Hamilton Street Beat. Crime fighters pack a punch with CrossFit

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Photographer: Jeffrey Robinson
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Hamilton is one of the largest cities in Southern Ontario, with a population of over half a million people. To keep the peace among all those citizens, the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) boasts more than 800 sworn officers and 200-plus civilian employees.

Policing in 2012 is a different beast from other service jobs. Fighting fires is tough, but firefighters also have considerable down time. Police, on the other hand, can find themselves in an extremely dangerous situation at any moment of their work day. Criminals don’t take holidays (unless they’re locked up), so officers must always be on top of their game to deal with whatever’s thrown at them.

A day at the “office” for your average police officer can mean a 12-hour shift (day or night), sometimes with non-stop calls, and in all kinds of weather. Car crashes, road ragers, and domestic disputes are as common for the police as conference calls, staff meetings, and email are for the rest of us. Don’t forget that just wearing a cop uniform makes an officer the target of some who have an axe to grind. Still think your job is stressful?

Then there’s the tactical team, known inHamiltonas the Emergency Response Unit (ERU). This specialized team is not assigned to directing traffic, picking up shoplifters, or hauling in drunks; they’re the real-life frontliners in the war on crime, kicking in doors at crack houses and dealing with the armed and dangerous offenders that most of us only see on TV.

In these high-stakes situations, keeping a mental and physical edge could mean the difference between life and death. It’s no surprise, then, that in policing, fitness is encouraged right from the recruitment process through an officer’s 35-year career. But finding the balance among work, family, and staying fit is a struggle for most people, and cops are no exception.

After a day of crime fighting, a police officer’s desire to stop off at the big box gym for a couple of hours of cardio and a few hundred reps on the machines could easily slip to second place, edged out by a well-earned decompression session on the couch or at the local pub. Moreover, the police bureau’s internal capacity regarding fitness equipment and testing requirements have not always kept up with advances in the science of fitness. That’s where CrossFit comes in.

Several officers have found that CrossFit-style workouts provide exactly what they need to achieve the highest level of conditioning in the shortest amount of time.

HPSEmergency Response Unit members Mike Matsuschita and Mike Hoyle are die-hard CrossFitters who would train no other way. Frontline officers Sarah MacGregor and Jonathan Curtis crush the daily WODs and often challenge themselves with even more intense workouts. These officers are leaders on their respective squads and units, and they set the bar high for others to push the edge of their own physical limits. Officers who work out on the job do it with some fairly sparse equipment and are always looking for creative ways to use said equipment to get WODs in.

At 36 years old, Mike Matsuschita has been in policing for 12 years, with 5 of those years spent working full-time on the ERU. This thickly-muscled spark plug stands at 5’5” and weighs 170 lbs. “Mats”  was your typical bodybuilder-style trainer for a few years but found CrossFit when he joined the ERU and discovered the rewards of increased functional strength and agility to complement his bulldog bulk. The sport also improved his breathing and ability to manage stress, which correlated with a great improvement in his shooting skills. Mats’ favourite CrossFit workouts include Angie (best time: 10:43) and Cindy (currently 29 rounds!) He has maintained the strength he was built for, boasting a 5RM bench of 315, a 5RM back squat of 365, and a 6RM deadlift of 405. He currently cleans 235 pounds and routinely snatches 195 pounds.

Mike Hoyle is a 34-year-old 12-year veteran withHPSand has been a full-time ERU team member for the past four years. He credits massive improvements in his level of fitness to the team’s mandatory training session during each work shift. Although he’s never been a member of a CrossFit box, he has achieved impressive results training at the station. Hoyle believes that the quick, functional, and intense training with CrossFit allows him to work more effectively while wearing the 60 pounds of heavy ballistic equipment and weapons that the ERU job requires. He has completed Fran in 4:15 with strict pull-ups, Barbara in 26:14 (again, with strict pull-ups), and his personal best 5 km run is 18:50.

Patrol Officer Jonathan Curtis  stands 5’10” and weighs 185 pounds; he’s assigned uniform patrol in Hamilton’s East End. Curtis has always been active but got fired up about CrossFit two years ago, after being challenged to try it by two other officers on his squad. He figures if you’re going to do something, do it right. Rather than just dabble with a few pieces of equipment at his station, he went to a local affiliate, Stoney Creek CrossFit. The box owned by Lee Crompton and Lorna Skal offered an excellent introduction into the sport, and in the two years since, his WOD times have improved dramatically. Curtis boasts a Helen time of9:03, a Randy time of5:49, and a 1 km row at of3:27.

Curtis has developed such a love affair with CrossFit that he earned his Crossfit certification seven months ago and now teaches at the Stoney Creek box. He structures a class once a week specifically for police and other law enforcement and is currently in the development stages of setting up programs for at-risk youth in community centres of high-crime areas. He wants to give others a taste of what he’s learned: fitness equals pride.

Vice and Drugs Detective Sarah MacGregor is a 32-year-old, 8-year veteran withHPSwho knows firsthand the unpredictable odds of her shift starting or ending as scheduled. She joyfully forces herself to train at either the police station or, when time allows, at Firepower CrossFit in Milton. Sarah particularly enjoys any WOD that focuses on functional movements like sandbag runs, farmer carries, or flipping huge, heavy tires. No doubt, some of these moves come in handy for out-maneuvering her nemeses on the street.

Both MacGregor and Hoyle are currently deep in their training schedule with the goal of peaking at the 2013 World Police and Fire Games in Belfast, Ireland, as part of the Toughest Competitor Alive event.

They all work hard at their jobs and CrossFit training alike, but these athletes agree that the most rewarding aspect of both pursuits is the camaraderie that is forged from their sweat, pain, and determination. They recognize that being on top of their fitness game makes the daily demands of policing easier to handle. Perhaps that’s because in both CrossFit and police work, every ounce of effort builds a little more strength for the next challenge.

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