The old morning routine for Lt. Gene Joy often started with two bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuits washed down with a Coca-Cola.
Weighing just under 400 pounds, he wore pants with a 60-inch waist and had trouble standing for more than an hour.
But through encouragement and the wake-up call from the Hall County Sheriff’s Office physical assessment, Joy has watched the pounds fall off.
“This was a difficult struggle for me, because I’ve been heavy for years,” he said.
In mid-April, Joy had lost 104 pounds after more than a year of work with Greg Cochran, who has taken over the health and wellness programs for the sheriff’s office.
Cochran started the physical assessment in 2015, and the test has changed considerably since then.
The 150-pound dummy drag from the original test was replaced with a cart based on magnetic resistance for 50 feet of pushing and 50 feet of pulling.
“The faster you try to go, the harder it gets,” Cochran said
In 2015, a 25-year-old man needed to perform 33 pushups in a minute and 40 situps in a minute to meet the 50th percentile standard.
That’s been scrapped for a more fluid exercise involving five push-ups and planks before jumping a wall. The test ends with some hits on a punching bag and applying a pair of handcuffs.
The assessment is required for new hires and has an 80 percent pass rate.
A current employee who fails is taken out of their assignment — patrol, jail, etc. — and has a six-week remedial program with Cochran involving workouts and health and wellness classes.
“At the end of six weeks, they can take it again. If they pass it, they’re put back into their position. If they don’t pass it, then they risk the possibility of being demoted,” Cochran said.
When the current Hall County employees took the test in 2015, there were 23 people put into a remedial program. That number dropped to six in 2018.
Of those six, four of them passed after three weeks, and another retested later to regain their assignment. The last one opted for a voluntary demotion.
“At some point in time, I am not even going to be able to do it,” said Cochran, who flips 500-pound tires for charity. “Things catch up with us: health, age, whatever it may be. They just realized it was a point in their life that they wanted to take a civilian job.”
Cochran said he feels the test is closer to what deputies can face in the field, as one deputy encountered on Friendship Road last year.
Deputy John Thompson pulled over a car in late September and placed the driver under arrest. One of the back passengers, who would later be identified as a suspect wanted by federal authorities, tried to run away.
The two “wrapped up” as traffic whizzed by on the busy road, Thompson said
While still feeling the burn in his legs from taking the physical assessment course the day before, Thompson said he was “at least (able to) hold on to him and delay him long enough to get another unit out there.”
“If I had been out of shape, it very easily could have cost me my life,” he said.
The suspect was ultimately apprehended following a multi-county chase.
Joy credited many members of the sheriff’s office team including Cochran, Sheriff Gerald Couch and others for the encouragement along the way.
“When I started, I couldn’t do a half of a pushup, and normally now when I work out, I’ll do about 25 or 30,” Joy said.
Beyond his increased workouts, he has cut out the soda outside of the rare Diet Coke.
No bread, no sugar.
“It’s great when you go to the doctor and you’ve been taking cholesterol medicine for over 20 years and the doctor says, ‘Well, you don’t have to take this anymore,’” Joy said.
He’s also now off an asthma and blood pressure medication, meaning another $100 a month in his pocket saved from those prescription co-pays.
Joy is still working toward his ultimate goal of roughly 240 pounds, another 50 pounds off or so.
Kelsey Richardson's Hall County Sheriff Physical Assessment attemptKelsey Richardson takes the Hall County Sheriff physical assessment on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.
Going into the physical test, I thought, “There’s no way I’ll complete all of this.” After all, I’m not in law enforcement.
My level of physical exercise consists of herding my three cats to their food bowls, so it’s safe to say that I’m not in peak physical condition.
However, once I saw the layout of the exam, I convinced myself to push through and finish the dang thing.
The “warm-up” exercise wasn’t so bad. My coworker and I walked on a treadmill and gradually increased the incline.
The obstacle course was a completely different story.
I had to run up and down a flight of stairs, do some pushups, plank for a short time then jump over a 4-foot wooden wall.
I didn’t give myself a large enough head-start before clearing the wall, and ended up hitting my right shin. Nearly a month later, I still feel a slight tenderness in the spot.
I then pushed and pulled on “the tank”, and had to sprint a couple of yards. I almost tripped when running because my legs turned into jelly — how embarrassing. Thank goodness that part wasn’t filmed.
Not knowing how to properly use hand-cuffs, I spent seconds of precious time trying to figure out how to unlock them. I eventually restrained the dummy and finished the test — hallelujah.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I felt like emptying my guts after the exam. I tried to walk it off, but before I left the Hall County Sheriff's Office, I threw up all of my lunch into a toilet.
Here’s my word of advice to those completing the physical test: Don’t scarf down a plate full of eggplant parmesan 30 minutes beforehand.
All in all, I enjoyed the experience and have more respect for local law enforcement. I got a free T-shirt from completing the test and I’m pretty sure I gained some street-cred, so I guess it was worth it.
Nathan Berg's Hall County Sheriff Physical Assessment attemptNathan Berg takes the Hall County Sheriff physical assessment on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.
When I first heard about the opportunity to test my level of physical fitness against the standards of local law enforcement, I jumped to the challenge. As someone who considers himself to be in relatively OK shape as well as a sports reporter, it seemed the perfect opportunity to prove my athletic prowess (especially considering I would get a chance to go head-to-head with a news reporter in the process). So I accepted the invitation and began my training.
I rolled up to the sheriff’s office some two weeks later having worked out (approximately) one time in preparation, but I still felt good about my odds of completing the test. I was initially concerned about the unnecessarily heavy looking weights scattered about the gym in which we would be evaluated, but I quickly learned I wouldn’t have to be dealing with any of those, which was a major plus, as I hate lifting weights. They’re just so heavy.
Instead, I was destined for a walk up an imaginary hill followed by a mock pursuit of a suspect, complete with leaping over a wall (if we’ve learned anything from the movies, it’s that there will always be a wall or fence to jump if when you’re chasing a perp) as well as dragging and pulling a heavy object before beating the culprit into submission and handcuffing them.
I learned a lot about myself and my physical fitness in the process. For one, pulling heavy weight is a lot more difficult and less natural than pushing. I also discovered that repeatedly punching an object is pretty decent for cardio. But perhaps most importantly, I finished with a superior time on the course than my news reporter counterpart, revealing the true moral of the story: news is for nerds, and sports rule. Overall, I rate the experience a perfect 10 out of 10, and would definitely do it again, if for no other reason than the opportunity to once again have the chance to jump over a wall.