#073 – New York City firefighter and runner, Ony Franco, shares his fitness journey which started while preparing for the FDNY Academy. With the help of his friends, family, and peers, he successfully completed the Academy and developed a passion for running. Ony was able to push through fear and discomfort to achieve his goals and now encourages others to set challenging goals and push themselves out of their comfort zone.
How did Ony Franco develop a successful fitness journey?
What motivates Ony Franco to continue his running and obstacle racing goals?
How can surrounding yourself with the right people help you?
What resources you can use to help in your career and fitness journey?
Ony has been a New York City Firefighter for the last 8 years and began his fitness journey in 2014 while he was preparing for FDNY academy. He started racing in OCR competitively at the end of 2021 and ramped up his running in 2022.
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Hi everyone, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying you grow through what you go through. And in today’s episode, we’re going to talk about how to make big changes in your life by setting challenging goals, being comfortable with being uncomfortable and surrounding yourself with the right people. So you’re going to hear from our guest today, he was a very inspiring story about his career and running journey and all that he was able to accomplish. Hope you enjoy.
Welcome to Inspire to run podcast. Here you will find inspiration. Whether you’re looking to take control of your health and fitness or you’re a seasoned runner, looking for community and some extra motivation. You will hear inspiring stories from amazing runners, along with helpful tips from fitness experts now here’s your host Richard Conner.
Richard Conner 0:48
Hi, everyone, welcome to inspire to run Podcast. I’m here today with Ony Franco. Ony has been a New York City firefighter for the last eight years and began his fitness journey in 2014. While he was preparing for the FDNY Academy, he started racing and obstacle course races competitively at the end of 2021 and ramped up his running in 2022. Welcome to the show, Ony
Ony Franco 1:15
thanks for having me rich, how’s it going, man? It’s a pleasure.
Richard Conner 1:20
It’s good. You know, it’s a pleasure is all mine. It’s so cool to be following your running journey. I think we just been following each other over the last year. But it’s so cool to see the progress that you made in just a year and the races that you’re able to run, which is my aspiration to run some of those races. So the the honor is all mine. Have you on the show to share your journey with our listeners?
Ony Franco 1:41
Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Like I said, I hope we hope we can inspire some, you know, new runners, and some run some runners that already have been, you know, doing their thing, but just need more inspiration. And
Richard Conner 1:57
yeah, all right. So let’s get the conversation going. Just you know, tell us a little bit about yourself. Well,
Ony Franco 2:03
I’m, I’m from Long Island City, New York, I grew up in the city, I moved up to Orange County not too long ago, new beginnings. That was a goal that I had in mind. And it came through I just was just working really hard towards that. And as you said, I’m a New York City firefighter. And it’s been eight years wonderful years, I’ve met so many people, a lot of leaders too. And it’s where my fitness journey journey really began. I grew up playing sports. My dream when I was younger, was to be a professional baseball player. So that was my thing. Baseball was like the main sport. I mean, I played a lot of sports growing up in the streets and in the city. And But baseball was like my main thing. I mean, that dream didn’t come true. But I’m here today continuing fitness.
Richard Conner 2:58
Yeah. All right. So you know, thank you for sharing that. And, you know, I, I’m sure it’s hard for someone not to be able to pursue their dreams. And you know, I’d really, really interested to find out or learn what made you decide to become a firefighter, then. So you went from sports, to becoming a firefighter, which is awesome. You know, so cool to see you do that. So, you know, what kind of led you down that path. Normally you
Ony Franco 3:23
go to college for like four years. But uh, I was in school for longer than that. And I was just going through different majors. And, you know, I had no idea what to do, you know, so, this opportunity came up to take the New York City Fire exam. And I’m like, You know what, I got to start doing new things in life. So I took the exam. And luckily, I was like one of those lucky individuals so actually get called, and start the process to become a New York City firefighter. I had no idea what I was getting into. And I signed up for a mentorship program that the FDNY had, and there I met a firefighter and he really gave me good pointers, what the beginning was like, what the Academy’s like and the and that, that really motivated me to start training. Also, we would go through a we had to go through a like a physical exam. I tried it and I’m like, Oh my God, I am seriously out of shape. I cannot do the regular route the regular lifting routine. I got to change my fitness routine a little because firefighting requires it’s it’s a lot. You know, it’s it’s very functional. You could either be kneeling, you could be on your back, you know, had it so I had to change my training.
