Jeff Bryan is a firefighter who doesn’t let adversity keep him down. Jeff returned to full time work in March 2015, just slightly less than a year after his right leg was amputated below the knee. Jeff severely injured that leg in a 1991 skiing accident in Colorado. He “limped by” in pain until doctors determined the leg had to be removed. Jeff, who is a firefighter and EMT Intermediate with the Ute Mountain Fire Department in southwest Colorado, refused to let the amputation keep him down. He was released from the hospital on his 50th birthday. He says there were two ways to go: give up and feel sorry for himself or push forward and beat it – he chose to move beyond and conquer it.
As soon as he was able, he started bicycling, ice climbing, paddle boarding, swimming and yoga. As far as anyone can determine, Jeff is the only firefighter in Colorado to return to full-time active duty after a leg amputation. Jeff does not want to be known as the firefighter who lost a leg, but the guy who works hard to stay in shape and be the best EMT/firefighter he can.
What’s his philosophy and how does he train? He spells it out here in his own words:
In 1991, I suffered a commuted fracture of my tibia while skiing in Breckenridge, CO. It was during this injury that I first trained to get my life back.
In 2011 I had an ankle replacement. I once again undertook the task of regaining my fitness; however, I never regained my top physical condition. For the next 3 years I worked in unbearable pain. I basically, worked, slept and trained in the gym. I developed high blood pressure. I was getting sick.
On March 20, 2013 I worked a 72. On the 23rd I clocked out and headed to Vail to meet my doctors. Four days later, I was told my best option was amputation. I spent the next three days lying in bed. During this time I made the decision that failure was not an option.
On April 22, 2014 I had a below the knee amputation. I went for an Ertl amputation since I qualified. The Ertl procedure is designed to build muscle and preserve bone that will support prosthetic devices for those who plan to be active. The surgery went well and I was released from the hospital 4/26, my 50th Birthday.
Now 30 pounds overweight, I had a huge undertaking. I needed to lose the 30 pounds and fulfill my goal of returning to active duty. 50 years old, overweight and now an amputee!
I started out just the way I did in 1991. At four weeks I started riding the bike with one leg. At six weeks I received my first prosthetic and was on my way to PT. I followed my instructions to a tee. I continued to bike and work on balance. At this time I also started yoga.
At my age I did not need to increase my calorie intake above 2000 calories a day. I eat a balanced diet, consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables, chicken and grass fed beef, which I purchase by the half cow. Once a week I splurged and enjoy a bowl of Ice cream. I drink water, 10-12 glasses a day. I never drink soda.
Within a week of getting my first prosthetic I went out on my stand up paddle board. I spent a lot of time swimming, paddling, spinning and lifting. I am a firm believer in high reps, low weight.
We all hear the term crossfit. I do not do a crossfit program. I am a firm believer in cross training, consisting of cardio, core, flexibility and strength training. As I progressed, I started to add new activities. In July, I started rock climbing. In August, I started biking outside.
At 50 years old, avoiding injury is key. Yoga or a good stretching routine should be done daily. Cardio should be done a minimum of three days a week. I prefer four or five, but three will work. I do weight training four days a week. All my weight lifting is done either after cardio or after I ride my bike to the gym. I never lift heavy. I keep my reps at a minimum of 12. I usually do sets of 16-24. I lift for endurance, strength and elongated muscle. Heavy lifting will not only decrease flexibility, it will Increase your risk of injury.
The idea is to move fluidly between cardio and strength while resting as little as possible. As I progressed I added more activities. I started to climb ice, backcountry ski, bike hard and stick to my routine. The idea is to mix it up and have fun.
In January I started ice climbing again. I was climbing strong and climbed as much as I could. I started riding single track on my mountain bike in March. I mix it up as much as possible. Your workout should not be a chore, it should be fun. If you’re not having fun, try something different. Start slow and increase your intensity. I add weight very gradually. I make sure I can do a set of 24 before I up my weight. My bike rides started out at five miles. I am now averaging about 25 per ride on my road bike and 10 miles a day on single track. Just remember Cardio, Core, Flexibility and Strength.
As the seasons change, I take advantage of the weather. I cross country ski, climb, bike or paddle. I still do a minimum of four days lifting; once again, never with heavy weight. I am a true believer that flexibility, elongated muscle, core strength and endurance is the key, especially for firefighters and first responders (more on that in coming articles).
And, all this is working. At nine months I was cleared for full duty by my doctor. At 11 months, I had cleared my final physical. In March, I returned to full duty as a line firefighter and my first shift was 3/7/15.
*Note- Jeff completed the first 30 days of his 90 day probation on April 7 without any issues. He is committed to being the best first responder he can, serving the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Southwest Colorado.