Firefighter takes on Ironman to raise funds and awareness for Firefighter PTSD

By: Robert Avsec

Do any of you know a firefighter who’s completed an Ironman Triathlon in full PPE with an SCBA unit on their back? I do, and her name is Diana Woolf.

a quick peak from Diana's day at Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa #IronmanFoundation #firefighter #PTSD

Posted by Rescue4PTSD on Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Diana Woolf is a 21-year veteran Firefighter-Paramedic for the Village of Highland Hills (Ohio) Fire Department, the department where she began her career as volunteer and progressed to part-time career status. She left the department several years ago for opportunities with several other career fire departments in the region before returning to Highland Hills in 2016 where she’s currently a part-time member.

She’s a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs Fire Executive Program, a Team Leader for the Portage County (Ohio) Incident Management, a Swiftwater and Water Rescue Diver, HAZMAT Technician and had five years in as a lieutenant before leaving the career fire service in 2011. Diana is currently the Safety Officer for the University of Akron College of Polymer Science and Engineering.

Diana’s been married for 13 years to James Woolf, who himself is a 30-year veteran of the fire service for Twinsburg (Ohio) Fire Department. She and has a son who is a police officer for the Cary Police Department in Cary, North Carolina.

The interview

I had the opportunity to sit down for a telephone conversation with Diana to talk about PTSD, triathlons, and her efforts to raise money to raise awareness for PTSD in the fire service.

Diana shared that she was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006. After a couple years of direct psychological services and proactive coping through strategies such as trail running, triathlons, racing teams, Ironman training, she has been able to find peace and healing. She recognizes triggers for PTSD symptoms and uses her coping skills to navigate challenges that arise.

Diana shared with me that she sought psychological services when other people started seeing changes in her behavior that she did not recognize herself. “One time, I’m at one of my son’s basketball games and a guy made some really ugly remarks about my son and his play,” said Woolf. “So, I went after him, crawling all over the people between us. And did I mention that he was probably about 6-foot 4 and over 300 pounds?”

After her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, she chose to bring awareness to this issue within the fire service by racing in the Ironman 70.3 in Florida in April 2018 and the  Ironman Boulder (Colo.) Triathlon in June 2018 in her full set of firefighter protective gear including breathing apparatus. Most recently, Diana completed the Ironman Santa Rosa (Calif.) Triathlon on July 28, 2018. To date, she’s the first female firefighter to embark on this journey.

What is Rescue4PTSD?

Rescue4PTSD is a campaign to raise awareness for firefighters with PTSD with the goal of raising $25,000 for the NFFF for programs to reduce the stigma of having PTSD. All the money we raise through Rescue4PTSD is going directly to the foundation and Chief Siarnicki (Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director at the NFFF) has assured me that those funds will be used to raise awareness about PTSD in the fire service. That would be in direct support of the foundation’s Firefighter Life Safety Strategy #13, Psychological Support

What led you to Rescue4PTSD?

During a half marathon I saw a firefighter wearing the full gear and it triggered me to want to do an Ironman

Diana Woolf completes her first Ironman 70.3 in Florida on April 8, 2018.

Triathlon in full gear with the hopes of raising $$$ for a personal cause.

Did you do all phases of the triathlon wearing your firefighter PPE?

Oh, heavens no! The organizers wouldn’t even think of allowing that. No, I only complete the running portion, though I walk it. For the swimming and biking, I’m just like everyone else.

How did you get involved?

Rescue4PTSD is my own personal campaign.  My long-time Ironman training partner, Natalie McManamon, is my

teammate in this campaign.  She also does the triathlon where she meets up with me for the run portion and walks with me.  She is also responsible for our website and marketing of Rescue4PTSD.

What have you learned about PTSD through your own case and your involvement with Rescue4PSTD?

While the sport of triathlon has helped me heal tremendously, this campaign to raise awareness has made me feel alive again.  It has been humbling to have firefighters reach out and trust me with their struggles.  You can live your life with PTSD, it can get better, symptoms can be reduced and a sense of normalcy in your life can return.

What are three things that you wish every firefighter and officer knew about Rescue4PTSD?

  1. It’s OK to have PTSD. It’s not something you did wrong, it something that happened to you.
  2. Recognize symptoms in yourself or your coworkers. Trust your instincts.
  3. Reach out for help, to a spouse, coworker, hotline, friend, pastor, or therapist. It is a major start to feeling better.

How can others get involved with Rescue4PTSD?

Obviously, we want to get that $25,000 raised and give it to the NFFF as soon as possible. But we’re not going to

Diana Woolf and her long-time Ironman training partner, Natalie McManamon.

stop there, so I encourage everyone to donate money at the Rescue4PTSD website. Help promote and amplify our cause on social media. People can Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @rescue4ptsd or Instagram.

Talk about PTSD in your fire departments. There’s more educational materials out there than ever before, so use it. And make it more than just “one and done” training.  Help reduce the stigma. We’ve got too many firefighters hurting and dying because of PTSD.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.