National News

Two Ironmen, a Garage and a Vegan Agenda

Posted May 19, 2018 5:51 p.m. EDT

Fresh off an overnight shift, Kevin Duffy, a Yonkers firefighter, met his longtime Ironman triathlon training partner and fellow vegan, Steve Quinn, for a morning workout session in the “pain cave.”

The cave was Quinn’s garage-turned-home gym in Scarsdale, New York. It was around 9 a.m., five hours after their usual 4:15 a.m. meeting time, an accommodation made for Duffy’s temporary nocturnal schedule, or night tour, as firefighters call it.

“I never did a workout before 7 a.m. until I started training with him,” said Duffy, who had just programmed his phone to play some music, including the song “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show, and “The Chronic,” Dr. Dre’s 1992 album. “Now my alarm goes off at 3:50 and we’re doing pullups by 4:20 a.m.”

Duffy had arrived already warmed up: During his overnight shift at the Station 3 firehouse in Yonkers, he had lifted weights and finished a 5-mile run at a mile pace of 7 minutes and 45 seconds on a treadmill that he keeps tucked behind the company’s fire truck. (It doubles as a coat rack.)

Duffy, 36, and Quinn, 34, who holds a day job as a wealth management and financial adviser in Manhattan, have been training together for four years. They are both serious Ironman competitors. (An Ironman race includes 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running.) Quinn has completed 10 Ironman triathlons and qualifying for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, three times; Duffy has finished five.

The two men not only train together but also eat together sometimes (or at least trade recipes). In an attempt to get better results, both converted to a plant-based diet three years ago. It worked out for them. In 2014, Duffy completed his first Ironman in 11 hours, 45 minutes. The next year, after converting to a vegan diet and losing 20 pounds, he brought his time down by more than an hour. “I had gotten faster and used to the sport,” he said. “But I’d say 45 minutes of that was my diet.”

Duffy and Quinn are not alone. Other top vegan athletes include tennis player Venus Williams, basketball player Wilson Chandler and Olympic figure skater Meagan Duhamel.

For Duffy, going vegan in a firehouse was a challenge. “Guys at work joke with me, they’re like, ‘You’re going to die at 45, watch, and we’re all going to laugh at you,'” he said. “It’s a very opinionated group of guys. They don’t like too much change. They like good heavy meals,” like chicken Parmesan, steak or meatballs, he said. “I’ll stack my locker with cans of beans and brown rice.”

Duffy, who shares vegan recipes and training tips on his Instagram account, @fire_and_ironman, said that, joking aside, many firefighters are truly curious about his regimen. “I’ll make quinoa and beans with soft-roasted veggies, carrots, squash, sweet potatoes,” he said. “My stuff comes out and it’s like, ‘What is that? Let me try that,'” He’s even managed to convert two other firefighters, and his mother, to his plant-based diet.

For both men, the appeal of veganism is not political or ethical, but about reaching higher performance levels as athletes. “You can get into the animal-rights thing — that comes with the territory. The environment, it’s helpful for that as well,” Duffy said. “But I’m just like, at the end of the day, I could kick my 22-year-old self’s butt!”

Back in the pain cave, the duo worked through a relatively light series of exercises simultaneously meant to help Quinn recover from a recent back injury and to ease Duffy back into triathlon shape after a six-week vacation in Asia. In between push-ups and situps, Duffy recalled the first time he noticed that veganism had affected his job as a firefighter. A year after he’d gone vegan, he said, his company responded to a fire at a split-level ranch home.

“We get off the rig, we go in and the whole bedroom’s on fire,” Duffy said. “We were inside for 30 minutes. Some of the guys had gone through their air. This one kid was down to 15 percent and I still had 65 percent.”

Firefighters carry close to 100 pounds of gear when they enter a building, Duffy explained, so just getting to where the fire outbreak is can be a challenge. “The travel time is exhausting,” he said, so losing 20 pounds of body fat made a big difference. “Ten minutes up the stairs, up to an apartment building, is a warm-up for me” now, he said.

After a stint on a rowing machine, Duffy took a break in Quinn’s kitchen, where he made a smoothie with cinnamon, vanilla, cashew milk, fresh spinach, chia seeds, hemp seeds, blueberries, mango and chocolate vegan protein powder. “Food is energy,” he said.

Duffy then headed out to play drums in a firefighter’s pipe-and-drum band before starting his next night tour.