Sutton competed in the World Police and Fire Games held in New York from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5. The Games invites firefighters and police officers from all over the world to compete in over 60 different events – everything from fishing, basketball, bowling, dragon boat racing, karate and much more. Sutton competed in swimming events and won a silver medal in the 100-metre breast stroke and a bronze in the 200-metre individual medley, which involves two lengths of butterfly, two lengths of backstroke, two lengths of breaststroke and two lengths of freestyle.
“To come away with medals was definitely a bonus, but firstly I wanted go for the experience, the camaraderie, the competition and the thrill of the whole event,” he said on winning the medals.
However, he said the medals are certainly gratifying after all of the training he has done over the last two years to prepare for the Games. He said he used to swim with the Seals Swim Club as a child, and then later as an assistant coach with the club, but hadn’t really swam regularly since then until early 2009 when he started training for the World Police and Fire Games in Vancouver. In those Games, hhe won two bronze medals – one in a relay event and another in the 50-metre breaststroke.
“You don’t train for two years up to four or five hours a day for no reason,” he said. “You definitely want to win, but it’s not the end-all-be-all.”
Sutton said what was really great about the event was the opportunity to meet other firefighters from all over the world. He added his time in Manhattan really changed his perceptions about New York City.
“New York is amazing. I had it in my head that it was the big city – concrete, stuffy, rude, arrogant, everybody is in a hurry kind of a place – but it is so far from that. Everything is just amazing, right from the subway system to the tops of the skyscrapers, and the people are very friendly.”
It wasn’t without significance that the Games were held in New York, as it was 10 years ago that over 400 emergency workers lost their lives during and after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Sutton said while there was a feeling of that significance during the Games, it wasn’t something he talked about with his New York counterparts or other participants.
“It was sort of unspoken,” he said. “As first responders, you don’t really talk about it a whole lot, you don’t try to relive past catastrophes, you try to learn from them. Definitely, you knew that something was up in the city, but at the same time, New York is big and busy and I had never been there before, so I don’t know if it was different than it had been before.”
He said he did enjoy talking to some firefighters from New York about the similarities and differences of their work.
Sutton has been with the Dawson Creek Fire Department his whole career – as a full-time firefighter for just over four years, and as a volunteer member for eight years before that – and he said he was definitely proud to represent his city and his department at the Games.
“It was definitely good to go down and feel like you’re carrying the flag for your home community. It’s kind of neat when you look at some of the bigger centres – New York City has thousands of firefighters, and we have 16.”
He said the training for the Games has definitely benefitted him both from the perspective of the rigorous demands of his job, and his own personal health.
“With the nature of our job, you never know when you might have to give 150 per cent, so being ready to go at any time is good. On a day-to-day basis, if you’re called to do something like chores – going to get firewood – you can do it without being sore the next day. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You get old because you don’t exercise, or you don’t exercise because you get old.’”
Sutton said he is definitely planning on competing in the Games when it is held in Belfast, Ireland, in 2013. He said this year he was interested in competing in the “Toughest Competitor Alive” or the “Ultimate Firefighter” events – two endurance and strength-testing events – but they overlapped with the swimming events this year, so he is hoping to try one or both in Belfast in a couple of years.
He said even in spite of Hurricane Irene delaying the Games by a few days, the whole experience during and leading up to the event is not something he will soon forget.
“The whole experience was just incredible, right from training with the kids and all of their little buddies in the swim club, right to travelling internationally. It was an awesome experience, and I look forward to the next one.”