Richard Conner 4:41
Yeah, I mean, that I mean, thank you for sharing that. And it’s interesting what you mentioned about changing your training for your words. And you know, typically when people think about fitness or think about running, they may only think about one thing like I’m going to do this because I want to lose weight, and there’s so many other reasons why you would get to fitness and get into running. And you know, what you’re doing is a big reason to do that. Right? You have to be in the right physical shape to do a very demanding job. So, you know, that’s incredible that you did it. And you made that, you know, decision to jump right in, I’m not sure I would have chosen that is, if I didn’t know what to do. I want to become a firefighter. But I think that’s really cool that you did that. And you know, you’ve been successful for the last eight years. So really congratulations. And, you know, what I’d love to talk to you about is, you know, kind of what was your mindset during that time? So, you weren’t really It sounds like you weren’t really into kind of a lot of physical activity, maybe, or some, but not enough for your work. So what was your mindset at the time? Was it? I don’t want to I don’t want to do this, you know, maybe this is not something for me long term, or did you just kind of dive right in and get help and support along the way?
Ony Franco 5:52
I pretty much dove right in like a cold plunge, you know, you can’t take your time, you have to like dive right in. My mindset was, I got to do this, you know, it was a long, 18 weeks in the academy. And there were times where I was, you know, I wanted to quit, but you know, thanks to my family, my friends. And, you know, the people in the Fire Academy, they, they pushed me, you know, and after that I just, I just continue to work hard and continue with my fitness. And yeah, and we were here today, you know,
Richard Conner 6:26
here we are, yeah, for sure. And yeah, and that’s the thing, I don’t I like to quote a lot of things, but don’t do it very well. But you know, something along the lines of like hard work will you know, overcome, you know, maybe some some things around talent, right? If you put in the work, if you’re not, you know, naturally an athlete, or you’re naturally a runner, putting in that work is going to get you there. So, so that’s really great. So I appreciate you sharing some background there. And I’d love to kind of fast forward a little bit to the movement piece. So you know, you spent this time with the fire department, you’ve gone through your training on the academy, and then your training afterwards. And then just a couple of years ago, you decide I’m gonna get into obstacle course races, and I’m gonna start running. So, you know, tell us a little bit about that, like, what made you decide to get into those things? And how was that journey for you?
Ony Franco 7:16
Well, I began obstacle racing, to be honest, back in 2015. And it all it started with the you know, with a group of guys from the from the firehouse, they made me sign up, you know, and it was a good thing, you know, because it just after that it just became competitive. And I would only do the Spartans, the sprint at Citi Field. And, you know, I started doing some research, I’m like, wait a minute Spartan, has more races, longer races. So I’m like, Okay, I never, you know, I didn’t really think about it. And then, you know, COVID came and gyms were closed. So I had to, like, change up the routine a little bit instead of, you know, doing the traditional bodybuilding stuff. I started running, I started running more, but it wasn’t as serious as last year. And I did my race in 2021. That was Citi Field. And I’m like, you know, what, I can do better, you know, I can, I can, let me get a little more uncomfortable. So I, I signed up for the, for the Super in 2022. And I realized that I needed to start running Spartan Races. Yeah, it’s you got to have strength and all but you have to have some endurance, and it’s like, mostly running. So I started to run more I bought, I bought myself a Lenovo smartwatches. And that really got me going to, to be able to like, look at my stats, hey, I could do better here. I could do better there. That really like motivated me to run more. So I signed up for the super. And then I’m like, You know what, this year last year 2022, I could actually complete a trifecta. So I signed up for the beast. And that’s where I saw you there. You really pushed me along the way to be honest, even though you know I ran by
Richard Conner 9:12
real hard to tell everybody.
Ony Franco 9:16
So sorry about that. But yeah, I ended up doing a trifecta last year, and I also signed up for my first DECA that’s where I met the crew at underdog and to be honest, I went there. I did my first deck a mile at underdog I went there thinking oh, this is nothing you know, I could I could do better than anyone here. And dude, let me tell you that was one of them. Besides the Fire Academy, that was like one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. I’m like this, this requires some some thought out training, you know. And then seeing all those people they’re like doing trying hard and raining hard for this thing that’s also got me going like that got the engine’s going. But and I’ve never looked back since you know, and I’m very thankful, you got to set some goals for yourself. And this year is the year where I just, I say, You know what I’m gonna do better than last year, and I signed already have I already signed up for like six races and each one of those goals I’m going to try, you know, do the best I can and that’s that’s what keeps me going, you know, that’s what keeps me going.
