Eastside Stories: Diary of a Vancouver Beat Cop – A (very) thin blue line

I could hear my heart thumping in my inner ear, like it was about to explode.

My palms were slick with sweat. Perspiration had dripped from my forehead into my eyes, making me partially blind. It was almost as bad as that time I accidentally pepper-sprayed myelf.

I struggled to focus, adjusting my grip and locking my fingers under foot to control the left leg, which was contorted and kicking toward the back of my head. I looked around for some guidance, but found none. It was clear nobody was coming Code Three to bail me out of this one.

I could see Constable Tyler Urquhart, my good friend and former partner, out of my blurry left eye. He was in rough shape.

To my left was Sergeant Mark Steinkampf, doubled over and panting, with both hands on his knees. In front of me, the Great Toby Hinton —  judo master — looked like he was about to lose his lunch. Here were two of the toughest street cops I know, reduced to trembling legs and pools of sweat.

In one last effort, I adjusted my grip and regained my balance.  I leaned forward and kicked my right leg back while stretching my left arm forward for three…two…one…

“And change. Now it’s time for Tuladandasana — Balancing Stick Pose,” the instructor said, as Constable David Steverding walked out of the studio, looking disgusted and defeated.  “Right leg forward, left leg up, arms out like a T.”

“T is for Torture,” he quipped.

Nobody laughed, and I thought about joining Steverding out in the lobby.

We’d arrived here at Bikram Yoga Vancouver about 45 minutes earlier for what Sergeant Hinton had sold as a team building exercise.

Some police units have summer barbecues and Christmas parties to build morale. Others go to football games or do tough-guy Canadian stuff like ball hockey, laser tag or paint ball.

Csts. Andrew Pope (left) and David Steverding take a stab at the Standing Bow.

But sweaty yoga?

At first it sounded like a great idea — a way to burn off a little steam and have a laugh. It’s been a tough few months around the Beat Enforcement Team, with too many calls and too few police officers. Now, with most of us poised to spend Christmas and New Years walking the beat on Hastings Street, it seemed like the perfect time for a good pick-me-up.

I had been excited for the challenge when I walked into the yoga studio, which was heated to 40 degrees Celsius.  I’ve done two Ironmans, and if I can endure 11 hours of non-stop swimming, biking and running, surely I could handle 90 minutes of stretching.

Or so I thought.

I continued on to the next pose, swinging my right arm under my left then twisting my forearms in front of my face. I sat down in an imaginary chair while swinging my right leg over my left and hooking my foot behind the calf — Eagle Pose. My hips felt like they were on fire and I swore my shoulders were about to break off.

P is for pretzel, I thought, wondering how any of this could be considered fun.

I looked around the room one more time. Sergeant Hinton was now face down on the floor. His cotton t-shirt looked like it weighed 20 pounds. Seriously. Who wears cotton to sweaty yoga? Sergeant Steinkampf was shirtless and seated on his mat, sipping coconut water. Constable Urquhart was putting on a brave face, but it was obvious he was losing the battle. There was still no sign of Constable Steverding.

Sergeants Toby Hinton (grey) and Mark Steinkampf.

“Great idea, Toby,” I heard Sergeant Steinkampf say between sips, possibly realizing this effort to build unity was backfiring and sending morale to an ultimate low.

There was no response.

Then the studio door opened and a rush of cool air followed Constable Steverding in from the lobby — a phoenix rising from the ashes.

As he grumbled over to his mat in the corner of the room, he endured an onslaught of chirps and cat-calls from the troops, who appeared to now be finding their strength in his weakness.

He shot back with a “bite me,” as he resumed the posture, or something loosely resembling it.

It’s then that I remembered why we were all here — to have fun and to make fun of each other. After all, only on the West Coast could a burly beat cop’s manhood be questioned for failing to finish a yoga posture.

It’s said that as police officers we are the thin blue line that separates a civil and ordered society from chaos. Here in the yoga studio it’s a thin line indeed — thin as a pair of sweat-soaked Lululemons.

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