The biennial World Police and Fire Games were held in New York City for the 10 year memorial tribute to the victims and first responders who perished during the 9/11 terror attacks. My games are over and fortunately I did not have to travel far to experience my first World Police and Fire Games. Other competitors literally travelled across the world to compete. During the weeklong games I saw competitors and teams from Australia, the Isle of Man, Hong Kong, Spain, Poland, Brazil — you name the country and likely there was a police officer or firefighter from that region of the world competing in their respective sport.
My choice of punishment was the running events, originally the half-marathon road race and 5K cross-country run. However, nobody told Mother Nature that 16,000 cops and firefighters had travelled from regions near and far to run, swim, box, sail, shoot, lift weights, and engage in the many team sports being contested. While many athletes arrived in NYC on Thursday and Friday, August 25 and 26, both beautiful sunny days in the Big Apple, they were met on Saturday, the first full day of competition, with the wrath of Hurricane Irene’s.
Because of the storm, many others never even made it to New York. Before competitions started event organizers were cancelling events and scrambling to reschedule. Some events were completely cancelled, victim to the storm and a tight schedule. The half-marathon road race, amounting to entries of 900 police and fire athletes, was one of those casualties. As a consolation, many athletes were able to change their registration to the longer track events, such as the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs. A 10K road race was also rescheduled for later in the week to accommodate the athletes. For many, though, the cancellations were a disappointment after months of training, vacation time off from work and personal expense.
Despite the short-term damper of Hurricane Irene, the games were back in full swing on Monday, August 29. Admittedly, there were organizational problems. I encountered this myself when after driving an hour and half to the Jacob Javits Center on Manhattan’s West Side—arriving at noon to pick up credentials and sign-in for events—I (along with a group of out of town firefighters) was stopped by security at the entrance and told to come back at three o’clock that afternoon. Other athletes were being given the same message as they massed around the outside of the Javits Center. Computers were down and organizers were overwhelmed with athletes already inside the building. No problem for me, I’m flexible and had planned a run in Central Park anyway. I just hit the park first then returned later to get credentialed and check in.
Once I was back at the Javits Center it was a “breeze” and the volunteers were fantastic. The exciting part for me was seeing all these law enforcement and emergency response professionals gathered in the Big Apple sporting their team and country colors. Most impressive were the coordinated and sleekly uniformed contingent from Spain. There was also a Canadian group with their distinctive red and white uniforms with large red maple leaf spotted along 33rd street with a member of the group walking alongside in her dress Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform. Not a common sight for busy, seen-it-all New Yorkers.
As my wife and I left the city that first Friday of the games amidst the tangle of early storm evacuees making their way north to safer ground via the West Side highway and Riverside Drive, members of the Australian cycling team could be seen biking along traffic and sightseeing by Grant’s Tomb. Just as my excitement over competing in the games was not going to be diminished by the approach of Hurricane Irene, I could sense that the competitive fires of the thousands of other athletes would not be either.
Admittedly there were problems in the way the games were run. In talking to other athletes and reading daily posts on the World Police and Fire Games Connect Platform it was evident that many participants were upset. Natural disaster aside there were other glitches, miscues, and planning-related issues that athletes cited for these games. A group of Irish firefighters from the Dublin Fire Brigade I met at Icahn Stadium told me of the 2005 games in Quebec and how smoothly and professionally those games were run. Still, they said they were having a blast in New York City and the competition was as good as ever. A German police officer I met while clerking in for the 5000m run said that he was disappointed one of his events was cancelled but happy to be in New York and competing. He had completed the 2006 NYC Marathon and now returned with his wife for this competition then off for a few days in Vegas before heading home. We talked about running and the job then met back up on the track to wish each other good luck before our respective races.
This was what the these games were about, the camaraderie among dedicated professionals and the competition all while remembering the sacrifices made by so many of our brothers and sisters along the way.
Still, complaints were registered frequently on the WPFG website, and it cannot be ignored that problems did seem to persist. From the simple — not having most of the results posted — to the serious — safety issues for competitors. But just as frequent were the postings of athletes and volunteers getting together, swapping mementos, and making new friendships.
My personal take on the 2011 World Police and Fire Games was that they were a blast. The competition was first class, the other officers and firefighters I met were superb and the general spirit of those competing, along with that of their friends and family who came to support and cheer them on, could not be suppressed by the hurricane or planning issues. Just like the Michigan cop and Spanish firefighter I met on my last day of competition, I am already planning for Belfast in 2013.