Why Taking Care of You, Is Taking Care of Us

An open letter from a LEO wife:

I have the Officer Down Memorial Page app on my phone. It notifies me every time there is a line of duty death anywhere in the country. Sometimes it astonishes me how often these notifications flash across my screen. Sometimes I think I should take it off my phone. But mostly, it reminds me that every kiss goodbye could be our last. It reminds me that maybe I should stop complaining about the sweaty vest you tossed on my clean comforter, the extra shift you picked up next week, or our son’s birthday party this weekend that I’ll have to manage on my own.

What I won’t stop doing however, is reminding you that even though your actual job is taking care of everybody else, that doesn’t preclude you from taking care of yourself.

KNOW

I know your department sends you to health and wellness conferences. That they have incentive programs designed to motivate you to stay healthy. I hear you talk about the fact that you could stand to lose a few pounds, that your diet is terrible, but it’s impossible to find healthy food during your shift in the middle of the night. That your schedule and family obligations simply don’t allow you the time to get to the gym. Here’s the thing darling. You don’t get to work a full career, miss out on all these family moments, push yourself mentally and physically to the limits and then drop dead five years after your retirement party. I simply won’t allow it.

I’ve done some research of my own, and the statistics are not pretty. According to cardiologist and sworn Officer Dr. Jon Sheinberg of The Public Safety Cardiac Foundation, the life expectancy of a public safety officer is almost 20 years less than that of a civilian counterpart. The average life span of a civilian is 79 years old. For a police officer, it is 57. The news gets worse. The average age for a cardiac event in the civilian population is 67 years old. For a cop, it is 49. These numbers terrified me. Those are a lot of years for us to face without you.

The good news is, the best treatment within the law enforcement community is prevention. Your profession requires you to learn and maintain multiple disciplines to be effective at your job. As far as I’m concerned, health and wellness need to be added to the list. Fitness and nutrition are essential components in a job that boasts an estimated 80 percent obesity rate.

As the official spokesperson of this family, who cherishes you more than you will ever know, and that need you here, with us, I am imploring you. Join the wellness incentive program that your department offers. When you attend a wellness conference, go to the presentations you NEED, not the ones you find most interesting. Find a way to become more active, encourage us to join you. Center our family time around activities, not the kitchen table. Find healthy alternatives to fast food and junk food while you’re at work. Schedule an appointment with your physician so we can get a health baseline for you, and then we can get to work improving on anything that needs to be addressed. And in turn, we will do the same. We owe it to each other as a family, to strive to become the healthiest versions of ourselves, so that our future selves won’t ever look back with regret at choices that we should have made differently.

This career takes so much from you, and all we ask is that you to do everything within your power so that it doesn’t take you from us.

Sherry Graham-Potter is the surviving wife of Deputy Tim Graham, Pima County Sheriff’s Department, who was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle during a foot pursuit on August 10, 2005. While Sherry and her young sons struggled to make sense of their tragic loss, their local chapter of C.O.P.S. stepped in to support the grieving family. Inspired by the survivors she encountered, Sherry became a strong advocate for the role that fitness and nutrition played in her own grief process, and encourages new survivors to incorporate healthy habits into their own lives as they navigate their healing path.

Today, Sherry is married to Officer/Pilot Chris Potter of the Tucson Police Department. Together they advocate for health and wellness within the law enforcement community, teaching Fitness and Nutrition to officers across the country. The couple are both avid cyclists and triathletes. Sherry also authored the viral Facebook post to the Nike Corporation.