HERE'S WHAT'S HAPPENING IN OUR COMMUNITY!

Life Prowess with Mike Winquist

In this month’s interview, Mike Winquist shares a bit of his journey that started in one direction, but ultimately steadily led him into his prestigious and admirable role of Police Chief. Growth is about focusing on where you’re headed and finding ways to manage the more stressful points when things get hard. Showing up and doing the best you can may not seem like you’re making progress in the moment, but Mike’s story reminds us real growth is realized over time, by putting in the work each day.

Prowess:

Hey Mike! I’m excited to talk to you and really appreciate you taking the time to share more about your personal journey with us. As you know, each month we like to highlight a different member. Community is the number one thing most of us love about CrossFit, and we want to encourage more of that. What’s the number one thing that you love about Prowess?

Mike:

Well, the people are number one. You mentioned the community. I’ve been to a lot of gyms throughout my life. I mean, since I was 15, I’ve been working out. I would say I’ve been to 25, 30 gyms. And this is the first gym I really look forward to coming to. The people here are just outstanding. And if you don’t come, you feel like you miss something, you know what I mean?

Prowess:

Or you get texts from me wondering when you’re coming back to class (haha!). 

Mike:

Yeah. I’ve got one of those guilt-texts, haha! But that’s part of what I love. At most gyms, if you didn’t go for two weeks, nobody would miss you. And it was hard to get motivated after working long hours. It’s so easy to get home and just hit the couch and be like, “Do I really want to go by myself, nobody waiting for me there.” It’s hard to self-motivate sometimes. So here, the coaching is outstanding, the people are outstanding, and the workouts are challenging. They change every day. And it really does challenge you, it’s dynamic. You’re not doing the same thing every day.

Prowess:

So you said the community is the number one thing, the people, right? And that’s so important. And that’s part of the reason why we’re doing these interviews because we have so many cool people we want a feature. We think that you’re just such a loyal, awesome gym-goer, but also an incredible human. You really are. And you’re so kind. And although it may feel like you lack motivation, we don’t really see that because you come in all the time.

Mike:

Thank you. Yeah, I’m pretty steady at least four to five times a week. I don’t go on the weekends, I’m getting older. So I like to give my body a couple days to try to rest. And even during the week, there are times you’ve got to listen to your body. And it doesn’t happen too often. Sometimes you look at the workout and think, I don’t like whatever exercise, but I’m still going to come. I’m still going to find something that’s going to work for me. So what’s nice about this place. It’s always non-judgmental. There’s always a scale that you can find.

Prowess:

Modify. Right. So you said you’ve been working out since you were 15. Tell me a little bit about that. What’s your athletic background like?

Mike:

I went to a private school, Providence Country Day School, and you were required to take at least two sports. Athletics was a really big part of the experience there. So I played football throughout my whole time there. I wrestled, I actually did bicycle racing for a couple of years, too. It was a very challenging sport, obviously very cardio-specific. Even the years before that, I tried baseball and other things, but I didn’t really like them. So my main thing was football and wrestling. All the way actually into college too.

Prowess:

What did you go to college for?

Mike:

I went for business management. I went to Providence College for three years. During my third year, the Rhode Island State Police were hiring. I applied and I got accepted. So I had to make a difficult decision to, forgo my senior year at PC and go into to the state police academy.

Prowess:

We know what you chose.

Mike:

Yeah. So I chose the state police and I’m glad I did. I transferred all my credits to Roger Williams University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Then I continued, got my Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. So once I got my education done, I really focused on my career at that point.

Prowess:

If you can think back, what at the time helped you make that decision?

Mike:

Well, my father was a police officer for 33 years. And he really didn’t push me into the career. If I chose it, he would support me. But he never really talked about it a lot. When I started working I worked part-time as a special officer, like a reserve officer in the summertime. And I worked as a park police officer, so I got a little taste of it. And I really enjoyed it. And I said, “I think this is for me.” I actually went to PC for pre-med.

