Ever since she was young, people knew that McKayla Conner was going places. She succeeded in college and was on track to go to medical school. However, while studying to become a doctor, she realized that her true passion – which was always to help people – would not be best utilized in a doctor’s office but out in the field fighting fires.
McKayla dropped out of medical school and joined the fire academy instead. The 21-year-old, who “grew up around the firehouses,” knew that she had made the right career choice. She was also hoping to follow in the footsteps of her heroic firefighter stepdad. But few people agreed with her decision.
McKayla was never happy in college. She gained a lot of weight and suffered from bouts of depression. But once she decided that she was going to become a firefighter, McKayla started working out six days each week and quickly dropped three dress sizes. She also toned her muscles and got much stronger.
Nevertheless, McKayla continues to be criticized for her decision to become a firefighter. People still tell her that she can never be a “real firefighter” because she is not a man. While McKayla knew that this career would be tough, she did not realize that she would face sexism every day.
Although it is depressing for McKayla to hear people talk down to her because she is a woman, she is determined to keep fighting. She won’t let the haters and sexists keep her back from achieving her dreams.
Because McKayla saw her stepdad fight fires, firefighters were always a part of her family gatherings. They became like a second family to her.
“My dad’s coworkers quickly became family, and I loved every minute of it. When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be just like him,” she said.
However, life took her in another direction. Because she was a girl, she was pushed to go to college and not follow her passion for fighting fires.
“I hated it, and I had always loved school before; I reached a low point. I felt out of place and unhappy, and I felt as if it wasn’t what I was called to do,” she said.
McKayla packed on weight and dropped out of school, moving home to live with her parents.
“I felt as if the ‘man upstairs’ had bigger plans for me. I moved home and continued classes here, and one day on my way to school, I saw a ‘volunteers needed’ sign out in front of the local fire department.”
Now that she’s a firefighter, she faces sexism every day.
“I have answered the phone at work, and when I ask if I can help the caller, they would say, ‘I need to speak to a firefighter’ because they don’t believe me,” she said. “There is still a major stereotype when it comes to the job of firefighting. It’s still widely viewed as a ‘man’s job.’ When people think firefighter, they think [of] in shape ‘manly’ men. They don’t really think about a five-foot-four eleven stone female.”
Do you think a woman can be a “real” firefighter?
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