful, rock-climbing is a great option for outdoor exercise. It’s also a prime way to challenge yourself mentally in an environment that demands smart decision-making – just like your job. Selecting the wrong line while skiing down a mountain is far more forgiving than incorrectly mapping out a sequence of steps and grabs while attempting to climb one. It’s dangerous and exciting and comes with a big payoff at the end if you choose wisely. It’s also a good way to focus on yourself in the confines of nature after hectic work days filled with focusing on others. If you live in a region with little elevation, rock-climbing gyms are a worthy backup option.

Gear to climb the charts:

Five greatest free solo climbs

Extra credit: Cross-country extreme events

Extreme events can be found coast to coast:

  • Dirty Dozen hill-intensive bike race: The Dirty Dozen is a one-day road cycling race in Pittsburgh, held annually on the Saturday before Halloween. The event is contested over a 50-mile course that features 13 of the steepest hills in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Check it out.
  • The Grand Traverse mountain run: The Grand Traverse Mountain Run is a point-to-point ultra marathon from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado. The course follows the route of the Grand Traverse Backcountry Ski race. In total, runners travel 40 miles across the Elk Mountains with over 6,000′ of elevation gain. Check it out.
  • SoCal Desert Ramble bike ride: The SoCal Desert Ramble is 500 miles of beautiful mountains, desert washes, stunning vistas, the funky Slab City, and even some snow up in Big Bear. This journey travels from San Diego into the Anza Borrego Desert, past the Salton Sea, up to Big Bear and down into San Bernadino. Check it out.
Dryw Keltz is a freelance writer living in San Diego County. He has written hundreds of news features, human interest profiles, and film and music reviews over the course of his 20-plus-year career. Keltz has a bachelor’s degree in English writing with an emphasis on creative non-fiction from the University of Pittsburgh.