It was like being back in high school gym class.
In a burst of enthusiasm and with a slightly-more-than-gentle shove from my editor, I attempted to see if I could pass the Gulfport Police Department’s newly-enacted physical fitness standards.
Spoiler alert: I can’t.
This week I laced my running shoes, sat in the front seat of a squad car, and waited for instructions from Detective Hahn Pham, a department trainer. He appeared on the cover of the Gabber at the first round of practice runs. You might recall the picture: a muscled Hahn caught in mid-leap as he easily cleared the four-foot wall. Pham ran the course in 4:31.
Taking pictures of the officers running the course, as it turns out, is a lot easier than actually running it. When I first saw the course, I remarked that I thought it would be harder. Pham looked at me and said, “You know, you should really try running the course.”
So, here I am, seated in the front seat of the Chief’s car, waiting for Pham to start barking orders at me. He smiles.
“OK, so you’re going to buckle your seatbelt and put your hands on the wheel. When you’re ready, tell me, and I’ll say ‘go.’ Unbuckle your seatbelt, open the glove box and get the keys out. Get out of the car, leave the door open, unlock the trunk, get the gun and the baton out of the trunk, leave the gun here, close the trunk, run to where Detective Embry is. Jump over the wall, go over the hurdles, serpentine around the cones, go under the hurdles, drop the baton, run to the dummy, pick up the dummy, drag it to the other cone, pick up the baton, and do it all in reverse. When you get back to the car, fire the gun six times with each hand, open the trunk, put the gun and baton in the trunk, close the trunk, get in the car, close the door, put on your seatbelt, put the keys in the glove box, and put your hands on the wheel. Ready?”
Uh, no. “Did you say close the trunk?”
He smiles. “Yes. Are you ready?”
I put my hands on the wheel. I can do this, I tell myself. Everyone else did it, even the guys who spend most of their lives at a desk. You go to the gym. You’ve signed up for a 5K next month!
Pham shouts “GO!” and I do just fine until I start to run off, and he calls me back to shut the trunk. I’m off again, running. Hey, all this treadmill time at the gym is starting to pay off. I feel pretty good.
Until I get about a quarter of a way around the Rec Center path. See, at the gym I walk for five minutes to warm up. I also don’t go all-out, preferring to run at a leisurely pace. Today, for some reason, I’ve sprinted and my lungs are already calling me all sorts of names. I slow it down but keep running, making it to Detective Embry (who beat Pham’s time by five seconds) at about 1:30. I shove myself over the wall, clear the hurdles, wind around the cones, and go under the remaining hurdles. I run to the dummy, squat, and grab the fat red man by his chest handles.
“Use your legs!” Detective Pham shouts, trotting over.
I try to stand. I fail. I try again. I fail again. I try a third time. I can’t even lift the thing. It’s supposed to weigh 150 pounds, but I start to wonder if it’s still carrying a few holiday pounds. Every one of the officers did this, even Eva Iwanowski, a beautiful tiny creature who can apparently lift what must be twice her weight after completing half an obstacle course. Even the desk jockeys. Even the officer who has had two knee surgeries.
“Try using your legs,” Detective Pham repeats.
“I am,” I tell him. He demonstrates another technique for me; I try – and fail – to replicate it. The chief jogs over.
“Are you not going to do this?” he asks. I count to three and remind myself that he has a gun. I grab the dummy by the handles, intending to drag him down the field. He doesn’t budge. I curse. I squat again, thinking that adrenaline-fueled anger and embarrassment will help me get the dummy off the ground. Nothing.
“OK, OK, leave the dummy. Just run the rest of the course!” Detetctive Pham says, and that’s when I notice he’s filming me. Are you kidding me?
I crawl under the hurdles, serpentine around the cones, clear the higher hurdles, scale the wall, and at the edge of the grass I see a spectator. 15 minutes ago this man was doing incline pushups; now he offers me a sympathetic smile.
“It’s OK. You did good,” he says. I hope he doesn’t think I’m an officer. I hope Embry explained that to him while I was wrestling with the dummy like it was a futon mattress in a stairwell, because I sure as hell can’t. I can barely breathe, much less run. I walk quickly back to the car, where I grab the gun, fire it six times with each hand (there are no bullets in the gun), get back in the car, fasten my seatbelt, and try to find the ignition. I can’t.
“No! Put them in the glove box, not the ignition! The glove box!” Detective Pham is trying very hard to be nice, but even I can’t believe he’s still going with this charade. I put the keys in the glove box and my hands on the wheel. Detective Pham stops his stopwatch.
That’s two minutes and ten seconds longer than allowed. I will not be joining the Gulfport police force any time soon.
I can’t imagine an officer doing any part of this as easily as they did, although some of them looked as though they were struggling. They all did it under or close to the allotted time. They all lifted the dummy.
Officer Robert McLaughlin offers me a bottle of water. “Just keep moving,” he says. “Don’t sit down just yet.”
I notice that two of the officers who ran the course before me are gone, getting ready for their night shift. I can’t believe they don’t get to go home and relax after that, and I pity whoever breaks the law in their presence tonight.
Me, I go home and collapse on the couch, whine about my failure on Facebook, and make plans to step up my training program. Not because I want to be a cop – I don’t – but because I should be able to clear this course. It just doesn’t look that hard; any idiot should be able to do it.
Of course, that’s what a lot of people say about policemen, too.