Letter sent to Dave Valero
Wednesday, October 19, 2011 1:20 PM
Hello brother! I'm writing to share with you my story. A testimony if you will, about how a single event can dramatically change one's life. As you know we met at the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge in Tyler, Texas 5 years ago. I had heard of The Challenge, but discovered that it was to be in Tyler that year. I had only 2 weeks to prepare. Not good. Not good at all. I was 38 at that time and was in "decent" shape for a guy my age, but was definitely not a "gym rat". So I did everything I could to prepare. Stepped up my cardio exercise, started dragging charged hoselines across the pad at our station, etc.... I was determined to finish The Challenge. I had no idea how difficult this obstacle really was. Everyone thought I was crazy. So the day of The Challenge I showed up with my gear, and saw the others warming up, stretching, and had the opportunity to speak with a few other firefighters who had competed in the challenge before. I was scared to death. All of a sudden, that 5 story tower may as well have been Mt. Everest. I was too ashamed to back out, but I knew that if I finished at all, it would most certainly kill me. As we gathered to say the Pledge Of Allegiance I was trying to come up with a story to back out, not compete, and save some face amongst my peers. No such luck. At that time they introduced Kip Hall. The announcer told Kip's story, and I was amazed at his determination. I felt the butterflies and couldn't help but tear up a little as I watched the group from El Paso Fire walk beside their brother who just wouldn't quit. It was an epiphany. I watched Kip cross the finish line and I was so very impressed. A few minutes after Kip finished I wanted to shake his hand, and congratulate him on his accomplishment of finishing the course, despite his physical condition. Upon meeting Kip, he seemed more interested in me and my story about why I was there. I had told him it was my first time competing at The Challenge and how all I wanted was to get across that finish line. He looked at me square in the eyes. The kind of look you get from your Grandfather when he has something really important to say. Kip said "Don't EVER let anyone tell you that you can't do something". "Don't let this course beat you without trying". They sound like simple words. Definitely not your typical motivational speech, but I felt energized. Charged up. I was "on fire" to get across that finish line. I lacked technique. I wasn't in shape. I had not prepared. I failed. I fell short about 30 feet from the finish line. Exhausted. Embarrassed. I felt like I had let Kip down. I had let myself down. After recovering I was tossing back what seemed to be my 5th gatorade when Kip walked up to me and said "hey man, you'll finish next time. Now you know what you need to work on. Oh, and don't let me down!". So I had a year to prepare. That I did. I heard about Kips death only 2 months after meeting him and it really got to me. It really hit me hard. I can't imagine what it must have been like losing a brother the way they lost Kip. I was determined to honor Kip. I trained hard. I learned some technique. I ran when I wanted to walk, and pushed when I wanted to pull. As I ran i would listen to the same song that was on the video I had seen on Youtube about Kip's last run in the Combat Challenge in Tyler. "I'm coming home" rang through my earphones and I would just forget that I was running. Sounds cheesy, but he was with me. Every step. I don't have a big brother, as I AM the big brother.....but I had one with me now! I'll skip to the meat and potatoes. I finished the Challenge. I said a short prayer before I picked up the rescue mannequin to drag it backwards 100 feet. the longest, most difficult 100 feet in the world. My lips were still, but I was saying "this is for you Kip". Crossing that finish line was the most difficult physical challenge I had ever faced. I was standing there alone, amongst hundreds of fans, brother firefighters, my loving wife and daughter, and Kip. I've been amazed at how moved I was by his words to me when we first met in Tyler. I felt honored to have met him. I'm glad I was able to honor him by remembering his words. Lot's of people wished me luck and wanted me to finish, but I felt like Kip would have been there to give me a solid high 5 had he not passed away. I know to some this may sound a bit silly, but I learned a very valuable lesson about myself, and determination through these events. If you see something you want, you have to step up, and although it may seem that you are by yourself at times, there are always people there to help. To motivate. To encourage the changes necessary to move forward. To go when every cell in your body is screaming for you to quit. It wouldn't be fair for me to tell this story without giving credit to all my brothers at the Tyler Fire Department who allowed me to train with them. They believed in me as well. I am now 43 years old, still not a "gym rat", but have definitely improved my level of physical and mental fitness. Recently I had the best time amongst 25 other firefighters at our station in our annual physical agility test. It's pretty awesome putting "the youngsters" to shame when the "old man" has a better time than they do. I still think of Kip when I face challenges. I mentioned to Dave Valero, my friend also known as "flash" that I would be honored to wear an El Paso Fire t-shirt. To me, it would be like being an official member of Kip's Team. I told Dave how I loved sharing my little success story with probies at the firestation who think they're not tough enough to finish. Kip is alive in us all. Our challenges aren't always on a course, or on a field, but to succeed you have to commit to do the work, and follow through, no matter how difficult. I started. I finished. Will you?
Best wishes to you and everyone at El Paso Fire. I am honored to be your friend and brother firefighter. God Bless.
Sean P. McSpedden
Noonday Fire Department