Occupation: EMS Program Director & Instructor, CVCC; Part-time Paramedic; Co-Owner, Crossfit of Catawba Valley
Resides: Hickory, NC
Family: Wife Victoria, children Sophia and Roman
Do you have a family?
I have two children, one is about to be three years old, and the other is four and a half. I tell people I have three jobs, two kids and one wife.
Did you grow up in Catawba County?
Pretty much, I moved here when I was six. I was born in Massachusetts, so I don't have quite the Southern drawl. We moved to Hickory for my dad's job when I was young, and I lived pretty much in Catawba County ever since. I did travel some for college. I went to UNC Charlotte. I lived abroad for a little bit as well, and then came back and have been here ever since.
What did your path look like after high school?
I started off in computer science at CVCC [Catawba Valley Community College]. I thought that was my dream. Then I got a job actually working with computers at UNC Charlotte. I did web pages and tech support, and I fell asleep at the keyboard every day no matter how much sleep I got at night. I thought I should probably change gears, and I really like languages. So I studied languages, Japanese and Russian and some others intermittently. They didn’t have a language major at Charlotte, so I chose political science since it kind of parallels language studies. I minored in Russian.
What happened after you graduated?
I finished my degree overseas. I had met my now current wife in college during my final semester. She was here temporarily on a work visa. She went back to Saratov, Russia, and I followed her there.
This explains the interest in Russian... there's a girl involved. So you followed your heart to Russia?
I did. I did an independent study there and finished my degree. We decided to live here, and when I moved back here the economy had tanked. I was working odd jobs, tutoring mathematics and trying to find something to do as a career. I went back to school, because I needed to get a career that was hiring and wouldn’t put me to sleep every day.
At Charlotte, I was part of the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) team, which is like a first responder team for disasters. I really liked the medical part of that role, and I thought that might be pretty cool. I went in and asked about the paramedic degree. I said, "What's your employment rate?" They said, "A hundred percent." I said, "Done, let's do it." I went through that program while my wife was finishing her degree in Russia. She moved here, we got married, and then I graduated and became a Catawba County paramedic.
What brought you back to Catawba County? You probably could have lived anywhere.
We have family here. I only have my mom and dad here, but because I grew up here it felt like home. Having lived in Charlotte and St. Petersburg, Russia, this felt comfortable. The big city is not very homey, you know? I like green grass and yards, space and trees… It also has all the necessary stores and things you want to do, plenty of restaurants. The opportunity was here, there was good employment with good benefits, so why would I go anywhere else?
What was paramedic work like for you? Did it meet your expectations?
It was really interesting, very different. I knew it was better for me because I wasn’t staring at a computer screen all day. I found my work to be very engaging, and the school did a really good job of preparing me for what it was like. They give you a mentor and they really get you involved in the field. Catawba County hired me before I even graduated. I was transitioned right into the workforce, and I found it really rewarding as a job. It was physical enough and still mentally engaging.
What advice would you have for someone who's looking to become a paramedic?
I tell people, "If you want an introduction to the field of medicine, this is a good place to start." The curriculum is very broad, obviously, because people call 911 for a lot of reasons. Could be a car wreck, could be birthing a baby, could be a heart attack. The variety is there. It gives you good exposure to all fields and all realms of medicine.
What advice would you give someone who's thinking about working as a paramedic in Catawba County?
I would say do it. Don't even think about it. It has been a very positive experience for me. I really feel vested in Catawba County. They've always treated me really well. I've always liked it here, and I still kind of miss being full time. Except for the long nights, I do not miss that. But I like working here. It's a good place to work. The resources are here for you, and the pay's here.
How did you transition from being a paramedic to directing the EMS Program at Catawba Valley Community College?
I have been in education in some capacity for a large part of my career. I taught English overseas, which was my initial step into the world of education. When I came back, I taught remedial mathematics for a tutoring service and it kind of progressed from there. I always felt intuitively comfortable in the world of education. I was asked to cover a class at the CVCC paramedic program, because it was hard to find paramedics who are also educators. I thought it was really fun. They then offered me a position as the clinical coordinator, which involved arranging sites for students to do their field rotation. It also involved teaching in the classroom. Over time it worked out for me to do more, and here I am.
What's been most rewarding for you in terms of your work as a paramedic?
Some of the patients you interact with… I've never been hugged like this mom hugged me once when I helped a kid. It was a strong moment. It's one I'm going to take with me for a long time. It’s not every day you’re going to have that happen, but the work is rewarding.
