Vol. 81, No. 1Cover stories

Woman smiles while lifting barbells with two women lifting weights next to her.

Winning workouts

Group fitness a secret weapon against fatigue, illness

Roxanne Blanchette, second from left, lost 64 pounds and reversed her diabetes with group fitness and weight loss. Credit: Serge Gouin, RCMP


Nine years ago, civilian member Roxanne Blanchette would watch her police co-workers practise their fitness test, known as PARE, on the heli-pad visible from her office window at the Fredericton RCMP detachment.

"It's hard to watch people doing the things you want to do but can't," says Blanchette, who at the time weighed 260 pounds and had Type 2 diabetes. "I just wanted to be able to walk to get the mail without being out of breath."

By first changing her eating habits and becoming more active, Blanchette lost 66 pounds. But her life really changed when she started working out for the first time with a co-worker who gave her a weight-lifting plan.

To speed her progress, she joined a fitness boot camp. In less than five years, Blanchette lost another 64 pounds and no longer needs medication for her diabetes.

"I'm not cranky, agitated or depressed. I have so much more energy, not just to enjoy life, but to enjoy people," says Blanchette, who now joins her co-workers in fitness activities throughout the year.

"To this day, walking into the gym is terrifying for me," says Blanchette. "But it isn't as awkward when you have five people doing it together."

Other detachments in New Brunswick are using group workouts to improve employees' physical and mental health and to increase their scores in the Physical Abilities Requirement Evaluation (PARE). The province has one of the highest PARE participation rates in the country.

PARE is used to test an officer's ability to withstand the rigours of operational police work, simulating a chase, a physical altercation and an arrest. Before receiving a badge, every RCMP cadet must pass it.

Strength in numbers

A year and a half after she joined Campbellton detachment in N.B., Cst. Kelcie Levesque started a fitness routine with a co-worker. Soon, she was working out seriously five days a week with a group of colleagues who motivated and pushed her.

"As a woman, when I'm dealing with clients, it might look like I have a disadvantage because I'm smaller than them," says Levesque. "I feel more comfortable if I'm strong from lifting heavy weights. And it gives my co-workers confidence that I'm their backup."

The friendships she's built at the gym have extended beyond work, too. Levesque now regularly hangs out with many of the same co-workers, sometimes walking their dogs together around Campbellton's Sugarloaf Mountain.

"It creates a special bond between us that we wouldn't get if we only worked out together our four days on [shift], then didn't see each other our four days off," she says.

Levesque says being fit also improves her mood, gives her more energy and helps her feel better overall.

Mental resilience

Sgt. JP MacDougall uses fitness to foster team spirit. A detachment commander in Woodstock, N.B., for the last three years, MacDougall says his employees build trust and open communication during workouts, which leads to staying physically healthy and mentally resilient.

Nearly two decades on the force has shown him that physical wellness is linked to mental wellness. "Nobody gets through 18 years in this organization, on the front line, without some exposure to trauma," says MacDougall.

Responding to critical incidents together creates a bond between officers that needs to be nurtured so they're comfortable opening up after a tough call, according to MacDougall. "If I'm able to get them together for a quick workout after a crappy set of shifts, it allows us to bond as a team," he says.

MacDougall encourages his officers to use 30 minutes of every shift for working out, an approach he thinks contributes to his team's low rate of sick leave.

"For me, it's an investment. I would rather give up a member for half an hour now, than lose them to mental illness later," he says.

The military veteran has also partnered with St. Stephen detachment, located two hours south of Woodstock, for a PARE challenge that he uses as another tool to connect with his staff.

"I don't really care about the scores," says MacDougall. "What it does is allow me to have the conversation if someone's struggling with something."

"When I'm working out, I can clear my mind," adds MacDougall. "Often, I think of a very specific problem at work, and by the end I have a solution."

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