Richard Conner 10:32
That’s incredible. That’s incredible. And, you know, we share a similar story. And when you started to get an obstacle course race, as you mentioned, you know, the other folks in the department got you to sign up for the race. And honestly, that’s how I got into it, you know, family members, were looking at their first Spartan Race, and I overheard them and I’m looking it up, I’m like, wow, this is really interesting. And it’s different than what I had been doing as a runner. And they would challenge me in different ways. And that was one of the reasons why I first got into it was really to overcome fears that I had, but also do things that I’d never done before, I never thought that I could do. And that’s what kind of led me to obstacle course races and the same exact thing. First race, you get through it, and you’re like, at the end of it, I could do better. So you know, that’s when I signed up with with coach Kevin, who we both know. And, you know, we’ve been working together for just about four years now to do things that honestly, I never thought I could do. And you know, this past year was the first time I ever did anything more than a sprint. So I did the super and then then A B C are talking about never had done it before. But because of coach Kevin, really kind of pushing me to do more and to do better. That’s what kind of led me down the road. And I’m thankful and happy that I did it.
Ony Franco 11:47
Yeah, yeah. And you mentioned fears. I always had the fear of speaking publicly. I mean, I’m not doing it right now. But this will be aired publicly. And it’s something that, you know, I said to myself, You know what, let’s give Richard the chance. Let’s see, let’s let’s do this, you know, let’s break out, let’s get out of our comfort zone, you know, and that’s what it’s all about, you know, you gotta you gotta be, like I said before, you got to be comfortable, being uncomfortable. That’s what my job is, you know, you there’s so many uncomfortable situations, but hey, you know, you got to train yourself, you got to be comfortable. That’s very important.
Richard Conner 12:24
For sure, for sure. And first of all, definitely appreciate you having you on the show. I’ve been watching your journey, like I said, and I’m just I’m inspired. You said, I was pushing you. I mean, you’re pushing me and I’m inspired by what you’ve done. And you’re absolutely right, like I am uncomfortable doing just about every single thing, whether it’s related to spark in obstacle course, rake races, or deca, or anything more than a 5k. It is uncomfortable for me. And I’ve just set my mind to this is going to be my new life. And I’m just going to do it until it becomes comfortable. And it was just interesting. Just two weeks ago, I did the longest training run in my life, I ran for three hours. And I saw that ran six years 16 miles. And it’s not like this is not metaphorically like literally the longest run of my life. And you know, two, three years ago, I never would have thought I could do it. And here we are so, so really excited about you know, my journey, but also excited about a lot of the things that you said, around being uncomfortable and doing those things that you’ve never done before. And you know, I like to talk a little bit about, you know, some of the training that you did for this. So you mentioned, you know that the DECA was you went into the DECA thinking, hey, I could do this, but it really humbled you and then some of the races that you signed up for. So tell us a little bit about that movement piece. And in the training,
Ony Franco 13:43
I tried to surround myself with other people who are competitive and that are constantly training and just wanting to do better. And that’s what that’s like I said, That’s what gets me going, I’ve signed I’d signed up for a whole bunch of races this year. And that’s gonna get me going. I also signed up for which is very addicting, the Strava I follow a lot of people on Strava. And I like to look at stuff like that because it just it’s a good influence, man. But as far as my training, what I like to do is I like to plan out my training. Because think about it like you see these college professors or teachers, they’re not going to go into a class without a plan and just winging it, you know, they got to plan their day, you know, week in advance or whatever day in advance. That’s and that’s what I do. I like to write out my pieces the day before, get my clothing ready. I think that’s one of the hardest parts just to start. And once you have everything ready, like you know, I had my clothes ready, I’ll have my my planning ready for the next day. That’s the hardest part right there. That’s the hardest part. And all you got to do is just get dressed and just perform, you know, do your training. And that’s what has been My go to lately. I also look for inspiration elsewhere. A lot of podcasts like yours, for example. I like to listen to podcasts and see a research do. How can I better my running? How can I better my, my strength training? How can I do better at this obstacle? I’m always researching things my health too, which is like number one. You know, being a firefighter is it’s tough with our schedule, we barely get sleep at nighttime, when we’re at work, constantly getting calls serving the people of New York City, we got to that we really have to take care of our health. And I’ve put that like, number one, you gotta do what you got whatever you got to do, you know, take that yoga class, do your meditation, get out? And do your endurance work, you’re running, you’re rowing, you’re swimming? And
