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Firefighter champions 'just win'

By Daniel Silliman

On the training dummy's forehead, someone has written "win" in black sharpie, but the word is really on everyone's mind at the Clayton County Fire Department.

At the national Firefighter Combat Challenge, which was held in Morrow last week, the department's women's relay team took first place, beating both of last year's world contenders.

Also, the over-40, male team -- already two-time world champions -- won the nationals again and broke the world record, which they had actually set in a previous challenge.

Jay Fordham, on the over-40 team, was manhandling the training dummy on Thursday, already in practice for the world championship. Asked about the dummy's three-letter tattoo, Fordham said, "That's it, just win."

Both the women and the over-40 team did exactly what Chief Alex Cohilas said they would, a fact he wants to point out.

"Despite Chief Jeff Hood's groaning," Cohilas said. "Do you remember, when I said they were going to win, he groaned? They don't like the pressure of my predictions, but the pressure's good for them."

Cohilas gloats maybe a little, but quickly turns to talking about why he's proud of the firefighters in his department who take the time to train for the firefighter's rodeo, and compete with other firefighter-athletes from around the country, and the world.

"The reason I'm proud of them, these are real firefighters, paramedics and EMTs that are working in a department that has a high volume of calls, and most of them work part time jobs, but they still get out there and compete," the chief said.

The event, held in Clayton County for the fourth time, also was televised this year, and will eventually be broadcast. About 7,000 people saw it live, though, despite rain the first night, and got to cheer on the athletes.

The women -- Ann Hall, Kassi Thoreson, Rachel Dornbusch, Aurora Mayfield and Martine Rose -- were competing as a team in the women's relay for the first time, and finished in one minute, 51 seconds.

"We actually won with some space between us," said Hall. "It wasn't that close. It wasn't like neck-and-neck."

The women were happy to do so well, considering they never ran the relay with the pressure of competition and a cheering, screaming crowd. Hall said the competition punches up the adrenaline, giving the women extra speed, but sometimes causing fumbles and mistakes at the transitions and the hand-offs.

"But that's where the practices definitely come in," Hall said. "We practice so much up here ... we knew we could win."

According to Cohilas, the women also learned from working with the over-40 racers, learned how to recover from little mistakes and make up time.

That's the technique the older men used to beat their own world record, last weekend, even though they made a few mistakes in the run.

"If we ever run an error-free race," said Deputy Chief Jeff Hood, "we'll shatter the record."

Even with a stumble and fumble, the over-40 relay team -- Hood, Fordham, David Odum, Jerry Russell and Ernest Donaldson -- finished with a time of one minute, 19 seconds, knocking a few seconds off their last record.

The champions only took a couple of moments to savor the win, though. Back at practice on a windy Thursday, they stretched and ran through hand-off exercises, preparing for the world championship in Las Vegas next month.

"Just win," said one of the competitors, and a teammate answered back, "Just win."