Badge of Honor : Santa Monica Officer Is Powerhouse in Law Enforcement Olympics Event

Times Staff Writer

On the other side of the Pacific, six time zones away from home, a local man has made good. From the International Law Enforcement Olympics in Sydney, Gary Herman is toting a bronze back to Santa Monica.

The competition, which started last Sunday and ends today, took 3,600 police and other law enforcement officers to Australia to compete in canoeing, darts, power-lifting, judo, badminton, pistol shooting, surfing and 40 other events. Among the police officers, Secret Service agents, district attorneys, park rangers and sheriff’s deputies swarming into Sydney was Herman, a Santa Monica police officer and power-lifter.

“I’m representing Santa Monica--and the United States,” Herman, 28, said before he headed Down Under. He won his bronze Wednesday.

He has racked up plenty of other medals at other times: a silver at the internationals in 1984, two golds in the World Police and Fire Games and five golds in as many years in the California Police Olympics.


21 Nations Compete

The International Law Enforcement Olympics, held since 1974 in even-numbered years, aims to promote physical fitness among law enforcement officers--or, as President Gary Mulleneaux quips, “We’re just finding the working cops and giving them a place to play.”

The internationals were inspired by the chief of police games--the 22-year-old annual California Police Olympics, which, with some 7,000 participants, is reportedly the second-largest amateur sports competition in the world after the Olympic Games.

This year--the first time the games have been staged outside the United States--there were police officers from 21 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe and Thailand, organizers say.


Herman was 5 feet 11 inches, 180 pounds, and wore a size 44 sport coat in 1982, when he was introduced to power-lifting by a police academy drill instructor.

He entered the California Police Olympics in 1983, only to finish last in his division, hoisting a total of 1,250 pounds on the three lifts. The next year was spent training, watching competitions, “learning the rules better, seeing how it’s done.” Then he started winning.

Now, six years since he took up the sport, with 40 pounds added to his frame and about 4 inches to his chest, Herman heads to the gym to strain and heave two hours a day, four days a week.

Depend on Self

Power-lifting, which is not an Olympic event, has three lifts. In the bench press, the lifter lies on a bench, picks the weight bar off the rack, brings it down to his chest, holds it still and extends it out again. The squat is done by picking up the bar from the rack, tucking your head underneath, putting the bar on your shoulders, shuffling back, squatting, then standing up. The deadlift involves hoisting the bar from the ground and standing up with it.

Herman, who competes in the men’s 220-pound, open division, lifts double to triple his weight, with bests of 450 pounds on the bench press, 650 pounds on the squat and 700 on the deadlift--a total of 1,800 pounds. The overall world records for that division, all held by Americans, are 576 pounds for the benchpress, 882 for the squat and 832 for the deadlift, and an all-around record of 2,099 pounds, according to Alan Kirshner, record registrar of the U.S. Power-lifting Federation.

Power-lifting, Herman said, is “a heckuva lotta fun, and challenging. You only have one person to rely upon. If it’s a bad day, there’s only one guy to blame; if it’s a good day, there’s only one guy to thank. It’s just you against the weight.”

He says it has helped him on the job, in “lifting inebriated persons” and during scuffles. But he says his job is still a scary one. “You never know if you’re going to come home alive. Every day you get a little scared.” Besides, Herman said, “Our best weapon is our mouth. I’d rather talk a guy into jail than have to use physical force.”


He also finds power-lifting a wonderful stress reliever. “I go to the gym in a bad mood, and I leave feeling really relaxed.”

He leaves feeling sore, “in my knees, elbows, shoulders. The human body was not meant to lift this kind of weight, and it keeps reminding me,” he said.

The sport entails not only pain, but plenty of other sacrifices too, Herman says. Ideally, he must get eight hours of sleep a night. He must have the discipline to “get in the gym and work out when you don’t feel like working out.” And he earmarks vacation time for meets.

There are also controls on the pizza, burger and hot-fudge sundae intake. For the 12 weeks before the Olympics, Herman ate “lots of protein, complex carbs and no sweets"--in other words, chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. Patrolling Santa Monica streets from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m., he would grab a turkey submarine sandwich and two diet sodas from a deli and ignore the enticing jars of chocolate chip cookies. Later, he’d go to a doughnut shop for coffee--with artificial sweetener--but no doughnuts.

Wednesday night, Herman donned his stretchy power-lifting suit (“you need help from two people to put it on--it’s real tight”), his size 11 shoes (he has a different pair for each lift) and lifted 1,716 pounds.

“I thrive on competition--it’s healthy,” Herman said.

Herman has competed and won in non-police meets too, but said, “I’d rather compete against police, with police . . . there’s more spirit among policemen.”

That camaraderie is reflected on the International Law Enforcement Olympics medals, engraved with: “I am society’s first line of defense/I am the thin blue line/I am a law enforcement officer.” In that spirit, Herman brought a bundle of T-shirts that he had imprinted--in blue, naturally, the traditional color of police uniforms--with a power-lifter and “Santa Monica Police Power Team,” to swap with cops from other countries.


And back at home, there’s the moral support of “all the guys” in his department, who like to call him “Musclehead,” “Tiny,” and “Pee Wee Herman.”

“I know they’re all with me, cheering for me,” Herman said before leaving for Australia. As the only Santa Monica police officer at the competition, “I’m representing them all. If I do well, the department does well.”