At 29, Firefighter Jack Medina has become a role model for his Brooklyn squad and is hoping to change the mindset of others by setting the physical fitness bar even higher: through diet and exercise, the Kew Gardens resident lost 60 pounds in less than six months.
Medina knew the extra pounds he was carrying around were no good for his health or his job when he decided to go on a strict regimen and shed the weight in less than six months. His new physique can be seen on the FDNY’s official 2012 Calendar of Heroes, where he is Mr. October.
The firefighter admits that not everyone can lose so much weight so quickly; age, metabolism and other factors play a role. But Medina wants to get the message out that everyone can change their mental outlook to fight the flab.
“You have to program your mind,” he said. “You have to discipline yourself, have faith in yourself and stay focused.”
Medina said his weight has fluctuated throughout his life but when the 5-foot 9-inch firefighter reached 230 pounds in 2010, he knew it was time to do something about it. He went on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet and began exercising seriously.
He admits his usual steamed chicken or fish and vegetables with brown rice does get boring and it took a while to adjust. “I have a sweet tooth, so when I get the cravings, I treat myself to low-sugar yogurt and fruit,” Medina said.
He believes it’s important to start out slowly with exercise, recommending 30 to 45 minutes a day and then working up to one hour. “Cardiovascular exercise made the difference for me,” he said. “I started with an exercise bike and went to an elliptical machine. Be consistent, but do different things.”
For those not using equipment, he suggested doing squats, pushups and leg raises, and running up and down stairs to get the heart going. Working out of Engine 279/ Ladder 131 in Red Hook, Medina said it wasn’t difficult to locate an area to exercise in, which can be a problem in many offices. He advises others to find a small unoccupied space and exercise for 15 minutes during lunch hour.
The important thing, according to Medina, is to stay focused. “You have to do 30 to 45 minutes a day of exercise to lose weight,” he said. “I dedicated 1-1/2 hours while I was losing the weight and now do one hour a day.”
The dieting was particularly difficult in the firehouse, where rich meals including veal parmigiana and eggplant parmigiana with ham are made regularly, as well as homemade chocolate chip cookies. “Those cookies smell so good in the oven that once in a while I’ll have one, but then go right back on the regimen,” he said.
His mantra is simple: “You must communicate with yourself that the benefits of being healthier outweigh the temptation of eating that cookie. There are multiple rewards at the end.”
Although fellow firefighters in Red Hook kidded him about the diet at first, the results, he says, speak for themselves. About half of his comrades have followed his example.
Now that Medina has reached his weight goal he says he must remain vigilant about not falling back into bad habits. “I have to keep pushing myself to new limits,” he said. “It’s hard.”
He is now concentrating on toning and defining his body through the use of weights and has reduced his cardio workout. Medina still takes in the same number of calories but has expanded his choices, continuing to avoid salt, sugar, complex carbohydrates and saturated fats. “I eat plenty of white meats and high-fiber foods,” the firefighter said.
Another Medina pointer: If you have a busy lifestyle, set yourself up for success by bringing your own food to work and planning ahead for meals.
And he should know. Aside from his job with the FDNY, Medina is a member of Community Board 6 and in the Coast Guard Reserves. He spends six months with his engine company and six months with the Marine Division, stationed out of Fort Totten in Bayside, working on FDNY rescue boats. Add to that list getting ready for his May 18 wedding.
A lifelong Queens resident, Medina grew up in Rego Park and loves the Rego Park-Forest Hills-Kew Gardens communities. “We have the best of everything,” he said.
Medina is proud to be included in the FDNY calendar and his family is excited about the honor. The department calls the models, “the bravest and hottest.”
The edition runs from September 2011 to December 2012 and costs $15.95. To order, go to FDNYFoundation.org or the FDNY Fire Zone, 34 W. 51 St. in Manhattan.
A portion of the proceeds go to the FDNY Foundation, whose main focus is educating the public about the dangers of fire through lectures, videos, comic books and online resources.