August 1, 2012

Drew Eichenser has wanted to be a firefighter since he was in elementary school.  He is studying at the fire academy at NJC and is now a volunteer on the Sterling department.

His dream job. Drew Eichenser has wanted to be a firefighter since he was in elementary school. He is studying at the fire academy at NJC and is now a volunteer on the Sterling department. (Courtesy Photo)

This is a Drew story

By Adrianne Eager

Not quite one year ago, a pretty typical cadet registered for the Northeastern Junior College Fire Academy. Although he had no idea when he signed up, Drew Eichenser (from Aurora, CO) had just volunteered himself for “The biggest reality check” of his college experience. Almost as immediately as his on-campus classes started, so did crawling through smoke filled rooms, swinging axes, and working with fellow cadets. Drew was absorbing brand new information from academy instructors every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Just as quickly as the fire fighting started heating up, literally, something else became apparent. “I was one of the slowest guys in the academy when we were doing runs with our gear on or our agility drills, I was pretty far behind physically,” said Eichenser, “It really became obvious that my size was an issue that I would need to tackle.”

“There were a lot of things that I had to realize in the first few weeks of college. Coming from a city like Aurora to a small town like Sterling, and getting used to dorm life were all new things I had to grasp, but the hardest realization I faced was about myself.”  Drew shares, “I’ve always been ‘one of the big guys’, but being 6’3” with a weight in the neighborhood of 300 pounds as an 18-year-old was a problem.  Being overweight, combined with how physically demanding the training we were doing was my real wake up call.” Drew recalls He began his own quest to try to lose some weight and by December 2011, he was down to a mere 281 pounds.

“I remember losing the first five pounds, but after that I tried to stop watching the scale. More than wanting to get to a specific number goal, I wanted to start living a healthier lifestyle. I wanted to look and feel better in the long run.”

Eichenser returned back to Sterling from his Christmas break delighted to find out that the Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) at NJC were going to be holding a special weight loss promotion and competition called the LBS Challenge. He immediately knew he would be on board.

The “Losing weight, Building confidence and Staying healthy,” LBS challenge ran from the first week of February to the end of April. This approach, geared more toward lifestyle change than number tracking paid off. By mid-February Drew weighed in at 248. “I didn’t know the numbers of my competition, how well or poorly I was doing in comparison as everyone’s weight was kept confidential the whole time,” said Drew, “I didn’t mind that though. I had joined the challenge for my own reasons, to have one more motivator and to help keep me accountable.”

When asked about how hard it was not only to lose weight, but battle the infamous “freshman fifteen”, and keep up with the demands of school and volunteering at the Sterling Fire Department station, he simply answers, “As hard as it was to get started, once you get it down to a routine all you have to do is keep going through the motions.” He attributes the majority of his success to regular cardio training, the demanding physical tasks required of him as a fire academy cadet and in improved diet. Drew’s regimen included lowering his intake of carbs and fats and increasing whole grains and vegetables took some getting used to.  “Sticking to a diet in an all-you-can-eat, cafeteria environment was definitely not the easiest part of the whole process,” Drew remembers.

Cafeteria diet or not, by the end of April the LBS Challenge had a clear winner. The winning student had lost 25 pounds in 12 weeks, and it was Drew.

Thin to win.  While at NJC last year, Eichenser dropped more than 60 pounds to not only make firefighting physically easier, but to also win the weight loss contest that took place on campus.

Thin to win. While at NJC last year, Eichenser dropped more than 60 pounds to not only make firefighting physically easier, but to also win the weight loss contest that took place on campus. (Courtesy Photo)

“I always laugh when people congratulate me for winning the Challenge, I tell them, ‘I wish they had started counting in December, I lost 33 pounds before the contest even started, if they had counted that drop then that would have been something to be really excited about!’”

With the Pounds Challenge now literally under his smaller belt, Drew is really excited about is his recent hire as a volunteer at the Sterling Fire Department. He made the choice to stay in Sterling for the summer, take a couple summer classes and become part of the community spending as much time as he can being a volunteer fireman.

Just ask him about it and he lights up, “Well honestly, I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was in elementary school. There is a point in life where you really need to decide what you want to do and I’m blessed that I’ve found my career choice at such a young age.” When asked how he likes this opportunity to work for the station he continued, “I feel like I have truly gained a huge amount of knowledge from the department. They’re all a bunch of great guys and everyone has been helpful and willing to let me learn,” he beamed. “They are guys who are ready to correct my mistakes and through them I feel I can grow even more in this field. I feel like my hard work is starting to come full circle. In the fall I won the 2011 Cadet Captain Award for my academy and now, I am here working under and alongside some of the same men who taught me.”

NJC fire science student Drew Eichenser of Aurora (left) has spent his summer in Sterling taking summer classes, being a volunteer firefighter and helping coach girls’ tee ball. Among his players, and fans, is Kenadie Lueck of Sterling (right)

Someone to lean on. NJC fire science student Drew Eichenser of Aurora (left) has spent his summer in Sterling taking summer classes, being a volunteer firefighter and helping coach girls’ tee ball. Among his players, and fans, is Kenadie Lueck of Sterling (right) who has had some good conversations with Drew in the outfield on game day. He says he’s really come to appreciate the small town life. (Courtesy Photo)

In addition to volunteering at the station, Drew has been doing a slightly different kind of volunteer work this summer. “I have been an assistant coach for the Sterling 5-6 year old girls Wildcat T-Ball team.” Drew laughs. “Actually, all of the teams are called the Wildcats so we are the blue and pink Wildcat team.”  He assists head coach Shannon Mcintosh.

“I’ve coached guys’ teams before and I’ve played baseball all my life, but I’ve never helped girls before,” Drew notes. “I think the best part about working with these girls is the goofiness. At this age everyone on the team is friends, there is no drama, and all the equipment ranges from pink to bright pink,” he recalls, adding that it’s been all about learning the game and everything is done in fun because the teams don’t keep score. “The personal improvements among our players and the girls’ teamwork as a whole has made the season a huge success.”

In hearing the news of the Aurora theatre massacre last week, Drew took a few days off to go home to Aurora, feeling a need to reconnect with he knows and loves who have been affected deeply by this tragedy. However, he will be coming right back to Sterling. Full time training starts August 12th  for those students who are going to work in residence life on campus during the 2012-2012 year. He will be a resident assistant in Blue Spruce Hall. 

“I’m thrilled for next year,” shared Drew, “I have a lot in store for the people who live on my floor and I’m excited to keep getting healthier. I weigh 214 pounds now; 67 pounds later I feel healthier than I have in a long time and that only helps keep me motivated to work harder.”

When asked about how he did this year with all of these achievements,  Drew gives a modest answer, “I know it sounds cliché but if you want something, go get it. This year I had my mind set on some important personal goals and I made sure I did everything I could to achieve them. I think human potential is almost limitless and once you stop getting in your own way you can get some pretty impressive things accomplished.”

Drew plans to continue his sophomore year at NJC being an RA, taking further courses in fire science technology and emergency medical services working at the Sterling Fire Department. Being the product of a large city, yet making some great contributions to a smaller community like Sterling certainly means he’s living up to the idea of blooming where he is planted. 

Adrianne Eager of Gunnison, CO is a communications major at Northeastern Junior College. She will be a sophomore here this fall.