In It for the Long Run

By Anne Gagliano

Don’t you love it when someone gets what you’re trying to say? When they actually respond in such a way as to not only endorse your concept but provide a perfect, shining, real-life example of it? This is the case for my past three columns on exercise entitled, “Why Firefighters (And Their Spouses) Should Exercise” Parts 1, 2, and 3.

After reading these, Seattle Firefighter Mike Dulas (Hazardous Materials Response Team, E10A) sent my husband Mike and I his story. It truly impressed us and touched our hearts. Keep in mind, we’re partial to our own—especially my husband’s trainees. He was FF Dulas’ recruit training captain many years ago and can’t help but feel a sort of “parental pride” for him. But partiality aside, Mike Dulas’ story is so inspirational that I decided to share it with firefighter families everywhere. This is what he wrote to us:     

“Back in about 2002, I was at one of my heaviest weights ever. I was traveling for work Mon-Fri, eating out for every meal, and stressed from my new job and lots of deadlines. I grew up mountain biking but had never really run much. My wife Tracy had just finished school and was also starting work. We got her a mountain bike and would go together, but she didn’t care for it much. Then we got road bikes and started training for the Seattle to Portland Ride. Some neighbors stopped by and asked if we rode and said they did triathlons. Turned out they actually did Ironman Triathlons. We thought they were nuts.”

“Fast forward a year, and we decide to start running. Neither of us had run much. Despite playing lacrosse, I think the most I had ever run at one time was 1.5 miles. It just seemed so inefficient compared to bicycling. So we signed up for our first 5K together. That progressed to signing up for a 10K, then a half marathon, then a marathon. We followed the same training plan. We would train individually while I was on the road and then it was a great thing to come home on the weekends and do our long runs together. Running more so than bicycling or swimming allows you to just talk to another person. It was a great way to make sure we kept our pace aerobic (a goal on your long run) so we could catch up on everything. When the going got tough, we would encourage each other. As we progressed through our plan, every week brought a distance that we had never run before. A huge sense of accomplishment. While we were apart, having the same plan helped to keep us accountable. We would encourage each other to get the training runs in so we didn’t fall behind.”

“While this was going on (I think we took about a year to get to the marathon distance), we had also started swimming and doing our first sprint triathlons. This, like our running, progressed and we raced a half ironman. The swimming was another bonding activity, as neither one of us grew up swimming so we had to learn together. As we progressed, we started swimming masters in an outdoor pool–in January!  The cold mornings running across the pool deck were freezing, but we bonded over it. And we met some great people to train with.”

“This progressed to us eventually racing the Ironman Triathlon together. The Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run. Training gave us a common goal to work toward. It gave us quality bonding time as well–what else were you going to do but talk to the other person? It was a shared hobby; we could relate to what the other was doing. We understood when the other person was suffering, or having a bad day, or just plain old tired. We delighted in each other’s successes. We laughed together when we went to a nice restaurant in San Diego after a race and devoured the appetizer platter in about 30 seconds and the waiter just kind of looked at us. Most of this training process was new to us. Things like running 16 miles, running in the dark on trails after work, riding our bikes to new places we had never been, swimming 2 miles in a lake, watching the sun rise together. Sharing in a new, novel experience brings you closer as a couple. Doing this allowed us to witness each other’s accomplishments.”

“All of this physical activity led me to become a firefighter. I was bored in my other job and wanted something more active. I wanted a meaningful career, to be able to help people.”

“Fast forward to us knocking on 40 years old and having 2 kids under the age of 10 (Ian, age 6, and Claire, age 9). We can’t really train as much as we did before, but we are able to go do things as a family like mountain biking and skiing. Even if you can’t train together because of the kids, you can still sign up for an event and keep each other motivated and accountable.”

“Exercise is also a great way to deal with the strains of being a firefighter. Even after being up all night on the aid car, I force myself to go to the gym for 20 minutes. It can be anything, I just listen to my body, there is no goal on these days. Sometimes that means I am on the elliptical at level 1. Some days I decide I want to push it. It is always easier to get some sleep after you have exercised. Working on my cardiovascular system and weights makes me better at my job and less prone to injury. All of the triathlon training has given me a pretty efficient aerobic system. Comparing air after a drill at work, I consistently use less air then the rest of my crew–even the ones who are still in their 20s!”

“At work, exercise bonds us as a crew. I work at one of the busiest stations in the city. There is a group of us who come in together before shift. We keep each other accountable–if one person fails to show, then they are usually harassed by the people who did show. We also find time for a quick workout during shift. We take turns coming up with circuits. It helps when you are suffering to see others suffer as well.”

“Reflecting on all of this, I can see what a positive effect this shared experience has had on our marriage. We have family and friends who always comment on how goal oriented we are. They notice that we simply say we are going to do something and then we do it. I think much of this derives from setting those goals for our races early in our marriage. Another benefit is that it brought us close. We got married very young–we met in college when she was 18 and I was 19. We married after school when I was 22 and then we started training about a year later. The time we spent together allowed us to talk through any issues we had. Usually it was done while we had endorphins coursing through our system so I think that put us both in a better frame of mind. The goal-oriented nature has allowed us to see how you get from A to Z. You don’t think you can run 26 miles, but it becomes more manageable when you see you just have to run 6 then 7 then 8, and so on. That helped us take the same approach when I wanted to become a firefighter, and when my wife got her National Board Certification.”

Mike and Tracy wonderfully demonstrate how exercise has had a direct effect on their relationship with aspects ranging from bonding to making decisions as a couple. Shared goals create teamwork. Endorphins and dopamine form positive thoughts and memories. Better sleep means a better mood and more self-control. A sharper mind leads to thoughtfulness and unity. And a strong couple builds a strong family, a firefighter family who’s in it for the long run. FF Mike Dulas and his wife Tracy: Can you think of a better example of this?


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 30 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

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