ASU student veteran, Tempe firefighter has own fitness business

Having grown up with a father who had been an Arizona State University linebacker on Frank Kush’s Sun Devil football team, Kyle Brayer was steeped in ASU lore and in the love of sports. But he chose hockey over football, and he took a lengthy, roundabout path to becoming an ASU student.

Brayer ate, slept and breathed ice hockey and physical fitness in high school, hitting the ice at 6 a.m. and the gym in the afternoon. He played on the USA Junior Roller Hockey Team that won a gold medal in World Cup competition in 2001, the year he graduated. Then the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 happened, and Brayer joined the U.S. Marines.

“I had wanted to be a Marine since I was 10 years old,” says Brayer, now a 28-year-old City of Tempe fireman and ASU junior. “My family was very patriotic. We flew the flag every day, and my grandfather was a decorated World War II veteran who was regional director of the American Legion in Arizona.”

Brayer was stationed in Iraq for nine months, building bombs and rockets, and he administered humanitarian aid in the Philippines and trained in Guam, Thailand and Korea. Soon he was put in charge of the Marine Corps Fitness Program, and he studied for and passed the fitness certification exams for the International Sports Science Association and the American Council on Exercise.

While still in the Marines he started his own personal training business in between deployments. After his service ended he moved back to Arizona, joining the Tempe Fire Department and continuing to build his business, Epic Fitness. He hired other firefighters, police and military veterans who were trained in exercise, wellness and nutrition to expand his staff.

Brayer also started attending classes at Mesa Community College, aware that he needed more education to be promoted in the fire service and to build his business. He enrolled at ASU in fall 2010 and is now a junior in interdisiciplinary studies, majoring in wellness foundations and public administration.

“I’m amazed at how much I’m learning in my classes," he says. "So much of it applies to what I’m doing. My public administration and management class is phenomenal in teaching about leadership. In computer literacy I’ve learned quite a bit that I can use in presentations. And my exercise science classes are great. I’m able to apply everything I’m learning. It’s a lot more fun than if I were 19.”

Free time for Brayer is rare, though he does enjoy hiking and snowboarding. This summer he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and he also participated in the World Police & Fire Games in New York City.

In addition to a 56-hour work week at the fire department, he teaches three courses at Mesa Community College, in firefighter fitness and conditioning and preparation for the candidate physical ability test. His business just got a contract for offering personal training services at West 6th, the new high-rise apartments just west of Mill Avenue in Tempe. And he got married in April.

Luckily he can take many of his classes online. He says staff members at ASU’s Tillman Veterans Center have helped him receive his VA tuition benefits.

“At the Tillman Center they were great to explain the benefits of the new GI Bill. They’ve been outstanding, spending as much time as I needed to make sure all my paperwork is in order. The best part is that I can walk into the center without an appointment.”

Brayer mentors other service members who are completing their deployment, volunteering in the “Marine for Life” program to connect them with job opportunities. He also helps military personnel become certified fitness trainers while they are deployed.

Eventually he’d like to expand his training business to corporate contracts, helping companies reduce sick leave hours by keeping employees healthy.