How do you deal with the tough parts of your job as a paramedic?
I've always had an outlet to deal with the stresses, which is working out. The perspective you take when you’re on the job is part of it. You realize you can’t help everyone, but you can try. You do everything you can and you give it your best shot. That’s where the training comes in. It's why you stay on top of your game, you keep studying, you keep learning and you keep doing. That's what I like about this educational position I have now. I can really hone in on that with the next generation.
From a teaching perspective, what's most rewarding for you?
I love lecturing. I love to get nerdy. I tell my students up front, it's going to get real nerdy in here, so just brace yourselves. I get really excited about it. To be involved in the science of it, to be involved in the spreading of information takes me back to the days when I did graphics for websites. I like to make a lot of visual presentations, and it's a challenge I enjoy because every student's different. How can I reach them, and how can I make everyone better simultaneously? It's very intellectually engaging and challenging.
Your career choices seem to parallel each other. As a paramedic, you have to approach every situation on an individual level, figuring out the specific things that are going to help each person. In a lot of ways, it's the same with education. You've got all these different people you're touching, and you've got to figure out what’s going to help each individual the most.
Yeah. Interesting. I never thought about it like that.
How did your involvement in the Crossfit business come about?
Back when Crossfit was still a “cult,” I had a friend in high school who lived in L.A. for a bit while he was in the Marines. He came back to town and suggested I try it. I thought yeah, whatever. Then I got destroyed by soccer moms every morning. I was like, "Okay, there's something to this that obviously I've been missing." I started taking it seriously and got involved in the sport of it. It evolved to where some people approached me with the opportunity to get a business started. Owning my own business was a bucket list item for me, so I said let’s do it. There were five original owners, and now there’s four: me, Vinny, Casey, and Ryan. We've been doors open for five and a half years.
It’s been awesome to see the evolution of Crossfit. I really like to nerd out with science, and they are research based in their approach to fitness. I can appreciate that. Back when it wasn't as popular as it is now, there was a big competitive side to it. Now it's evolved into more of a fitness aspect. Everyone sees super jacked dudes doing Crossfit on TV, but it’s not that. It's titrated to you and what you need to do to get fit and healthy.
What would you say to those folks who are thinking, "I could never go in there and do that because I'm not tough enough"?
I always say, "Well, my mom did it." I tell people, it's titrated to you. I'm not going to ask you to flip a 500 pound tire and then do a handstand walk, that's not you. You don't need to do that. We can work the same muscle groups, get the same engagement and get the same muscle development and all the benefits that go with it in a different method.
There’s individual training and group classes, right?
Yes. That group class does a lot of people good. They get in there with their friends or they make friends in the process, and there's an accountability that goes with that. There’s Crossfit competitions that crop up occasionally, and we do a lot of charity events. We have one coming up where we raise money for charities like Special Olympics.
With three jobs, two kids and a wife, do you have any time to do anything else?
I like archery and I like being outside. I like to do a lot of gardening, and I do some charity work with environmental projects. I take my kids with me whenever I can. I bring them to work out with me. I use them as weights, get them engaged. They love it. We spend a lot of time outside doing stuff, as far away from the TV as we can make it, until we're all exhausted.
Do you talk Russian at home?
We do. We are raising our children to be bilingual. When we do watch TV, it’s usually Russian cartoons to help them learn the language and be more culturally aware. It's so cool to see them evolve with this. I’m used to speaking Russian with my daughter, and all of a sudden she'll translate it to someone. It’s really cool to see them grow in that way.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I'm working on my Masters currently.
Wow. Did you invent a formula for more time in a day?
I'll sleep later.
What are you studying?
I'm trying to get my Masters in Biology. I'm still considering a couple of routes. Like I said, I really like the science. It has opened up either the research route or the physician’s assistant route. They’re kind of parallel tracks, so as I'm knocking out these classes I've still got time to figure out what looks best.
Anything else you want to add about what you have going on in your life, or your experience? Any other crazy degree you’re hiding that we didn't know about?
I always figure you only live once. Might as well pack it in while you can.
Do you feel like you're supported in tackling a lot of different things because of the community you live in?
I do. I definitely wouldn't be where I am if not for the community. I feel that way with my kids, too. I feel they will grow to be productive here because there are opportunities here. Everything I do and strive for is community based. Whether it's making people healthier, making people smarter or helping our environment, it’s all based on community. At Crossfit, building a strong community is one of our…
…That's your slogan.
And I try to live it. It really means something to me.
Interviewed July 17, 2019