Injury and Fitness

By: Michael K. Harper

Fitness – it’s a word that we all know too well.  Everyone wants to be in shape, whether your excuse is to become what society calls “fit,” you simply want it for yourself, or if it is a benefit to your professional occupation.

Admittedly, I do have an unusual “obsession” with pushing my body to the limits, but I fully acknowledge that I am human too, especially when it comes to human weaknesses, like laziness.  With that in mind, I am a simple person with simple goals.  I like the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid!  As an almost 15-year Law Enforcement professional, I have seen too many times how my drive to stay not just in shape but in the best shape possible, has had a direct impact on my job performance.  In particular, when it comes to the realm of Public Safety Diving, I know that there can be no room for error when it comes to safety. Without a doubt, safety does include being physically fit.

Being Physically Fit

So, how does that play a role in my drive to continue to train physically?  Well for me, and for quite a few law enforcement professionals, I have a desire to want to go home each day and enjoy life outside of law enforcement.  I also took an oath to protect and serve, and that means if I choose the path of public safety diving, I need to be fit enough for the challenges of carrying the extra weight of gear, strength training, cardiovascular health, and everything else that comes along with public safety diving.  I know that by nature, we humans can be lazy, but since I have taken that oath and I do want to live to fight another day, I also know that I must train my body to match my mind.  If we are all honest with ourselves, it is a person’s mind that he or she must convince to achieve fitness, because whatever we set in our mind to do, our body has no choice but to follow.  I set my mind to graduate college therefore I told my body to comply and stay awake to study. I set my mind to pass BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training) therefore I told my body to push harder with each push up, run, sit up, etc.  Likewise, I set my mind to be the best public safety diver I can, therefore I tell my body to swim those extra laps for cardio fitness, to tread water longer than the last time, and to pretend it is me who has to rescue that other diver and wants us both to come back to shore safely.  Countless scenarios come to mind when it comes to public safety diving and you have to be ready to react in a calm fashion with focus.  That will not happen if you cannot physically even make it to the water without feeling like your heart is going to explode out of your chest.  No excuse makes any sense as a substitute for your life. Not one excuse is allowed. If you are going to be a public safety diver, you must be prepared for the job in a manner that not only benefits others, but ensures care for yourself.

There is no way I can offer my services and know that if I do not train it will end well for me or the agency requesting me.  At the very least, assuming I survive whatever incident may befall me, I look like a laughing stock and no one will take my skills as a diver seriously.  That alone should be enough to get anyone motivated.  Sadly I have read too many articles that talk of divers, both recreational and public safety, who have lost their lives in ways that may have possibly been prevented if they had received better training.  The key word there is “possibly.”  Life happens to all of us and when it is your time to go then it is your time to go, but I have made the choice that my time will not come because I did not want be fit enough to do the job I love and that others depend on me to do……no way no how.

Public Safety Diving

In Public Safety Diving there is no reset button like a video game; you either do it right to begin with or play Russian roulette with your life.  If you are not physically prepared, this can be a hindrance to doing your job well, knowing that you cannot even focus on the job at hand for fear of knowing you are not even prepared to do it in the first place.

I would like to say that is it….that worry over the job is the only time your fitness, or lack thereof, will negatively impact you, but I would be wrong.  If you are not willing to put in the work for something as dangerous as the world of public safety diving, then you likely will not put in the work for other areas of your life.  Please do not get me wrong; I am not saying we all have to be Ironman athletes, but we do have a standard to set because we took that oath to protect those who depend on us to do so and cannot protect themselves.  Let us do our jobs so we can all come home and enjoy this wonderful life.

Remember that in public safety diving we deal with extreme temperatures, poor conditions, low visibility, possible fear, and any mixture of odd or problematic circumstances. These issues are present while we work, or send others to work, in an environment that is not suitable to human beings surviving without specialized equipment. If you train and prepare your body to adapt to these conditions, function in a more efficient fashion, and to store energy in a more effective manner, there is an increased probability that we will not only come home safe, but we may be able to better perform essential tasks needed to complete missions. Take the time to prepare yourself, engage your mind, and never let laziness, a lack of motivation, or a physical inability to perform be the reason that you or a teammate do not make it home from a scene.

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