By Daniel Silliman
Aurora Mayfield ran backwards trying to drag the dead-weight, training dummy to the end of the row as fast as she could, and still breathe.
Mayfield's teammates shouted at her, urging her to go fast, to go faster, to breathe, to cross the finish line.
Firefighter, Kassi Thoreson, yelled, "Get it in! Get it in! Get it in!" And Lt. Ann Hall, the senior member of the county fire department's women's Combat Challenge relay team, yelled, "Go! Go on! Go!"
They are, according to Chief Alex Cohilas, training for the "zenith of competition."
The women, all firefighters at the Clayton County Fire Department, are practicing for the Firefighter Combat Challenge, a national competition, which will be held next week in Morrow.
Hosted in Clayton County for four years in a row, the Combat Challenge attracts teams from all over the country to compete in a firefighter's fitness race.
Here's what they do: The challengers hustle a folded hose up five flights of stairs to the top of a tower; haul a wheel of hoses up by a rope; slam a steel beam five feet with a sledge hammer; run around a series of hydrants; drag a beam; drag a training dummy; hit some targets with the stream from a hose; and finish in less than two minutes.
One Clayton County team of challengers, the over-40 relay team, has won the world championship two years in a row, and holds the world record time. This year, 25 firefighters are going to be competing at the nationals, including, for the first time, a women's team.
The women were training on Thursday morning, running the relay transitions over and over, and finishing with times of around two-minutes, two-seconds. "Even with mistakes," said the lieutenant, who has been with the department for seven years, and training with this team for the last three months.
"We're just going to get a little faster, every time," said Hall. "We're just going to work on our time. Everything comes with time."
Cohilas said he's proud of the women's team and he thinks it represents the growing diversity of the fire department and the high-caliber athletes coming to fight fires in this county, because they were attracted by the fitness-focused department.
"The ultimate goal, for us, is using the competition to promote a better, healthier lifestyle, not only in our department, but in our community and everywhere," Cohilas said. "I didn't expect the change would come so quickly and we would start attracting these people ... We're recruiting and hiring competitive, people to work here, who often have a background in athletics, because of our emphasis on physical fitness."
The women on the women's relay team are all athletes, one with a background in volleyball, one a cross country trainer and one a swimmer, cyclist and long-distance runner, Cohilas said.
The chief likes to win championships and set records, and when he's talking about the upcoming challenge events, he puts pressure on the teams by predicting they will win spectacularly.
"Of course, our over-40 team, two-time defending world champions, is going for a three-peat," Cohilas said, as members of the team groaned they were getting John "Elway-ed." The chief said he predicts, "They'll shatter their world record, and we think the ladies will pull an upset at the nationals."
The nationals will be held in Morrow, in the parking lot of the Home Depot, at 1986 Mt. Zion Road, Oct. 17 and 18. The contests will take place from 4 p.m., to 10 p.m., on Friday, and from noon to 8 p.m., on Saturday.
The event is free, with lots of kids' events. Donations, and a portion of vendor proceeds, will go to support state and local charities. For more information, go to www.claytonchallenge.com/event.