Against All Odds, Part 2 - Tactics and Weapons - LawOfficer.com

Against All Odds, Part 2

A trooper's battle to return to the road Part 2 of a 2-part series

 


 

Chuck Remsberg | From the October 2006 Issue Saturday, September 30, 2006

This column first appeared on PoliceOne.com.

In Part 1 (September, p. 40), New York State Trooper Matt Swartz explained how a car crash cost him a leg and, as far as he could tell at the time, his career. Facing a life outside of law enforcement something he couldn't accept Matt set one difficult goal for himself: to be the first and only member of the New York State Police (NYSP) to go on full patrol with a prosthetic leg.

Many assumed it couldn't be done.

Doctors told Swartz that perhaps after a few years of rehabilitation therapy he could try to return to work. But by the time he left the hospital, Swartz had only a dwindling number of leave days remaining with the state police.

Fortunately, the blue family (actually grey in this case, given the NYSP's uniform color) kicked in to buy him time and opportunity. During his hospitalization, at least one trooper had stayed in or near his room 24 hours a day. While Swartz was comatose, dispatchers visiting his bedside spoke made-up radio calls into his ear in hopes of keeping his brain stimulated. Other cop volunteers had worked to finish his new house and got the couple s possessions packed and moved. Now, police families and organizations staged benefits to raise funds for his rehabilitation and medical needs, and troopers donated their own limited vacation days to his account, as permitted by NYSP regulations and consented to by the bosses. Soon he had a year s worth of leave at full pay he could draw on. A police chief in the area gave him passes to a swimming pool. One trooper whose son had left behind his workout gear when he went off to college donated an exercise bench, a squeeze grip and a couple of weights, humblingly puny dumbbells weighing only 2 lbs. and 5 lbs. It was a start, Swartz says.

He attacked with a vengeance. From other amputee officers he tracked down on the Internet, he learned which prostheses seem to work best on duty. The lighter the better, they recommended. He settled on a model that promised to put spring in my step, provide flexation and handle well on uneven ground. It consists of a socket (which attached with surprising comfort to his stump), a vertical carbon-fiber post and a foot that fits into an NYSP combat boot.

He located a therapist herself an amputee who was willing free of charge to push him through an extensive and in-depth rehab to build up his strength and range of capabilities with his new leg. Expanding his physical limits was pure evil, all about hurt, he remembers. But pain is weakness leaving the body, and that which doesn t kill us makes us stronger.

The therapist knew how to punch his buttons. She d have him watch her demonstrate an exercise with her prosthetic leg on some machine, then she d condescendingly offer to lighten the weight when it was his turn. Trooper friends played along. If they were around when I was practicing walking, they d say, Is that a little limp I m noticing there?

After walking got smooth and driving became possible, he started running running and running and running. Forrest Gump, the other troopers called him. He created a mantra: Go ahead and call me disabled. I ll give you a 10-second head start, then I ll run you down and show you what disabled really means!

In truth, even with much practice, it took him 16 minutes to run 1.5 miles. The annual NYSP fitness test requires its officers to run it in less than 11 minutes, plus sit-ups and push-ups.

He practiced doing sprints and slamming to a stop; he practiced jumping out of a patrol car and running a 40-yard dash; he practiced running stairs at a local factory. I can almost hear [the song] Eye of the Tiger playing in my head as I think back about that stuff, he laughs.

Scientific research proves a fake lower leg is 25 percent harder to run with, Swartz says, so to keep up with the guys who say they re 110 percenters I figured I had to be 125, maybe 130 percent. Someone s life could depend on my physical ability. I didn t want my fellow troopers screaming on the radio for help and thinking, Oh, no, Matt is coming. I want, Thank God, Matt is coming!

As he improved ( remarkably improved, doctors said), Swartz periodically visited his NYSP station to make sure his name was still carried on the assignment roster. He always wore long pants so anyone looking him over would see only two normal duty boots sticking out from under his pant legs. If he found his name missing from the list, he penciled it back in, a silent but emphatic reminder that he may be gone for awhile but shouldn t be forgotten.

Even though his captain had started running with him, showing support for his cause, Swartz says he could never get a specific answer from the NYSP brass as to what exactly he had to do to prove his fitness for duty. His reaction was to incorporate trooper-type feats into his workouts climbing fences, racing up steps, conducting foot pursuits, wading and swimming in creeks, executing emergency bailouts from a patrol car, carrying a wounded buddy on his shoulders. He documented all this with photographs that he kept in a recovery book, figuring a picture of proof is worth a thousand words of boasting.

In late summer, he geared up for the biggest challenge since he d left the hospital: requalifying as a volunteer firefighter. That required that he successfully complete a combat obstacle course, which included, among other things, running a 40-yard dash in five seconds (a college football player should do it in four), dragging a 180-lb. dummy, crawling through a tunnel in full gear and lugging a fire hose up flights of stairs.

Swartz finished the course in 12 minutes, with air left in his airpack.



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Chuck RemsbergChuck Remsberg is a senior contributor for PoliceOne.com. He co-founded the original Street Survival Seminar and the Street Survival Newsline, authored three of the best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and helped produce numerous award-winning training videos. Remsberg’s nearly three decades of work earned him the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement, and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.

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