Gym keeps police officers in shape

PARKERSBURG – Thanks to the Parkersburg Police Department, law enforcement officers in Wood County have access to a facility that has housed workout equipment and comradery since 2006, officers said.

The Rayon Drive police substation is not only used for officer training around the county, but also has a gymnasium and workout center in the former Rayon School’s cafeteria. Patrolman First Class Scott Carpenter, Patrolman First Class Ricky Koher and Detective Matt Eichhorn are among the individuals who utilize the facility.

Carpenter is 47 years old and has been with the department for 16 years. He said staying in shape is something that has helped him with less job-related injuries. He said as he gets older and is forced to deal with younger offenders of the law he can remain on full alert as long as he is physically fit.

“We all work together,” Carpenter said of all Wood County law enforcement. “As a group we have a higher mortality rate and if you exercise and get rid of the stress you’re less likely to have heart problems and everything else.”

Eichhorn has been with the Parkersburg police for six years and said staying in shape and healthy helps him as a police officer for many reasons.

“We can push each other and be together in a non-work environment,” he said of the facility. “It’s a good atmosphere to build comradery.”

Appearance means a lot when police officers are going after offenders, the officers agreed.

“I think, also, if somebody’s physically fit I think they look more professional,” said Koher. “People take you more seriously and you just feel better.”

The biggest advantage of working out, officers agreed, was relieving the stressors of the job.

“I’ve been told physical training can help with any ailment,” added Koher.

Sgt. Greg Collins with the Parkersburg police said Parkersburg Police Detective Don Brown wrote the grants for the Sisters of St. Joseph and Parkersburg Area Community Foundation (PACF) allowing the department to receive a total of $15,000 to expand the gymnasium from the city building to the old school. Some equipment was donated by friends and officers, he said.

“A relatively small amount of officers get full credit for our fantastic workout facility,” he added. “It was their desire to get it done, from concept to completion.”

Collins said being in police work, officers don’t make a lot of friends and it’s nice to have a place to go work out where “(officers) don’t have to watch (their) back.” He said the complex is in part for comradery and in part for physical fitness.

“The gym is also accessible by our immediate family members, which is really nice too,” he said.

“It’s particularly important (to be in shape) in those encounters where it is a one on one fight with a suspect.”

However, he said the mental rigors of the job can often become more exhausting than the physical ones.

“Mental fatigue brings out complacency, which is a top killer of law enforcement,” said Collins. “Working out is a great stress reliever for (officers) and it’s good for the overall health of the officers, mental and physical.”

Chief Joe Martin started a program three years ago that permits officers to work out a maximum of three hours per week while on duty, Collins said. Workload permitting, it was a great move by Martin to encourage physical fitness among officers without sacrificing more time away from their family, he added.

The facility is meant for every officer in the county and Collins said by working together everyone can be safer.

“Every officer in the county, regardless of the agency, and their immediate family members can use the gym,” he said. “It’s as much about being able to take care of each other as it is about protecting the public.”