Richard Conner 15:51
yeah, all right, yeah, I totally agree with your health, that shouldn’t be our priority. And I’ve always said this, if you’re not healthy, or not taking care of your health, it’s going to be much harder for you to do other things, right, take care of others or do other things. So, you know, I really appreciate you sharing that and some of the tips that you use to kind of work through your training program and stay organized and stay motivated. They’re really appreciate it. And you know, one of the questions that I love to ask our guests on the show, is, what is the biggest obstacle that you face in your life? And how did you overcome it, whether it’s in fitness or otherwise,
Ony Franco 16:30
biggest obstacle, I will say the Fire Academy, that’s like, the hardest thing I’ve ever, I don’t think anything will come close to that, because it’s like, it was a, it was an 18 week process Monday through Friday, Monday through Friday of I don’t know if I should say hell, but it’s similar to you know, it’s like, it’s like a paramilitary military organization, you have, you have your drill instructors constantly yelling at you yelling, when my class I went through a winter class and the winter was tough, it was cold, we got we got a lot of snow that year. And it just made things harder, you know, with the with the cold, just standing there at attention. And those 18 weeks, I say were the were the hardest, ever in my life. Again, they would put us into like, like little squats, you know, and we would have to pick each other up. And that’s what really motivated me to keep it going. You know. And also, whenever we would like mess up or something, we would have to pay for that, you know, so we will try our best to stay motivated and concentrated and keep it going and keep the line moving. So I say that, you know, my friends at the Academy helped push me my, my, my parents, my family, my friends, I don’t think I would have ever done it without them.
Richard Conner 18:01
I love that. I love that. And you mentioned that a couple of times about your friends and the people you surround yourself with, it’s super important to help and motivate each other. And I think that’s really important. Even in the running world. I personally don’t run with groups. I personally like to run alone. But I love having this running community. I love meeting people like yourself, and others, whether it’s in person or virtually. And that is one of you know, motivation for me. And you mentioned Strava being able to see your posts or others posts and share my own journey has been super cool. So I appreciate you sharing that I think that’s a really important point for our listeners to take away is the people around you is really what’s going to help you get to where you want to be in life and motivates you. Especially when times get hard. It’s a super powerful message.
Ony Franco 18:53
The right people, you gotta you know, there are people who haven’t been down that path, you know, and though and those are the people that are that are gonna, like doubt you and try and shut you down. So you got to, you know, surround yourself with like minded people and people who haven’t who have been there, that way you try to get tips and advice from them. You know, that’s one thing about me that I’ve been able to be a better listener. Like I’ve learned to like, keep my mouth shut and listen, you know, listen, listen, listen to people who had experience and I think that’s very important.
Richard Conner 19:35
For sure. Great point about having like minded people, the right people in your life, the folks that have been down that road that can help guide and mentor you really support you because they know what it’s like versus others who may be the naysayers, right? They may be the ones that say no, you can’t do that. Maybe because they themselves haven’t done it. Right or wanted to but but didn’t do it. So That’s a really, really great point that you make there.
Ony Franco 20:03
Yes, sir. Yeah. Like I said, I like to listen to podcasts and motivational speakers. And I, I want to quote Bob Proctor on that one. So
Richard Conner 20:13
all right. All right. That’s cool. And I love how you brought the podcast. So thanks for shouting out on spider to run podcast. And I do the same thing. When I’m on my long runs. That’s one thing that keeps me going, I get to pick some podcasts and some longer episodes. And it really gives me an opportunity to, obviously focus on my running focus on my form, and everything focused on my fueling. But also, you know, learn something along the way or be motivated, inspired. So for those listening, you know, that’s some people like quiet, don’t want to listen to anything, but just need to run them and others, like listening to music and podcasts. And all of that is fine, whatever works for you. But um, yeah, that’s really great advice.
