SCARBOROUGH, Ontario (BVM) — “Each medal I won during international competitions were separated by mere seconds over the course of four races,” men’s age 50-54 scaled 2020 CrossFit Open world winner Mike Ruffo said. “At that level where everyone is physically strong, the mental aspect is the separator.”
Ruffo is an accomplished competitor. His resume also includes being a CanAm Police Fire Games gold medalist, a three-time World Police Fire Games bronze medalist in the Toughest Firefighter Alive Competition, a CanAm Police Fire Games silver medalist, the 2020 CrossFit Open Canada scaled men’s winner (all ages), the 2019 CrossFit Open world scaled men’s (45-49) 20th place finish (No. 1 in Canada), the 2018 CrossFit Open world scaled men’s (45-49) 16th place finish (No. 2 in Canada), and in the 2020 CrossFit Open scaled top 50 finish men’s (all ages and over 14,000 athletes).
Since he was 4, Ruffo has been athletic. He studied kinesiology at the University of Toronto and played lacrosse competitively all his life. He later became a full-time firefighter for the city of Toronto, where he has been responding to emergencies for around 20 years.
Firefighters must deal with getting lost amidst the blinding smoke, falling through collapsing floors, deadly flashovers, etc. And what many don’t know is that firefighters do far more than deal with fires; they respond to a wide variety of emergencies including medical emergencies, hazardous materials emergencies, car accidents, entrapment, elevator rescues, car fires, etc. Over the course of his career, Ruffo has delivered babies, freed people trapped in auto accidents, rescued a cat from a sewer, rescued people off the Scarborough Bluffs and more.
“It’s a very broad set of skills, kind of like CrossFit,” Ruffo said. “You have a broad set of skills, and you have to be prepared to do all of it.”
And of course, he has participated avidly in many competitions.
“Every two years, they have the World Police and Fire Games,” Ruffo said. “It’s basically a set of four races that you do in a day with your gear, running up and down towers, hauling hose, dragging dummies, a whole bunch of fire-related tasks you bring together.”
In 2021, around 10,000 people who work in police, fire, customs and corrections departments world-wide will compete in over 60 sports. When Ruffo stopped competing in 2017, his son really got into CrossFit, so he brought him to Northern Touch CrossFit. Ruffo was looking to keep in shape, so he started CrossFit himself. He liked the community and was constantly reminded of his competitive firefighter training, so he became a certified coach.
“I have been told that I’m a role model,” Ruffo said. “I can’t begin to express how honoured and proud that makes me as a human.”
He was also lucky enough to have done well in athletics, he truly believes in the CrossFit methodology and that it can hedge against illness, he truly cares about the people who come to Northern Touch CrossFit, and he has plenty of teaching experience.
“I was a grade eight science teacher for five or six years,” Ruffo said.
As a coach, there are a few guiding principles that shape what Ruffo does.
“I want this to be the best hour of your day,” Ruffo said. “I’m ecstatic when you walk through the door, and I value each and every relationship I have with my athletes. We are here to work, but we are also here to have fun. I’m constantly joking, trying to pull a laugh out of you even when your lungs are burning, and your muscles are crying.”
Overall, the top priority is safety. Nothing is more vexing than people injuring themselves, especially since in CrossFit it is unnecessary.
“Even for serious CrossFit athletes who choose to compete and push the boundaries of human performance, there is a risk-reward correlation, but even so, injury is unnecessary when there’s smart, effective training,” Ruffo said.
CrossFit and firefighting have many similarities. Both involve high levels of intensity, mental strength — the ability to “overcome the body’s signals to quit” — and the ability to work quickly and efficiently.
“The more technically sound you are at any movement, the more economy of motion that occurs, and you expend less energy, enabling you to do more work,” Ruffo said.
In other words, practicing more makes moving easier, allowing you to move more. Also, what is done in the gym is transferable to other life skills, such as drawing upon mental strength to complete a job or help others.