OKC firefighter competes in World Police and Fire Games' Toughest Competitor Alive

Lt. David Trowbridge sits down at the kitchen table and eats a small salad, while his fellow Oklahoma City firemen clean up from their spaghetti dinner.


At 50, he recently competed in the 2009 World Police and Fire Games and placed first in the "Toughest Competitor Alive" event for the fifth time. Similar to a decathlon, this event consists of 10 events over two days. Trowbridge, who weighs 178 pounds, has been competing in the games since 1993 and has won five medals overall.

The World Police and Fire Games is the second largest multisport event in the world. Every two years, various cities host the event " this year's was held in British Columbia, Canada.

The "Toughest Competitor Alive" competition consists of a 5k run; shot put competition; 100-meter sprint; 100-meter swim; 20-foot, arms-only rope climb; bench press; pull-ups; and an obstacle course. 

But winning the title wasn't always so simple. Although he said he has always been a competitive person, he described himself a small fish in the big sea at the 1993 games.

"I was overwhelmed at the strength and ability of these guys," he said.

Although he walked away with no medal that year, he did place 11th out of 60 people. That's when he realized he could train harder and push himself toward the gold.

Trowbridge, an Oklahoma City firefighter for 23 years, keeps in perfect step with all the young firefighters, and he wouldn't have it any other way. 

Rick Wilson, a friend and colleague, said this desire to stay physically fit developed on their first day as firefighters. Several of the older firefighters were starting to retire, and many of them were out of shape.

"They were dying left and right the minute they left the fire station," Wilson said.

He and Trowbridge made a decision to never let themselves become that unhealthy. Wilson said Trowbridge instantly became an inspiration to him, as well as to other firefighters.

"He was the person who set the standard for the entire fire department," he said.

Although one of the requirements to remain active and healthy was appealing to him, Trowbridge said he was drawn to firefighting by the opportunity to help the citizens of his city. He never expected the glory that came with the job, and he never went searching for it, either.

"I wanted something that blended the satisfaction of being physically fit with the satisfaction of helping someone," he said.

He also carries this philosophy with him into his love of aviation. While he enjoys flying for the thrill, he also attempts to complete at least one or two angel flights per year, which are designed to help patients in remote areas reach the nearest, best hospital for treatment.

But despite all of his accomplishments, Wilson said Trowbridge remains humble and selfless; he is always willing to give to those around him.

"(People) would pay money to be in my shoes and be around someone as influential as Dave," he said.

James Blocker, a friend of 15 years, said Trowbridge always looks out for others; he is always thinking of how he can help somebody else, even if it means giving up his last sip of water for a thirsty colleague.

"He's definitely the person you want next to you when things start going south," Blocker said.

While his duty of helping people fulfills him, Trowbridge still holds the desire to remain in shape. He has competed in every World Police and Fire Games held since he first signed up in 1993. 

But now, instead of feeling like the underdog, he calls the other competitors his second family. And although going up against much younger opponents can be intimidating, once he sees 60-year-old men pushing themselves as hard as they can, he feels motivated to keep pushing himself as well.

"Now, it's more about competing against myself, and the other people help me," he said.

Another group of people supporting Trowbridge over the years is his family. Paula, his wife of seven years, has been to almost every competition. Trowbridge said he remembers one specific competition, in which she brought along their 2-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son.

"My wife deserves a gold medal for handling that," he said, laughing.

She brings the couple's children, now 5 and 3, to as many competitions as possible, and Trowbridge couldn't be happier.

With this hectic schedule and balancing family with firefighting, he finds a routine workout schedule next to impossible. So, he improvises. He attempts to exercise every day, but his routine is atypical to the avid gym visitor's. One day, he may run, and the next day, he may swim or go for a bicycle ride. Sometimes, he even pulls his kids around the park via buggy. He also has a rope for climbing in the fire station's backyard.

"My philosophy is that I never know when my next work out will be," he said.

The next games will be held in New York City in 2011, and then in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2013. Trowbridge plans to compete in both.

As he finishes his salad back in the station, a clinging bell silences the conversation of all the firemen. And as for Trowbridge, well, he never misses a beat.  "Paige Lawler

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