SEFCU’s Operation Fitness

Ray Gagnon retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt) from the U.S. Marine Corps after 25 years of service. In addition to being a jet mechanic, Gagnon spent 20 years as a National training team chief. Vinny Roman joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 18 and retired as a Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt). His 16 years of service included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also assigned to recruiter duty under the leadership of Gagnon. The lives of these two men wove back together after their separation from the military. Roman and his family settled in Glenville after the military and unknowingly moved to a home about a mile away from Gagnon and his family. The men eventually bumped into each other at a local event for veterans. 

Their reignited friendship resulted in a business partnership as franchise owners of the American-owned, veteran-operated junk removal business, JDog. Gagnon and Roman are now in a position to give back to their community. They are sponsoring SEFCU’s Operation Fitness challenge on June 9, 2018 at University at Albany’s Casey Stadium. All proceeds raised during Operation Fitness, a full-day strength and conditioning team competition, benefit local veterans’ organizations. Saratoga WarHorse, Albany Housing Coalition/Vet House, and Operation Adopt A Soldier each received $10,000 last year. “We are involved in Operation Fitness because SEFCU believes in helping veteran causes in the Capital District. They do it because they care. Veterans aren’t treated like a charity case but like athletes, professionals, and community members,” Roman said. Roman, a former chief operating officer of the American Red Cross Eastern New York Region, is no stranger to the power of community. In addition to lending his time and resources to Operation Fitness, Roman also volunteers with the Capital Region Toys for Tots as the regional coordinator. Most recently he led an American Red Cross volunteer team door to door throughout the Capital District in the organization’s quest to check and install 1,000 fire detectors. 

According to Kathy Lanni, SEFCU’s Chief Community Officer, this is the second year for Operation Fitness. “This event is meant to pay it forward and honor the men and women who fought for our freedom,” she said. The competition requires teams of two consisting of two females or two males. Active duty and retired military personnel will receive a 10 percent discount off the $120 team registration fee. Lanni remembers watching the 78 competitors tackle the competition last year. “It was fun watching the athletes giving their all while cheering for each other,” she said. 

Operation Fitness is not for the Average Joe. The event is presented by FIT Strength & Conditioning, one of the most successful body transformation programs in the Capital District with gyms in Albany, Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs. Corey House, owner of FIT Strength and Conditioning, notes that this event is more technical in comparison to the popular Spartan Race which is obstacle driven. House said teams will engage in potentially three rounds of workouts, which include push-ups, kettle bell swings, sprints, and sled pushes. After completing the first two rounds scores will be tallied and the top 50 percent teams will move on to the final round to determine the winners. “Operation Fitness is a technical event and requires athletes to have a certain level of strength and a knowledge of lifting weights. Competitors need to have a different level of fitness to succeed,” he said. House credits Roman for encouraging him to get involved with Operation Fitness last year. “It gives local athletes an opportunity to showcase their athleticism while raising awareness for local veterans. It’s a win for everyone involved,” he said. At last year’s event half the athletes competed through FIT Strength & Conditioning. House hopes that this year’s event will include representation from more Capital District gyms. Registration is running ahead of this time last year with 24 teams already signed up. 

Casey Stadium is the perfect venue for this year’s Operation Fitness. The stadium atmosphere provides comfortable seating for spectators as they watch the first round of heats starting at 8 a.m. During the competition athletes and spectators will be able to walk through a health and wellness fair at the stadium. “It is a perfect marriage of athletic competition and information to lead a healthy life,” Lanni said. House acknowledges that there is also a natural connection between athletes competing in Operation Fitness and members of the Armed Forces. “Members of our military work hard and that work ethic is visible in these athletes,” he said. 

Lanni notes that SEFCU is committed to giving back to the community through financial contributions and volunteer efforts. For the past 26 years SEFCU has hosted the Monopoly® Tournament to benefit the Center of Disability Services. For 25 years, SEFCU has participated in Bowl for Kids’ Sake, raising money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region and for 4 years hosted Capital Region’s Smartest Company raising money to support organizations that serve the homeless.  Outside of events, SEFCU donates millions of dollars each year to support community needs “It’s about helping all those in our community who may be facing real challenges, especially our veterans,” she said. “We need to remember to be kinder to all members of our community, but especially to our veterans. Operation Fitness is SEFCU’s way to honoring those who have served.”

For more information about Operation Fitness please visit SEFCU’s website:

For more information about JDog please visit its website:

For more information about FIT Strength & Conditioning please visit its website:

Photo of Operation Fitness event is courtesy of SEFCU.

Photo of Vinny Roman and Ray Gagnon is courtesy of Vinny Roman. 

Emily Marcason-Tolmie, a Saratoga native, is a writer, researcher, wife and mother. Emily and her husband, Ryan, are the parents to two wonderful little boys, ages 4 and 1.

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