Prowess:

Wow, you did?

Mike:

I wanted to be a dentist. But I took a semester or two of classes and realized it wasn’t for me. It was very difficult studies and I really wasn’t into it. So business was kind of more general so I chose that since they didn’t have criminal justice at PC.

That’s kind of how I went down that path, and I’ve been doing this for more than 32 years. So it’s been a long career. And I’m trying to stay healthy. The idea is a long, enjoyable, and healthy life post-retirement. Sadly, you often see these officers, (it’s a very stressful job) who retire and they die within a year or two of retiring. The average police officer lives like 10 or 12 years less than the average population.

Prowess:

Wow, I had no idea. Have they done studies on that? Is it related to stress?

Mike:

Yeah, and trauma, I think it’s a combination of everything. Years ago we weren’t in tune with that, but now, officer wellness has become a really big focus and initiative across every police department. So now we’re encouraging our officers to work out and be healthy and make healthy choices because you’re working long hours, overnight hours. I did my time doing that, but I’m out of that now. So I’m in an administrative role, but I’m always thinking about how the officers can keep their physical and mental health.

Prowess:

Mental health is huge, especially in your field. It sounds like you really care about your officers. What do you love most about your job and career?

Mike:

I like the fact that it’s different every day. Every day there’s a new challenge, something happens that you didn’t expect to happen. So you really can’t plan, but it’s kind of exciting. I get to see a lot of things, good and bad throughout my career.

I retired from the Rhode Island State Police and became the Chief of Cranston in 2014. So I’m almost eight years there, but I feel like I have a lot left to give. And as long as I feel like I’m making a difference, I’ll keep doing it.

My number one thing is the safety of all the people that work underneath me. I want to make sure that they go home to their families every day. And I want to make sure it’s an enjoyable work environment. That we do the very best for the people that we serve.

Prowess:

Cranston is a big city. And it sounds like aside from being in the field, with everything you’re doing for your team there is a lot of responsibility for you. And that’s a different type of stress. What types of things do you do to help combat that?

Mike:

Is it. Yeah. Well, I always feel better after coming here. You can have the worst day, and you come in here and everybody’s cheerful and happy. And what’s great about it is that I really don’t talk about my job that much. It’s kind of like my refuge here.

And there are so many different people here who do different things and I’m intrigued by all of them. They all have different backgrounds. So it’s kind of nice. When you’re around mostly police officers all day it’s great, but we talk a lot about our careers. And when you come here we talk about anything from, your dogs to what you did over the weekend. It’s a nice escape if you will, to have a different outlet.

And I love that when you come in here, you could be kind of tired, but once you get a little sweat going, next thing you know, you’re in a different world completely.

But besides that to manage stress, I like going to the beach, riding the bike path. Sometimes I just like to chill out and watch documentaries and movies.

Prowess:

Cool, what is the latest one you watched?

Mike:

Uh, documentaries. Yeah. Um, let’s

Prowess:

See. Thank you.

Mike:

I watched one about the vegan woman, who had a vegan restaurant in New York City and she scammed people out of a lot of money.

Prowess:

Oh, Inventing Anna.

Mike:

Yeah. That’s it. Yes. So I thought that was really cool and interesting to watch.

Prowess:

I’m always intrigued by career choice, and not to make it too much about your career, but you’ve spent a lot of your time in your career and devoting your life to this work, right? So, do you feel that you’re fulfilled in your work and the path you’ve chosen?

Mike:

Absolutely. I think that in my current position I can make a lot of decisions that impact the direction that the police department’s going in. Like today we did a training about crisis intervention teams and working with clinicians in the field. It’s a team approach to addressing things like mental health in our community. So like initiatives like that are really important to me. And it’s nice to see or hear the results from the officers and how they’re seeing it make a difference. Being part of that is fulfilling. The officers do unbelievable work. It’s really heroic.

