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Police Work Inspired this Couple to get Civilians Into Shape

This isn't about lifting tractor tires or looking like someone in a magazine, but about building the body to stay strong and healthy every day.

In their combined 48 years in law enforcement Ramona and Bob Pursley saw officers injured in all kinds of ways – but not the ones you'd assume.

They weren't getting shot or tackled in fights. They were wrecking knees, shoulders, necks and backs doing simple things, like getting out of a car quickly or reaching up for something in a cabinet, or holding onto a suspect.

Watching so many of their peers get hurt – and the chronic injuries both had sustained in their years with the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Department – led them to design a new "Fitness for Real Life" routine that helps average people the way it has helped police officers in the field.

It was Core training long before the word became a national fad. It was revolutionary at a time when working out for cops meant body building and using weight machines to get buffed. Instead, the Pursleys had officers use lighter weights, but do things that made them use many muscles at the same time.

"You don't lift tractor tires in real life, unless you are a farmer," says Pursley, 55, a lieutenant with 33 years in the Sheriff's Department. "Bench presses aren't going to help you do the things you do all day long.

"Every week I saw someone getting hurt. They were ballistic injuries, not from fighting but from getting out of their cars. Going from sitting to moving quickly without any kind of warm up. When you spend as much time in a car as we do, and then suddenly have to go into action, bad things can happen to your body."

With that in mind, the Pursleys, who may be the area's only married personal training team – and are surely the only married police training team – came up with a program that starts in the middle of a body and works its way to the extremities.

Their clients range in age from 13 to 75. They have helped a 350-pound woman achieve her goal of fitting into an airline seat, and they got a 65-year-old man who was so weak from illnesses he couldn't walk, up and going again.

"This isn't about lifting weights or body building or doing what you read in the magazines," says Bob. "It's about exercising your whole body together and making the muscles work together from head to toe."

No two workouts are the same. The couple who are certified and study continually, design programs for each person and change daily with progress or lack of progress. A lot of it is designed to be done off balance, forcing the body to use muscles it wouldn't use if you were sitting or standing comfortably.

One day Bob will have a client bouncing a 15-pound medicine ball off a wall while doing crab steps. Another time, they could be hitting the speed bag or kicking their coach's gloved hands with martial arts leg snaps.

They alternate aerobic workouts on machines such as the elliptical or treadmill with floor exercises.

They also focus on making sure the exercise is done right. A five-pound weight lifted properly can be more exhausting than a 50-pound one jerked carelessly.

There is no cheating here, and as a result an hour in the gym feels like as much of a workout as a four-mile run or 50-mile bike ride.

But this is no military exercise, ala An Officer and a Gentleman – "Gimme five more Mayonnaise!!" They motivate not by yelling, but with positive words.

"The best thing about it is that it's like family," said Naaman Starling, 51, a police officer at the Monterey the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, who achieved his goal of losing 20 pounds. "They make it fun to workout and you feel like it's a friendship."

Ramona's expertise came at great expense. She hurt her knee in a fight with a convict and luckily, got sent to the same physical therapist used by San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice. What she learned there in twice weekly trips to the city, gave her great tools for helping others.

"I learned when to push and when not to push them," said Ramona, 51. "I know the pain they are going through, because I went through it. I know what it takes to get back to normal."

Ramona sadly retired after 15 years because of her knee, which had to be replaced. She's been fighting other health issues, such as Lupus, but refuses to give up.

"I'm a walking expert of what it takes to get your body going," she says.

"I could stay in bed every day and just not get up, like a lot of people in this condition might do. But I can't do that. I have 6-year-old to get through college and I know I have to keep pushing myself."

Born in Watsonville and raised in Los Angeles, Ramona has faced challenges her whole life, finally finding one she loved with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department. She ran a Watsonville auto shop with her first husband and began long distance running when she had her first baby, pushing a stroller.

Then she responded to an ad for correctional officers and got the job. Facing off her 5-foot 3.5-inch, 120-pound body against bulked up jailhouse inmates, she added weight-training and self-defense to her arsenal and loved her work as a deputy. ("Make sure you get that half an inch in there," she says.)

Her favorite thing about her time in law enforcement was cleaning up the migrant camps in South County and getting them rebuilt legally.

She and Bob met when both were on patrol. They got engaged on New Year's Eve 20 years ago, and every year after they spent the holiday dressed in full riot gear in the backs of police trucks.

"We would gaze lovingly at each other through our shields," she recalls.

Her husband's path was no less challenging. After graduating high school in Ohio and serving at Castle Air Force Base in Merced, he got hired as the second African American deputy in the Santa Cruz Sheriff's Department (there are still only three, one of them, his grown son).

His beat, when he weighed in at 150, was Boulder Creek, still known today as having a let's say, down-home back-country attitude, more like Arkansas than Santa Cruz.

"I was in a fight every single night," says Pursley. "I knew I had to do something to get an edge."

He began body building and studying self-defense, becoming a rock solid 225-pound action figure and eventually becoming a medalist in the Police Olympics, while he moved up through the ranks, working on the SWAT team, the Bomb Unit and reaching the high echelons, directing Patrol.

Later, his own serious back injuries got him to study methods of building strength that worked for daily life. He calls the system BEST, short for Balance, Endurance, Strength and Teaching.

Pursley doesn't just tell clients what to do, he teaches them why, so they can do the exercises on their own and teach them to others.

The couple work out of their own gym in Aptos, but also work for Coast Physical Therapy on 41st Avenue.

They don't believe a person is a success only by reaching their goals, but by taking on the challenge.

"Everyone who walks though that door is a success story," says Bob. "The minute you walk through the door, and you came in here and got started, you are a success."

Reach them at  Functional Interval Strength Training, Aptos.

See Bob Pursley demonstrate the dangers of fireworks here.

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