SALT LAKE CITY — For years, I've been told how young I look for my age. At 53, sans hair on my shiny shaved head, I have just a few stray gray hairs in my otherwise dark brown facial hair and have avoided the "dad bod" of so many of my contemporaries.
Having spent countless hours in the gym, my relatively slim physique depicts at least some dedication to a "fitness lifestyle." So with that in mind, my (overly ambitious) interest was piqued when an invitation was made for local media members to participate in the FBI Physical Fitness Test — the same test special agents are required to pass in the application phase and during training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
The news release said the FBI was looking to hire approximately 1,000 special agents with unique skills and backgrounds. While this test wasn't meant for us to be applicants, it still was a chance to meet the challenge of the fitness test.
Agents from the Salt Lake field office — who all look like they stepped right out of a training video — would be monitoring me and any other journalist types insane enough to think we would give it a shot. The test seemed straightforward enough — perform the maximum number of situps you can do in one minute, run a timed 300-meter sprint, perform the maximum number of continuous pushups you can do (untimed), then run a mile and a half. Easy-peasy, right? Not!
Driven by the fact that in my younger days I was an avid cyclist, a competitive powerlifter, and participated in numerous recreational sports over the years — and having once been told I resembled "Criminal Minds" and "SWAT" actor Shemar Moore — I figured I couldn't embarrass myself too badly. The problem was, Moore, who has been seen on-camera shirtless on many occasions unlike yours truly and is an actor portraying make-believe characters, wouldn't be doing the real-life test.
No, that would be me, who only had a week's preparation and less than a month ago took a trip to the cardiac ICU after suffering a heart attack on Mother's Day. I know. I must be crazy! But after getting medical clearance from my doctor to participate, I made an early morning trip arriving at 7:30 a.m. to the West High School outdoor track in downtown Salt Lake City to test my mettle. The fitness gauntlet would begin at 8 a.m.
The test was administered by certified FBI physical fitness advisers — the aforementioned super fit guys who could have been from the training video. We were instructed on detailed form in each of the four events and given just five minutes of rest between each exercise. A passing score would require a cumulative total of 12 points, with at least 1 point in each of the four events.
Participating alongside me was local TV reporter Lexie Johnson and my newsroom colleague Natalie Mollinet, 28, who also hadn't had much time to train but who has been an avid runner and worked out regularly and figured, "I can do this. I won't be perfect at it, but it's something I can physically do. I used to do five miles a day, so 1.5 (should be) no big deal."
We would both be humbled mercilessly by 8:30 a.m.
Each of us gave respectable efforts in the first event — situps. After five minutes, then came the 300-meter sprint — which is way harder than it looks on TV during the Olympics. While I finished in decent shape, it wasn't particularly fast and I was gasping for air by the end — Natalie and Lexie, too. Next was my favorite event — pushups. I gritted out 40, but the ladies struggled a bit. Then came the dreaded 1.5-mile run. Having not run a mile in 20 years, I knew it would bad — and it was horrific!
I'm pretty sure Natalie was napping by the time Lexie and I made it across the finish line having nearly lapped us. She was doing her best impression of a real runner and I was doing the slow-motion version of "Chariots of Fire." I was so slow, they deducted points!
Alas, the agony was over and I avoided needing oxygen or a defibrillator. Now I know why all FBI agents look like they could be Clark Kent or Wonder Woman ready to peel off the dress clothes and become a superhero.
Special agent Benton Larsen gave me my postmortem score and evaluation. I had five points before the final run debacle cost me two of them. So much for being in shape for a semi-old guy.
In an attempt to make me feel a little better, Larson noted that as agents get older, the standards change a little, but they are still expected to be in great shape and pass the test annually throughout their tenure with the bureau.
"They make you stay in top physical condition because you have a responsibility to take care of yourself, your teammates and the public," he said. "We are challenged in a lot of different ways. If you're responding to a crime scene, you can be there working very long days out in the elements and walking around all day so you have to be ready all the time."
He said the fit test is an important barometer of how well individuals can handle the physical demands of being a field agent as well as some mental aspects of the job.
"It also allows us to evaluate how committed someone is to the process, how prepared do they show up, can they work through adversity and can they pay attention to detail?" he said. "(From) all those things, we learn do those people have those qualities by watching them in this environment."7 comments on this story
He said most agents come into the agency with a lifetime commitment to fitness and carry that mantra throughout their service. Male and female agents are required to maintain essentially the same level of physical fitness, with small adjustments in testing, he said.
"Those exercises are universal enough and can be done anywhere so it enables anyone at any fitness level to know what's expected of them and if they put forth the effort, they can do it," Larsen said.
If the test is ever offered again, I would love to try with more lead time and training. Not that I would get to 12 points, but I could certainly improve on my initial but less-than-stellar effort.
Now, where's my ice pack?