Shaker Heights Ret. Fire Lt. Shaun Probert said he started feeling weakness in his arm in 2009.
And by weakness, he said, he was bench pressing 225 pounds instead of 250.
But it was a sign of a much bigger problem.
Probert, who was recognized as the Shaker Heights Rotary Club’s Firefighter of the Year Wednesday, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease that year.
Lou Gehrig’s is a fatal disease that causes extreme muscle deterioration.
“It’s not easy going from the person who people call for help to being the person who needs help,” Probert said from a wheelchair after the ceremony.
The doctors tell him he was diagnosed early because he was in such good physical shape that he noticed the very first signs of weakness in his body.
He continued to meet the job’s physical fitness requirements and stayed with the fire department until May of 2010.
Then, he said, it was too much of a risk to stay on the job.
Now he speaks about the disease to adults and children at places like Camp Cheerful, a summer camp run by the Muscular Dystrophy Association for children who suffer from diseases like his.
“You look at these kids and you think those kids have had this thing since birth, but I’ve lived 40 good years. How can I not help these children?” he said.
He said that a young boy he met with muscular dystrophy was fascinated that he worked as a firefighter. “He asked, how can you be a fireman with this disease?” Probert said, “And I told him, I’m still a fireman. I’m just not on the rigs anymore. Once you’re a fireman, you’re always a fireman.”