Local firefighter wins the triple crown in competition

Team Westshore from left: Mark Millward, Jamie McGarva, Reid Taylor, and Ryan Rickards. The team finished second place in world competition in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina recently. - Adrian MacNair photo
Team Westshore from left: Mark Millward, Jamie McGarva, Reid Taylor, and Ryan Rickards. The team finished second place in world competition in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina recently.
— image credit: Adrian MacNair photo

Delta's fire department can now lay claim to having the world's top firefighter.

Jamie McGarva, 38, of Team Westshore finished first place in the Firefighter Combat Challenge in South Carolina, beating out the second place contestant by nearly four seconds and shattering a world record.

He also finished first place in the Canadian national competition and in B.C., staking an unprecedented "triple crown" in the sport.

"It's kind of surreal," says the Delta firefighter, who lives in Surrey. "You get those goals that you set at the beginning of the year, and every year, and  to actually achieve it is unbelievable."

McGarva surpassed perennial rival Graham MacKenzie from Kamloops, the team that won provincials, nationals, and worlds. Team Westshore finished second in each competition, coming agonizingly close to winning it all in Myrtle Beach.

But despite the rivalry, McGarva says the atmosphere is friendly. The teams talk to one another about competition, work, and congratulate each other on their successes.

Although McGarva's achieved everything possible from a personal standpoint, it's more important that his team wins first place. McGarva says he'd rather stick around next year and win that first place medal.

"I always train hard but I'm not necessarily trying to defend my title. I'm happy with just getting a respectable time."

McGarva's family flew down to watch him, so he knew there was some extra pressure on him to succeed.

The achievement is also a morale booster for Delta's fire department.

"The guys were super impressed. They're really happy with the win and they were all Facebooking and texting to congratulate me."

McGarva took a couple of weeks off training after the win in order to let not only his body recover, but also his mind. The mental preparation and nerves that goes into the sport can be draining, he says.

Teammate Ryan Rickards, 36, who finished 19th place, returned to competition after taking two years off due to injury.

"When you lose something, you miss it more. So I was fired right up to come back."

Rickards says that firefighting is so physical that nobody is ever "out of shape" but it took some adjustment to get back to an elite competitive level.

"It's just a matter of training to that next level where at the end of the training you're literally lying on the floor afterward."

Another motivation for Rickards is seeing friends he only gets to see once or twice a year from other fire departments.

A big inspiration is watching teammate Mark Millward, who at the age of 48 is in his 17th year of competition and is a multiple time Canadian champion in his age category.

"My performance this year wasn't where I wanted it to be," said Millward, who finished 53rd. "A lot of time was spent in the gym, running hills, and on the course. You've really got to focus on it like an athlete, like it's a job."

Millward said a lot of thanks goes to corporate sponsors Westshore Terminals and TSI Terminal Systems Inc., who provide the professional training facility in Tilbury Industrial Park and fund their trips to events.

The final member of the team and in his "sophomore year," 25-year-old Reid Taylor, finished 26th in his first trip to the worlds.

"There's a lot of nerves and I think experience goes a long way. You look at Jamie and Mark and Ryan and they've been doing it a long time," said Reid.

"Overall I think I did fairly well and we'll just have to keep building for next year."

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