I never imagined I would get to meet and work with Arnold Schwarzenegger AND raise over $25,000 for our CDF Firefighters Benevolent Foundation.
AEU Battalion Chief Matt Streck contacted me last December to ask if I would be interested in helping with a fundraiser for our Benevolent. I agreed with no hesitation. I was honored that he thought of me, as I just recently became Chapter Director for SCU. I have always had a deep interest in fundraisers as our members supported me personally when my sister suffered a spinal cord injury a few years back. I asked Matt what kind of fundraiser it was. He explained that Arnold Schwarzenegger was holding an inaugural Strong Man event at the Santa Monica Pier. Wow! My interest grew since Arnold had been a role model of mine for many years.
Matt put me in contact with one of Arnold’s aides, Noah Justin, who gave me all the details for the event. The more I found out, the better it got. The strongest men from around the world were coming together to compete! In between their events, firefighters would be competing for the World’s Strongest Firefighter. In addition to the competitors, 300 VIP passes to the event would be given to firefighters and their families.
I spent the next few days in Sacramento working with our Local 2881 Communications Officer, DeeDee Garcia. I captured the details from Arnold’s team and after we had it all right, we promoted the event on various social media avenues. A few days later I attended our convention where I announced the event to our delegates. I was getting more and more interest from our members who wanted to attend the event and a few that wanted to compete. It was short notice, but several people had competitors in mind from around the state. I sent an email to all the Chapter Directors to make sure the word got out to everyone.
As days got closer, I was called by FAE Tim Scott from MMU. He explained that he was interested in the event, but was a little hesitant about competing. He was previously a helitack firefighter, and, from what I heard, was in great shape. Unfortunately, many of the members who were previously interested, informed me that they could not make it to the event. We were short competitors, so I agreed to compete. I called Tim and explained that our members needed him to step up and compete. We were needed to represent our over 6,000 members! It was important to remember that the CDF Firefighters Benevolent Foundation helped over 87 firefighters when they lost their homes last year. It was our turn to give back. Tim called me back the same day. Yes, he would compete.
Several days before the event I was invited to attend a cigar party at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s house for my efforts in helping to coordinate the event with his team. When I read this, I was in disbelief! There have been several times in my life where I have asked myself how and why was I so lucky. This was one of those moments. I felt so fortunate that I was going to the home of the former Governor of California, The Terminator, and my personal hero.
I got the details and headed to Arnold's home. Interestingly enough, I had visited his childhood home in Austria just six months prior. It is now a museum filled with his accomplishments in the many different disciplines he has been involved in during his lifetime. Throughout the night, I met several strongmen that were competing in the event. I also met with the union president for the Santa Monica Fire Department (one of the three departments chosen as a beneficiary of the money raised in this event). We shared how grateful we were that our departments were chosen. I then met Noah Justin, Daniel Ketchell, and the rest of his team. We also expressed our excitement with the event now just 12 hours away.
Then, Arnold walked in surrounded by the nine competing strongmen. He walked over to our table, took a Cuban cigar out of a box and lit up. We all joined in! After a short time, Noah, introduced me to Arnold. Noah told him that I worked for CAL FIRE, that I had visited his home in Austria, and that he was a major motivating factor in my life, especially for the coast-to-coast bicycle ride I had done for my sister six years prior. I shook his hand and thanked him for everything he has done for our firefighters, and for me, personally. He acknowledged the difficult year we firefighters have had, and shared how he felt both honored and passionate about raising money for us. As the night drew to a close, he got everyone together and gave a speech in his kitchen. He shared his excitement about this event and the money it would raise for firefighters, saying he was so thankful for the sacrifices we have made as firefighters and that we will continue to make. Santa Monica, he explained, was where things started for him when he came to America, so this event had a special place in his heart, and he was so honored to be raising money especially for firefighters. I felt so honored to be standing there in that room representing our members and being part of this great event.
After the cigar party, most of the guests went to dinner. I also attended and I talked more with Noah’s team. He introduced me to Matt Iseman, the host of Ninja Warrior who would be announcing the Strongman event. I provided him details about the other competitors and myself. I left shortly after, as I knew I would be too excited to sleep that night, but I would at least need to try. After all, I had to attempt to be the strongest firefighter the following day!
I woke up early and I arrived at the Santa Monica Pier. Arnold was doing interviews with the media and the final touches were taking place. I met with his team, and shortly after my family arrived. Both sets of strongmen arrived and the refs pulled us together to cover scoring for the different events. For the firefighters, there would be a one minute 265-pound max reps deadlift, a sandbag distance carry, and a large diameter hose stack event. After our briefing, we went to the back to warm up for the events.
It was an amazing day and there were so many highlights. The event kicked off with, imagine this, the strongmen pulling a fire engine with all the firefighter competitors on board across a section of the pier for time. The stands filled up and soon the firefighters would be competing. As the event turned to us, I got nervous with each name called to compete, not aware of when my turn would be. I was last to go out of the six of us! When I came up, Matt Iseman explained who I was and spoke about the ride I had done for my sister in 2012 who was sitting in the front row watching. Right before I began, Arnold came out and decided he would count my reps as I lifted. This was a once-in-lifetime experience. He counted as I dead-lifted 265 pounds 27 times in 1 minute. I found out that when you have the Terminator in front of you, you can accomplish amazing things!
Every event was amazing. The stands were full. Hundreds of people were in attendance. Several celebrities attended, including Sofia Vergara, Joe Manganiello, Lou Ferrigno, and Gerard Butler who stopped in to watch the event. We knew before the scores were added up that Tim Scott had won. He won all three of the events! Arnold Schwarzenegger presented him with a custom Fireman’s axe. For me, well, I took 4
place which made me happy. It was such an amazing day. At the closing, Arnold again explained how happy he was to give back to the firefighters. He was elated by the large attendance at this premier event. I knew we had done well, and I just could not help thinking about the 87 of our members that lost their homes and how our Benevolent Foundation continues to help so many in need.
I stayed on a high for several days after that weekend. It only got better; as days went on I was notified we had raised over $25,000 for our members! A few days later, I received a personal letter from Arnold thanking me for my work stating he was impressed with my accomplishment of cycling from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge fundraising for my sister. He gave his word that he would be continuing this event for years to come in an effort to assist the firefighters.
“Anything is possible with the proper motivation.” is what Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote in his letter to me. When I think of the people we help and what our Benevolent Foundation does for so many people in distress, I think, “anything is possible with the proper motivation.”
I am so honored to work with such a great man, his incredible team, and our CAL FIRE members. I can’t wait to start working on next year’s event.
We'll be back!
SCU Chapter Director