Established with a $5,000 grant received in September, the fitness center is a 24-hour, free gym for Bartow County Sheriff’s Office employees.
“The big thing nowadays is insurance and remaining healthy so that your premiums don’t go out of the roof. ... Capt. [Mike] Shinall found us a grant for this type of equipment. We had the space available that we were going to use anyway,” Sheriff Clark Millsap said. “... We saw it as a way to get some of our money back down here and put it to good use and that’s to keep these officers in some kind of physical condition so that, No. 1, our insurance premiums stay down and, No. 2, they stay healthy.”
BCSO Deputy Treka Stone this month is leading eight classes focused on fitness and nutrition for the agency’s 255 employees.
“I just wanted us to be healthier because it’s statistically proven public servants ... the obese rate is really, really high. With us not having a raise, gym memberships are not cheap,” she said. “... We spend all our life here. We’re here 12 hours a day per shift; you’ve got the dispatchers, the jail officers — not the ones that work 8 to 5, of course — but the ones that spend their whole life here, 12-hour shifts. So, if they could come in a little bit earlier, 30 minutes, 10 minutes, that’s better than nothing because we’re riding around in a patrol car all day. ... How you going to get out and do some jumping jacks? They’re going to think you’re crazy.”
During a class for patrol deputies Friday, Stone talks about dieting, portion control and wellness interspersed with exercise.
“Losing weight is a mental challenge, not a physical one,” she told the class. “Bad genetics are not to blame for your lack of results. You are not big-boned or naturally thick nor do you have slow metabolism. Your problem is you have poor mentality.”
Stone demonstrates to each class the proper use of each piece of equipment in the gym, encouraging a mix of exercise.
“I like to focus everything on cardio, strength and flexibility. So you’re going to have 20 minutes of weights, 20 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of flexibility and balance,” she said. “The older we get, we’re kind of off balance. We can’t hold [ourselves] on one foot. Our bones and structure is not as strong as it used to be, so if you exercise more, you’re just making it a little bit stronger.”
For many deputies, a focus on nutrition and improved eating habits offers ideas for improving health.
“... You got to realize, when you’re out here at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning on patrol, you got a choice between the Krystal and the Waffle House and there’s a couple of others now that are open 24 hours, but they’re all fast food. These officers need to learn that there is alternatives to going through McDonald’s drive-thru and getting a Big Mac, large fry and a coke,” Millsap said. “... You can bring things with you. ... You’ve got nutritional values now. It used to be no one thought of that, but now, you have to take that into consideration because everyone knows if you sit around and eat fast food all the time all you’re going to do is gain weight.”
Both Stone and Millsap point to the cost of gym memberships as a deterrent for many to maintain a regular fitness regimen.
“Me, personally, I can’t afford a gym membership, and I’m here a majority of the time anyway. So I’d rather be already here, bring my gym clothes, change. These are people I know. Going to a gym, people seeing me in workout clothes that I don’t know, that’s hard. And a lot of people see it like I see it,” Stone said. “I don’t want to go to a gym in workout clothes and you feel like everybody’s staring at you. It’s intimidating and then you’ve got 5 million machines that you don’t know how to use.”
According to scientists, police officers maintain an obesity rate almost 10 percent higher than the general population.
A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health showed about 40 percent of police are obese, compared with 32 percent of the public. Police suffer other health woes, according to the study, including higher suicide rates; increased frequency of metabolic syndrome, which is linked to risk of heart disease; and, after 30 years of service, higher chance of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma and brain cancer.
“Listen. [Physical fitness is] very important because you think about these officers out here on the road. They may have to chase somebody. Believe it or not, you’ve got to be in some kind of shape if you’re out here walking through the woods trying to track somebody or you’ve got a missing person and you think they may be in the woods,” Millsap said. “If you’re not in some kind of physical shape, you may have to fight, you may have to run, you may have to search. You may have to do all sorts of things, and being in some type of physical condition so that you’re not ... labored in breathing and you can stay in shape ... .”
Uniform Patrol Division Sgt. Brian Earick, who maintains a gym membership, echoed Millsap’s comment.
“There’s always someone out there bigger and tougher than you. You just got to be prepared,” he said. “A lot of times, if we’re chasing somebody, we’ve got to chase them down. I’ve been in the situation several times, where you chase them down, and then that’s when the fight starts. ... You’re already winded from running and now you’ve got to take control of this person and fight them.”
In the short time the fitness center has been open, Millsap said he has received nothing but “positive feedback.”
“You get the initial, ‘Ah man, really?’ But, when they get in there and they get into it and they start, ‘I feel better,’” he said. “... I think it’s not going to be one of those fly-by-night things. ... I think once they get into [it], they will continue doing it.”