Misha Knea strode along the Deschutes River Trail on a recent afternoon while gearing up for the Boston Marathon. The ease with which Knea, 33, clicked off 7 miles not only spoke to her training for the race on Monday, but to the work-life balance encouraged by the wellness program at the Bend Police Department, her employer.
“If you have a hard day at work or at home, whatever the case may be, running is my outlet, no question about it,” Knea said, breathing easily.
“Running is also at the heart of who I am, it’s my identity,” she said. “Going through life changes like having two kids in two and a half years and changing my profession, made me realize I need to focus on running and make it a part of the balance of my life.”
That Knea, the department’s community liaison, can squeeze in hourlong runs a few times a week while on the clock is a testament to the legacy of her mentor Sgt. John Lawrence, who died in 2014 of a heart attack at age 43.
“John was there not only as a supervisor but as a friend. He genuinely cared about you as a person,” Knea said, adding that Lawrence’s name and profession lent him the natural moniker “Johnny Law.”
“He was a family man who was all about his own two kids. Within his profession, he was a hell of a cop. Still to this day, my husband and I constantly talk about balance within our lives, being mindful within the moment.”
Lawrence’s passing preceded several other fatal heart attacks that affected officers close to Scott Vincent, the department’s training sergeant. He decided to take action.
“It forced us as a training unit to go, ‘OK, what are the real threats in our police world?’” Vincent said. “It’s really not the dangers out there on the street as much as it is the stress, sleep deprivations and diet. Those are the reasons that heart attacks are an issue for us.”
The training unit, along with local professionals, came up with the holistic Johnny Lawrence Program, which evaluates factors like sleep, cardiac health, diet, stress and fitness that threaten officer wellness. A pilot yoga program was tested and soon embedded into the department’s current training program. Officers who took the yoga classes soon reported heightened flexibility and diminished aches and pains, Vincent said.
“We need a healthy officer in the department and a healthy officer at home,” he said. “There needs to be a balance there.”
Since 2015, the police department has operated a permanent wellness program that mirrors the Bend Fire Department’s. Employees can dedicate shift time a few times a week to yoga, meditation and group or solo workouts like Knea’s runs. Bend Police employees, who number 135, also access Dr. Andy Barram, a psychologist who also contracts with the Bend Fire Department. They meet for coffee or during ride-alongs to talk about a particular challenge or crisis in the officer’s life. After initial meetings, Barram makes referrals to out-of-house psychologists.
Seventy-five percent of the police department’s 104 officers participate in one or more parts of the wellness program. In 3 years, the department has seen a 55-percent reduction in the cost of injuries, Vincent said. Officers have participated in more than 700 hours of yoga classes.
“Do you want healthy, resilient, physically fit officers? OK, let’s invest in it. Let’s do it,” Vincent said. “We train them how to shoot, drive, how to arrest and about the laws. We know the other element is physical fitness. And then there is the (psychological) component,” Vincent said. “It costs money to run a wellness program, but I’ve already covered the costs of it in one year.”
Knea, however, is a fitness anomaly at the Bend Police Department. Vincent said.
“She’s very talented; she crushes. She adds to the culture of wellness we’re trying to create,” Vincent said. “She shows that a mom of two can get out there, get it done. It shows that you can be healthy and work full time.”
Knea is actually mother of four if you include the two step-daughters she raises with husband, TJ Knea, a Bend police detective. For the New Mexico native, being mindful and present for her family and career involves running — and lots of it. She began her Boston Marathon training last November. At her training’s most arduous, Knea logged 80 mile weeks, which at its most extreme featured a 22-mile run. Knea often runs along the Deschutes River Trail, which she enjoys for its communal vibe.
“I like seeing people with smiles on their faces, even though they’re working hard and hurting too,” Knea said, cinder crunching under her squishy running shoes. “It puts things in perspective and makes you realize that there are a lot of people out there with the same goal, whether it be Boston, a local 5K, or the Haulin’ Aspen (marathon and half marathon).”
Knea is alone among her Central Oregon running friends in her training for the Boston Marathon, one whose course — paved and nearly 3,000 miles away — and legacy may loom less prominently on west coast runners’ race calenders. To Knea’s mind, however, the Boston Marathon is the premiere race. Even registering for the Boston Marathon is an accomplishment, requiring runners to have finished a previous marathon in a certain time determined by gender and age. Knea needed to have run a marathon in 3 hours, 35 minutes or faster. In October 2016, she gave the Portland Marathon her best shot, even though rain soaked her entire race.
“Your clothes are soaking wet; your shoes are heavy,” she said. “But everyone else is running in the rain, too. It made you think, ‘Well heck, they’re all doing it, you can do it, too.”
Knea crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 10 minutes — 13 minutes faster than she needed to qualify for Boston race. Knea couldn’t have known, she said, that she’d give birth to her second child 10 months later. She ran five months into the pregnancy of her second child, giving birth to Monroe Grace on Aug. 8, 2017.
Becoming a mother inspired Knea’s marathon training — and the new role at the Bend Police Department as the community liaison in April 2016. Previously, Knea worked as a patrol officer, having transferred from a department in New Mexico to Bend’s in January 2014. She misses the camaraderie with other officers yet other duties called.
“I knew I needed to be here to take care of my little ones and my family,” said Knea, whose new charge includes overseeing the volunteer and special events programs, such as the Veterans Day Parade.
The new position affords Knea balance — an equilibrium she also strives for come race time.
“Once you find that ‘be still’ moment — the energy that comes out of that is so powerful,” Knea said. “You almost go into a zone and you almost don’t realize what you are doing.”
Despite usual pre-race jitters, Knea isn’t particularly worried about the Boston Marathon’s Heartbreak Hill — an incline around the 20-mile mark that can usher in the cumulative strain of the race — “hitting the wall.”
“Being a runner here in Bend, we have hills in every direction,” Knea said. “The hills don’t scare me.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org