Many years ago, during my policing career, I attended a two-week Under Cover Operator course to prepare me for my next assignment in the Drug Unit.
The course had two goals;
- to get us to unlearn how to be a cop and
- teach us the skills needed for undercover work.
The unlearning bit stripped away the mannerisms that all cops quickly adopt, like keeping your back to the wall, never standing in an open door, and learning that cop swagger you need to keep your pants up when your belt weighs 15kg.
The undercover skills covered both technical skills like surveillance driving, and the behavioural skills necessary to blend into a wide range of environments and relate to people that you would typically only talk to when you’re reading them their rights.
It was one of the most challenging and rewarding courses I’ve been on, and the experiences and skills I gained during my two stints in undercover units have helped shape my life and my career (and given me heaps of great stories!).
A senior officer delivered one of the most memorable lectures during the UC course. It was an informal chat, something that we didn’t expect from a senior police commander, and it’s stuck with me through 30 years and several career changes.
He told us there are two things we needed to keep in mind if we wanted our undercover careers to be a positive experience.
The first was that stress is a physical response and not an emotional response, and the second was not to get addicted to the adrenalin rush.
This was a senior cop talking to junior cops on an undercover course, and he knew his audience – plenty of egos and short attention spans in the room! You won’t get buy-in from a bunch of undercover cops by telling them they are about to embark on what will likely be the most dangerous time of their policing careers, and they should embrace aromatherapy and mindfulness to deal with the stress.
He went on to say that the only way to release stress was through physical activity, like having a stroke, developing sleep disorders or diabetes, or the action of loosening your gun belt every couple of months to accommodate the kilos that come with excessive drinking.
He also said how our bodies released stress was up to us, and we could make the decision to deal with stress though exercise, and not through a reduced life expectancy. There is nothing like a bit of blunt messaging delivered in the tone usually reserved for testifying about a murder scene to get the point across to a group of young cops.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but now that I’m almost 60, I credit getting to this age in part to his ‘tough love’ talk to a bunch of cops who felt they were invincible. This was 30 years ago, and I still remember that lecture. It was a 30-minute talk during a two-week course filled with undercover operations, surveillance training, covert photography, search warrants and shooting range work. I’ll forever be grateful that someone who didn’t even know me took the time to tell me the most serious threat I would face as a UC wasn’t on the streets; it was in how I dealt with work stress when my shift was over.
He may not have got the science 100% correct, but the senior officer’s message was what we needed to hear.
There is a growing body of research that shows treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness are effective at treating stress and PTSD, but there is definitely a place for physical activity in the treatment and prevention of stress-related illnesses.
Mountain biking, or Mobile Meditation as I like to think of it, is my preferred way to relax, keep fit, hang with friends, and forget about work.
I have been a keen mountain biker for 30 years, and I’ve ‘mobile meditated’ in Switzerland, Canada, California, Arizona, and Cuba, but in my view, we have the best trails right here in Australia. Kalamunda in Perth and Stromlo in Canberra are two of my favourites. In my hometown of Brisbane, I’m a fan of West Mount Cotton, Bunya and Ironbark. When it’s been raining for a few days straight, like it often does during the Queensland summer, I get desperate for a few laps of Kombi or Jurassic Park – for purely therapeutic reasons, of course!
Not only is mountain biking good for the body and the soul, but it’s also good for the economy!
According to Mountain Biking In Australia – An Economic And Participation Analysis report, the personal, community and economic benefits from mountain biking in Australia include;
- An estimated 341,900 mountain bike participants across Australia directly spend $630.8 million per annum and support 6,095 full-time employees annually through riding at their local trails.
- The estimated health benefit (the personal and health system benefits due to healthier, active individuals) of mountain biking is $1.58 per kilometre ridden.
- The positive association between sport and physical recreation, and educational outcomes, (the human capital uplift), is estimated at $252 annually per rider or $2.50 per ride.
- The satisfaction people derive from participating in sport and active recreation (consumer surplus) is estimated at $2,624 per annum per person or $25.98 per ride.
- The civic and volunteering benefit, which is defined as the value people place on volunteering and enjoying sport and recreation activities is estimated at $3,214 per annum per person.
I’ve personally experienced many other benefits from mountain biking over the years:
- It can be a team or individual sport,
- It’s a good excuse to buy cool stuff,
- Unlike road bikes, mountain bikers don’t feel the need to squeeze into spandex shorts that they outgrew in their teens,
- It goes great with a post-ride breakfast or beers,
- In Australia, you can mountain bike all year long (maybe skip night rides during cane toad season),
- If you want a chat, just stop on the side of the trail and wait for the next rider to come along and say things like, ‘heh, are you riding the new SRAM XX1?’,
- You get to practice first aid on your friends (and sometimes on yourself),
- It’s a great reason to travel, and
- Mountain biking is the new golf!
More and more research support exercise and wellbeing as critical business success factors, so if you’re looking for a fun, healthy way to improve your wellbeing and your business, get on your bike and hit the trails!
Oh yeah, the second thing the senior officer said we needed to keep in mind was to be careful not to get addicted to the adrenalin rush that comes with undercover police work – I definitely failed at that, but I’ve replaced surveillance operations, search warrants and drug deals as my source of adrenalin rushes with mountain biking!
It’s much safer, usually….