In uniform or off duty, Sarasota police officers say fitness helps them physically and mentally.
For the better part of 27 years, Sarasota Police Capt. Lori Jaress went to work knowing she may have to sprint after someone who was bigger, faster and stronger than herself. When she was off duty, she would run some more.
While he’s working, SPD Sgt. Kenneth Rainey may have to carry 50 pounds of contraband or push a stuck car. He spends his off time lifting weights.
Jaress and Rainey are among a group of SPD officers that pair the physical demands of their job with even more impressive athletic feats when their out of uniform. For them, and their fellow officers, working out not only helps with the physical demands of their careers but the mental aspects as well.
“I need to maintain a level of fitness, but I look at it more as a stress relief,” Rainey said. “If I don’t work out that day I became a little intolerable.”
Both officers said it doesn’t take a career in law enforcement or the determination to run a triathlon to be physically fit. Something as simple as a lunchtime walk around the park can reward others with many of the same mental and physical benefits.
“It’s not worrying about what other people think,” Rainey said. “It’s worrying about what you can do and trying to improve yourself. Your only competition is yourself.”
Along with a diet change nearly 10 years ago that largely avoids gluten, Rainey began working out at Sarasota CrossFit as much as five times a week. Since he joined the department in 2006, he’s competed in half-marathon races, Police Olympic Games competitions and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
He encourages people aspiring to become fit to focus on what they can control by not taking on more than they can handle. Then, once they begin, keep moving forward.
"You’re not going to win the war in one day. It’s a life-long battle. You’re going to take steps forward, but also steps back."
Jaress didn’t participate in any sports in high school or college but said the almost nightly foot chases on patrol required she get in better shape. She began running every day, and though she often times wasn’t faster than the suspects she pursued, she usually had more stamina.
Her off-duty runs took her on more impressive endurance challenges, including Tough Mudder races, ironman triathlons and bike rides of 167 miles or more. She switched to a vegetarian diet 12 years ago that she says has also helped her stay in top shape.
When she is in uniform, she said her training has given her the stamina and confidence to never back down from a chase, and she quickly earned a reputation as one of the most dependable officers in the department. She said that determination may be the most important part of mental and physical fitness — no matter what career field someone is in.
"Mentally, at some points I wanted to stop, but I’m not a quitter," Jaress said. "In this job, no matter what hits you, if you’re in a fight or a gun fight, that mentality is there. I’m not going to give up, and I’m not going to quit."
Along with surrounding herself with like-minded athletes who continue to push themselves, Jarress said the motivation to take that first step is the most important to getting fit.
"Just do it," Jaress said. "Just get up in the morning, after work, but your shoes on and go do something. You might get that spark and think ‘wow, I can do what they’ve done.'"