The phone rang early in the morning. I knew immediately who it was. My wife spoke to the caller for a moment and then handed it to me. “Congratulations for crossing the finish line!” said the voice on the other end of the line.
It seemed like a very fitting statement. It was my friend and mentor — “Coach” Bob Lindsey — calling to celebrate what would be my last day as a police officer. I had just placed my badge and keys on the counter in preparation for the drive to turn them in and grabbed a bag to haul my gear home. At the stroke of midnight I would no longer be a police officer. By my reckoning it had been 26 years and 3 days since I first pinned on a badge.
In those years I had worked first as a full-time cop and a part-time trainer and as a part-time cop and a full-time trainer. My race has been a little different than most cops, but then again, every cop runs their own individual race.
Defeating ‘The Wall’
For those new officers reading this, I want to tell you with all sincerity to remember the race is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t burn yourself out in the first few years dashing after whatever you see as your goal. Your intent should be to reach that goal of retirement healthy — mentally, physically, and financially, after having a healthy and productive career.
Like any race, this requires setting your priorities, knowing what the terrain and obstacles the course of the race will bring you to and having a plan in advance.;a plan you stick to even if it seems like others are taking a shorter, easier, quicker route.
Run your race, not someone else’s. There will be those along the route who will point and try and influence your direction. Some will point the right way. Some will point the wrong way. If you end up following bad direction, remember that all you have to do is turn around and get your proper heading.
Every runner stumbles, some will fall. Most will get up, dust themselves off and continue, some will be injured and limp onward, others will never rise again. Be mentally, physically and spiritually prepared for ‘The Wall’.
You may hit it once, twice, or many times in your race. ‘The Wall’ will hit you. When every fiber of your being says that you cannot go on, that will be ‘The Wall’ talking.
When you hear a voice telling you that you’re weak, that is ‘The Wall’ talking.
When it feels like everyone around you is clutching at your clothing, holding you back, slowing you down, trying to drag you to the ground, ‘The Wall’ is to blame.
If you are prepared, you will battle through it. A good ground support team, coaches, mentors, friends and family will cheer you on when you stumble or slow. You will need partners who point out the potholes BEFORE you step in them.
There will be those who will take you by the arm and support you or even carry you for a while when you need them to, don’t fool yourself, you will need them. Take the arm when offered, even if you don’t think you need. Sometimes someone else can analyze your fitness better than you. Develop your team now, before you need it. Continue to foster those relationships throughout your career and be the person who lifts others up, rather than running over them.
It may not seem like it at the time, but ‘The Wall’ is only as tall, as wide, and as thick as you make it.
Train for the marathon, not the sprint. Recognize ‘The Wall’ for what it is. Be realistic, the race will require a great deal of effort, energy and even sacrifice. Understand that you will have to make decisions about what you will and won’t sacrifice. Decide today what those things are, now, so you don’t have to make the decision when you mentally and physically taxed. Take the advice of those who have run the race longer than you. Look at how they have run their race, the choices and sacrifices that they have made and ask yourself if you want to follow in their path.
In a race, where you start is of no importance. What matters is where and how you finish. Will you have a crowd of supporters with water and a blanket to comfort and sustain you, will you limp over the line, will you collapse at or before the line or will you cross by yourself?
Your race will last decades. Prepare for it today and tomorrow and every day forward. Also know that there will be the runner’s high. A euphoria that makes your feet feel light, like you are floating on air. You will feel like you can run for the rest of your life, that you are invincible. We get into this profession, in part, for that high.
It is a great feeling. You will look forward to them.
Do your best to attain them as often as you can, but beware that you do not become an addict. The addict will do anything to attain the high — lie, cheat, or steal.
Attain the highs from your own personal, honest effort.
There will be hills, valleys, mountains, deserts, snow and rain along the way. The scenery will range from spectacular to epic, beautiful, horrifying, nauseating, and terrifying. Keep your eyes open or you may stumble. Keep your eyes open and learn to distinguish between reality and the mirage.
Keep your head up, shoulders down and relaxed, take in each breathe deeply, use it to propel you forward into your next step, set your pace and run your race. Run.
For officers who can already see the finish line, I advise you to keep your eyes on the prize, but at the same time, take a look behind you. Do you see anyone struggling? Can you help then with a word, a gesture or do they need you to help lift them up? You have the strength.
Is there anyone in the race who you may have bumped in the mad dash — purposefully or by accident? Do you need to go to them and apologize and to make amends? You have the time.
Have you mapped out a route for others to use? You know where the obstacles are. You know some of the most difficult and some of the easiest, safest routes. Will you share it before your race is finished? You have the knowledge.
Will you do what it takes to make sure that those younger than you stay on the proper course? You have the courage.
It’s your race. It’s your finish line.
Last, But Not Least, Thank You
I would like to make a public thank you to all the officers and dispatchers who taught me — when I would listen. Thank you to all those who have taken the time and effort to mentor me along the way, although at times it may have seemed like you were talking to a rock. There are too many to mention, but I have taken the time to say thanks as often as I can.
To my partners at the two agencies I’ve served — Warroad Police Department and the Parkers Prairie Police Department — and to the officers of the surrounding, supporting agencies — Roseau Police Department, the Sheriff’s Departments of Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Otter Tail and Douglas Counties, the Minnesota State Patrol, and Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division, US Border Patrol and Customs — it was a hell of a race, you helped keep me safe, and you were there when I needed you. I’ve laughed with all of you, cried with a few of you, and man, we had FUN.
The biggest thank you goes to my partner in life — my wife Lynn. We started this race together and we finished it together. Without her, the race wouldn’t have been worth it.
This is not my last article. I have more stories to tell, more ideas to share. That race has hardly started.