Kelly Kennedy wasn’t completely sure what she was going to do for a career when she was young. However, she was pretty sure that if you told her that she was going to be a PE teacher in the military. However, that was exactly what she was told by a palm reader she went to right after she graduated high school.
“I was like, ‘What?’” said Kennedy. “She told me that she saw military uniforms and a PE teacher. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was about to major in Communications. I thought she was crazy and that there was no way that I was going to be a PE teacher because I hated PE.”
That wasn’t exactly what played out for Kennedy, but it could be considered close enough to give the palm reader credit. Kennedy is the fitness director for the largest police department in the southeastern United States. She is not sworn herself, but she is as much a part of the department as anyone else is. Kennedy has also led the design of a tactical obstacle course, and she created a physical screening standard for readiness for the Aviation Unit, Marine Patrol Unit and served as the project manager of a team of physiologists in the development of the minimum standards for fitness for the job of Police officer, K-9 unit and Special Response Team.
Kennedy also created “Fit to Enforce,” her education and consulting company that works to help train police officers to improve fitness and run fitness programs for their own departments. The native of Florida helps educate others about fitness, but when she initially developed an interest, she wanted to find her own way to learn how to get better.
“I was always interested in how I can control the narrative when it comes to my health,” she said. “When I was in college and I started working out, I wanted to be able to answer my own questions. I didn’t really like relying on other people to tell me what to do because every time I asked why, they couldn’t answer the question.”
That commitment to answering her own questions offered her a way to empower herself. As she learned she became better at improving her own fitness, which she says changes based on what her goals are.
“I think generally, my interests change cyclically. I think that boredom is the biggest enemy to keeping fit.
Kennedy went on to become a physiology assistant at a hospital during graduate school, which she would finish with a masters degree in health education. During that time, she became a substitute aerobics instructor when the regular instructor went on a vacation. One of the contracts that was included was for the local police department.
“That was my first exposure to that. I didn’t know that they had a fitness program,” she explained. “They had a fully outfitted wellness program, and it was unlike any other department in the country.”
Kennedy would eventually start looking for a full-time job, and she called the manager to see if he was hiring anyone. That would be the initial connection that kickstarted her current career. Kennedy has since trained and tested with an estimated 4,000 police officers and recruits since 1999. In 2003, she created Fit to Enforce, which gave her the opportunity to travel outside of her area to prepare police and corrections officers for creating and running their own fitness programs.
“Many departments were looking for help, but there isn’t a lot of mentorship when it comes to fitness training for police,” she stated. “When I got to my department, it was the best of all possibilities because they had all the services since 1989. Most departments have not.”
Kennedy’s mission is to help educate those she works with so they can go on to help improve the fitness levels of as many officers as possible so they can be their best for the communities they serve. However, that may be easier to read than do. One concept that she found to be an issue with some recruits is that they don’t realize they have to give up control of their fitness to the department or academy they are going into.
“The vast majority of the work should’ve been done before they got there. When they get there, they have relinquished control of their fitness to the academy. It’s really hard to engage in a brand new fitness program outside of the academy once they’ve already started,”
Kennedy’s personal biggest challenge is finding a way to streamline the process of fitness while dealing with a variety of officers that come from different fitness backgrounds. She explained that this is because they aren’t looking at fitness through the same lens.
“For police officers, that isn’t their main thing. When I travel across the country and talk to them about fitness, it’s a completely new world for them because they’ve really never heard about best practices of police training for fitness until then,” she pointed out. “How could they have? Everything they do is based on the job that they’ve applied to do.”
To make it easier for everyone involved, Kennedy tries to bring the most contemporary approach to fitness that she can. Ultimately, her goal is to help them reach their goals for the departments and themselves. That is why her workshops are a combination of lectures and physical training. She also works to keep those in attendance engaged by being proactive in hearing what they have to say.
“It’s a collaborative approach. No one in the room is smarter than everyone else in the room. Every time I teach, it’s an opportunity for people to bring their own experience and share their challenges with each other. I have the fitness experience, but the people in the room have the law enforcement experience that I don’t have.”
Kennedy will likely work with thousands more people before her career is over. She advised that students and young adults that may want to become police officers themselves can be a step ahead of others by taking control of their fitness early on so they can be better prepared for the academy. Kennedy offers a way to do just that.
“If I were an aspiring police officer, I would look to the unit to see what recommendations they have, if any. From the moment they apply, they should already be training. If they are like the vast majority of departments around the country, then they are going to be focusing a lot of calisthenics, including those that they would do in a para-military setting,” she shared. “Pushups, jumping jacks, sit-ups, because everything is usually done with no equipment. They should also be running, and that includes knowing the right type of running shoes to wear.”
Kennedy went on to suggest that running for sprints and distance as well as incorporating calisthenics at various points of those runs would be best. The work and guidance that she is offering now has the potential to help many more people than those she actually connects with, which is a big deal in her eyes. Kennedy sees a bright future when it comes to fitness and wellness for those that are going to be protecting us all.
“We are on the precipice of being able to make some really good changes when it comes to fitness of law enforcement.” For more information about Fit to Enforce, Click Here!