Ony Franco 20:54
That’s like meditation for the soul right there. You’re you’re gathering your thoughts together, as you’re running, you’re thinking about your day. And all of a sudden, you have, wow, you have nine miles, you ran nine miles, you know? That’s the beauty of it.
Richard Conner 21:08
Exactly, exactly. So, you know, so thank you for sharing all this. I really, really love your story. And, you know, I’m very excited about some of the races that you’ve done. So maybe we could talk a little bit about, you know, some of the exciting races that you’ve done recently. So, you know, tell us a little bit about those?
Ony Franco 21:26
Well, the biggest race that I’ve done was the New York City Marathon, this past November. And it was my first marathon ever. I was one of those who said, wow, why, why don’t people do that to themselves? Why I could never do that, you know, and I did it, you know, I, I did it. I said, You know what I’ve been running, let’s see what this marathon is all about. So I ran it. And it was like, people were saying it’s like, was one of the hottest days to run a marathon this this past year. I was like, really, it was like about 60 degrees, usually, like on marathon in New York City in November, it’s in the 30s, or in the 40s. You know, but that was a big factor for that race, you know, the heat and everything running all those miles. But you know, I did it. And I did it for a couple of reasons, you know? Well, the main reason is those heroes, the members that gave up their lives on 911, that was like, I was about I was like 10 years old, I had no idea what what was going on that day. But you know, now, obviously, I’m old enough to know, and, and I dedicated that run to those members and members that lost their lives. The past year, you know, it’s, it’s unfair, it’s unfortunate that we have, you know, great people doing extraordinary things every day to serve the city. And, you know, they have to go away like that. So that was one of the reasons I did it. And then I did it to test myself that you know, that anything is possible, you know, if you put your mind to it, and that’s what happened. And I came out with a good time, I came out with a good time, I’m impressed. And I’m saying now, I’m gonna do it again. I’m gonna do it again this year. I want to that’s one of my goals this year, I want to beat that time. It was a great experience. It was kind of weird. You know, people say you hit a wall later in that race. And, and it’s actually real, that you hit a wall, you actually hit a wall, I saw many people stopping. And I’m thinking to myself, I can’t stop if I stopped now, I’m just gonna just keep walking. I just kept going, you know, I had that thought in my head. I’m like, I’m doing this for something, you know, for a certain reason. You know what you’re doing this for and having that thought I just had tunnel vision all the way down to the finish line. And I was able to complete that race. And I had other FDNY members there to hold me up. That was another emotional moment for me at the finish line. It was a it was an amazing race. That was that was that was awesome.
Richard Conner 24:17
Well, congratulations. I mean, really wonderful story. Really, truly wonderful reason to do the race. Just thank you for sharing that with us. And congratulations. And yeah, really looking forward to see following your journey for the next race. Ony I so much enjoy this conversation. I appreciate everything that you shared in terms of your journey, as well as advice for our listeners, kind of as we wind down here. How can our listeners find you and follow your journey online?
Ony Franco 24:45
Instagram, I you know, I try to post workout here there, you know, motivation. I’ll try to get others going. My Instagram is old dot Franco with three O’s at the end. And you can follow me on Strava too. When you Franco?
Richard Conner 25:01
All right, we’ll do so I will put that information in the show notes to make it easy for our listeners to find you and follow your awesome journey online. Again, congratulations and everything that you have accomplished. Over, you know, so many years between the fire department as well as in your obstacle course races and the marathon and I wish you well this year with your with your goals and beating your time and doing the New York City Marathon again.
Ony Franco 25:27
Thanks, man. I will see you out there too. I hope hope to see you out there.
Richard Conner 25:33
I’ll be there not not the New York City Marathon this year. But again, you’re inspiring me. So maybe 2024 will be my year. Yeah, man.
Ony Franco 25:41
Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
Richard Conner 25:45
All right, Ony thanks again for coming on the show and have a great day.
Ony Franco 25:48
Thank you, man. Thank you, you too.
That’s it for this episode of inspire to run podcast. We hope you are inspired to take control of your health and fitness and take it to the next level. Be sure to click the subscribe button to join our community. And also please rate and review. Thanks for listening