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Orange County

Police and Fire Games: They Play Hard, Too

Sports: Santa Ana officers host nearly 10,000 athletes in the state's 36th annual competition. Proceeds benefit charities.

June 21, 2002|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As Police Lt. Diane Urban discussed her strategy in the upcoming arm-wrestling competition at the California Police and Fire Games, she just as easily could have been describing how she captures fugitives on the streets of San Jose.

"You have to be very composed," said Urban, defending women's champion in the 35-to-39 age group. "You need to go in fast and hard and you must have a great technique. It's only the two of us up there and it can be pretty nerve-racking."

Urban is one of nearly 10,000 competitors in the 36th annual Police and Fire Games, hosted this year by the Santa Ana Police Department. The games began with 504 athletes competing in 16 events, but there are now 60 events, including pool, darts, skeet shooting, over-the-line (beach softball) and paintball. Firefighters used to hold their own competitions, but two years ago the events were combined.

The games began Sunday at venues all over Orange and Riverside counties and conclude Saturday afternoon. The week of competition will bring in an estimated $9 million dollars to the local economy, according to event officials.

All net proceeds will go to charitable organizations such as the Santa Ana Police Officers Assn.--Widows and Orphans Fund, the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana, and the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

Many of the competitors use the games as motivation to stay fit throughout the year. But others, like Urban, are former high school and college athletes who simply thrive on the competition.

A former three-time NCAA Division II discus champion at Cal State Hayward, Urban is one of the more decorated athletes in the event's history with more than 50 gold medals. She has dominated arm-wrestling--which is officially known as "wrist-wrestling"--and field events in track and field over the last 15 years, despite being slowed by a surgically repaired knee.

Bill Rhodes, a wrist-wrestling official, said competitors should not be fooled by Urban's soft features. "The paint and the polish go away once she steps up to the table," Rhodes said. "It's all guts and it's all business."

Thanks in part to events like this, the days of the overweight cop on the street are slowly fading away, Urban says. "In the old days, you'd see cops everywhere hanging out at the doughnut shops," Urban said. "Now you see them at places like Jamba Juice and the gym. And most of us really watch what we eat."

Jody Williams, 28, a San Jose police officer who will also compete in wrist-wrestling, said her job dictates that she stays in decent shape: "Being athletic certainly helps you do your job more effectively. I don't think there's any doubt about that. And this competition gives us a goal to shoot for each year."

John Stiver, 37, an Orange County probation officer, has come out of semi-retirement to captain his basketball team at the Salgado Center in Santa Ana.

"All of us played some in high school and some of us played college, but we didn't make the NBA," said Stiver, a 6-foot-9, 295-pound center who played at Whittier Christian High and Biola College. "This our chance to play against our peers in law enforcement. It makes it tough on the referees because these guys want to win badly."

Event times and locations can be found at www.pafg2002.org or (714) 245-8421.

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