Prowess:

Yeah, it really is. I’d love to hear your perspective on what law enforcement really is through your eyes, because I think that a lot of the time there are misconceptions around it. Or people form opinions based on past experiences. But I’d love to hear your perspective. What is law enforcement to you?

Mike:

It’s a lot different than what many people think. A lot of the time I’ll meet people in the gym and I don’t tell them what I necessarily do. But at some point they figure it out and say to me, “You’re too nice to be a cop,” or, “You don’t seem like your typical cop.” And I say, well, what’s a typical cop seem like? And it’s interesting to hear. I get responses like: someone who’s rigid; someone who is authoritarian; someone who is just out to make arrests or something like that. And the job is actually more like I was mentioning today. We go on so many calls, about 80,000 calls a year for the department, and only 2000 or less of those calls end up in an arrest.

So that’s only two and a half percent. But what everybody sees is that officers sometimes have to use force. And you’ve seen cases across the country that are caught on camera, and it may look a certain way, but also it may not be that way. But law enforcement’s so much more than that. I do a lot of the hiring for our department. And when I interview the people who want to be police officers, I ask them why they want to be a police officer. And every single one says, “I just want to make a difference…I want to do good for my community.” I don’t really hear too often, “I just want to make arrests, you know?” I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s fun to catch the bad guys, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if that’s where you think the job is, that’s only a small part of it.

Prowess:

Wow. It’s so interesting how what’s highlighted in the media and social media focuses more on the negative drama. It really misinforms people and gives a skewed perspective.

Mike:

Right. It’s a really hard job and you’re judged, you know? All the time. And in hindsight, there are officers who make mistakes and there are officers who aren’t good people. Just like in any profession. But I like to think that it’s very rare. If think of how many police officers there are throughout the country, even in Rhode Island it’s close to 3000, and very rare. You might hear one here and there and it taints all of us and it upsets us when we see that, but we recognize that people are human too.

Prowess:

Right. It totally does. I think that we all could use a little bit more grace and perspective. And that’s what growth is all about too. Trying to understand other people and their perspectives.

So tying this growth concept back to Prowess and CrossFit in general, what’s one physical accomplishment that you’re most proud of?

Mike:

I think in general just getting into better shape, losing a few pounds. I struggle with the cardio aspect of it sometimes. But I think like even getting more comfortable with some of the barbell movements feels great. And it’s cool that I can make it through some of these workouts. You feel accomplished at the end of the end and you’re kind of like, oh, wow. That was good.

Prowess:

What is your favorite CrossFit movement?

Mike:

Ooh. Um, I really like cleans, and clean and jerks. Because I like the feeling of putting that weight over your head. Like you’ve accomplished something and it’s not a highly technical like a snatch. But it requires power and strength.

Prowess:

What’s one thing in your life that you’re really proud that you accomplished?

Mike:

I think career-wise I feel fulfilled and have reached milestones I never thought I would. When you become a rookie police officer, you never think of making it to the level of Chief. So to be able to work your way up and be able to make a difference in that regard is rewarding. And I’ve got a great personal life and family with Andrea. So that’s a good accomplishment. It’s amazing all the little dogs that we’ve had along the way.

Prowess:

I love hearing your perspective. It’s nice to learn about where you started, and hear about where you are at in your life now. And it sounds like movement has been a major support in getting you through some of the more challenging times, and also just keeping you youthful and fulfilled. I am so grateful that we get to be that part of your life.   

Mike:

I feel like CrossFit/Prowess is the answer to everything everybody’s looking for. It’s a combination of mental health and physical fitness – everything all in one. And then there’s also the social aspect, like you’re going to make 15 new friends right away.

Prowess:

We’re so honored to have you in our community, Mike, thank you for your service. And I’m also grateful you were one of my 15 new friends 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing a little bit more about yourself with us.

Mike:

Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

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