At a young age, Kelly Kennedy wasn't quite sure what she would do for a living. However, she was pretty sure that if she was told she would become a gym teacher in the military. However, that's exactly what she was told by a handheld reader she went to right after graduating from high school.
"I was like, 'What?'" Kennedy said. “She told me that she saw military uniforms and a physical education teacher. I had no idea what she was talking about. I was about to study communication sciences. I thought she was crazy and there was no way I was going to be a gym teacher because I hated gym.”
That wasn't exactly what transpired for Kennedy, but it might be considered close enough to give palmist credit. Kennedy is the director of fitness for the largest police department in the southeastern United States. She's not sworn in herself, but she's just as much a part of the department as everyone else. Kennedy also led the design of a tactical obstacle course, and she created a physical readiness screening standard for the Aviation Unit, Marine Patrol Unit, and served as project manager of a team of physiologists in developing the minimum fitness standards for the work of the police officer who K-9 unit and the Special Response Team.
Courtesy of Kelly Kennedy
Kennedy also founded Fit to Enforce, her education and consulting business that helps police officers improve their fitness and runs fitness programs for their own departments. The Florida native 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've always been interested in how I can control the narrative when it comes to my health," she said. "When I was in college and starting to exercise, 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."
This commitment to answering her own questions provided her with an opportunity to empower herself. As she learned, she got better at improving her own fitness, which she says changes depending on her goals.
“I generally think that my interests change cyclically. I think boredom is the biggest enemy to staying fit.
Kennedy became a physiology assistant at a hospital during graduate school, which she would graduate with a master's degree in health education. During this time, she became a backup aerobics trainer when the regular trainer went on vacation. One of the contracts included was for the local police department.
“That was my first encounter with it. I didn't know they had a fitness program," she explained. "They had a full wellness program, and it was unlike any other department in the country."
Kennedy ended up looking for a full-time job, and she called the manager to see if he would hire anyone. That would be the first connection that launched her current career. Since then, Kennedy has trained and tested an estimated 4,000 police officers and recruits since 1999. In 2003, she founded Fit to Enforce, which gave her the opportunity to travel outside of her area to prepare law enforcement and correctional officers to build and run their own fitness programs.
"A lot of departments were looking for help, but there's not a lot of mentoring when it comes to police fitness training," she explained. "When I came into my department it was the best of all opportunities because they had all the services since 1989. Most departments don't have that.”
Kennedy's mission is to train those she works with so they can help improve the fitness of as many officials as possible so they can do their best for the communities they serve. However, that might be easier to read than to do. A concept that poses a problem with some recruits is that they don't realize that they need to relinquish control of their fitness to the department or academy they go to.
“Most of the work should have been done before they got there. When they get there, they have relinquished control of their fitness to the academy. It's really difficult to get involved in a brand new fitness program outside of the academy when it's already started."
Kennedy's greatest personal challenge is finding a way to streamline the fitness process while dealing with a variety of officials from diverse fitness backgrounds. She explained that this is because they don't look at fitness through the same lens.
"For police officers, that's not their main concern. When I travel across the country and talk to them about fitness, it's a whole new world for them because until then they really haven't heard of police fitness best practices," she said. "How could they? Everything they do is based on the job they applied for.”
To make it easier for everyone involved, Kennedy tries to bring the most contemporary approach to fitness that she can. Ultimately, their goal is to help them achieve their goals for the departments and themselves. That is why her workshops are a combination of lectures and physical training. She also works to engage those in attendance by proactively listening to what they have to say.
"It's a collaborative approach. body 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 experiences and share their challenges with each other. I have the fitness experience, but the people in the room have the law enforcement experience, which I don't have."
Courtesy of Kelly Kennedy
Kennedy will likely work with thousands more people before her career is over. She advised that college students and young adults who might want to become police officers themselves can get a step ahead by taking charge of their fitness early on to better prepare for the academy. Kennedy offers a way to do just that.
“If I were a prospective police officer I would contact 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 across the country, they will focus on a lot of calisthenics, including those they would conduct in a paramilitary setting," she shared. "Push-ups, jumping jacks, sit-ups because it's usually done without equipment. You should run too, and that includes knowing the right running shoes.”
Kennedy went on to say that running for sprints and distance and incorporating calisthenics at various points in those runs would be best. The work and advice she now offers has the potential to help many more people than those she is actually in contact with, which she sees as a big thing. Kennedy sees a bright future when it comes to fitness and wellness for those who will keep us all safe.
"We're about to make some really good changes when it comes to law enforcement fitness." For more information on Fit to Enforce, click here!