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RCMP employees share fitness expertise to motivate others (Health and Wellness Series, Part 4)

Cpl. David Whitten uses burpees and body-weight exercises to maintain his fitness and mental health. Credit: RCMP


Two RCMP employees on opposite ends of the country are using their dedication to fitness to improve themselves, stay fit for police work, and motivate others to get healthy.

"Physically you just feel more confident when you work out and feel your body change and get stronger," says Cpl. David Whitten, who works as the detachment commander in Forteau, N.L. He turned to burpees and body-weight exercises in the wake of a work-related injury and a family tragedy.

Moving past pain and heartbreak

Whitten says he always strives to be fit because of the duties required of an RCMP officer. In 2019, as his 40th birthday approached, he committed to do even more. "I wanted to be in the best shape of my life when I hit that age," says Whitten, a 14-year veteran of the RCMP.

That quest was derailed over a nine-month period. Beginning in December 2019, he suffered a serious workplace injury that required surgery. During his recovery, Whitten faced another blow: he was forced to cope with the murder of his younger brother.

"Those two events presented some serious mental health hurdles," he says. And because of his injury and subsequent operation, weight training was no longer possible.

Whitten eventually found an online community that was doing burpees and body-weight training as a means of daily exercise, and he got hooked. He admits it took time to get proficient at burpees, which incorporates a push-up with a leap into the air. But the effort paid off for Whitten, who challenges himself to do hundreds daily, any time anywhere.

"I have used burpees and body-weight training to combat the mental-health struggles I went through from being off sick, and also with the loss of my brother," he says.

In October 2021, he even started his own YouTube channel, demonstrating his ability to do burpees and other exercises. "I used it as a way to hold myself accountable, and to maybe motivate and inspire others to work on their own physical health and well-being," says Whitten, who adds he has spoken to other RCMP officers who are interested in using burpees to improve their own fitness.

Kick-starting a karate class

Almost 7,000 kilometres away, Jascha Espley offers a weekly martial arts class to help his co-workers stay fit and get to know each other.

Espley is the manager of Information Technology Support Solutions for the RCMP in Surrey, B.C., holds a third-degree black belt in Shito-Ryu Satokai karate, and has more than 35 years of experience in a variety of karate styles. He was regularly attending RCMP Health and Wellness meetings in 2018 when a request was made to enhance the programming offered to employees.

"I looked around the room and thought, I can do something here. I can get people moving," says Espley, who is a certified instructor by Karate Canada and the National Coaching Certification Program.

He holds one class a week at the RCMP's Surrey headquarters and keeps things simple with warm-ups, stretches, katas — a series of standardized karate movements — and basic punches, kicks and blocks. Participants who are a little more advanced can also do some sparring.

"It's more relaxed than the typical karate class," says Espley. "For some people, the classes have been a wake-up call that they need to take better care of their body."

The in-person classes were interrupted due to COVID-19 shutdowns but resumed in early 2022. Espley says restarting the classes was also beneficial to him. "Like a lot of people, I got comfortable working from home," he says. "But starting the classes again has given me another reason to want to come back into the office."

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