Fit for What: Officer Maria Cortez is ready for push jerks and police patrols

Unless you've seen Ofc. Maria Cortez pull up to CrossFit9 in her St. Petersburg Police Department cruiser, you might not realize the full extent of why she's at the gym. Part self-improvement, yes. But also because in her line of work, fitness is a crucial leg up on potentially life-endangering situations.

Despite the necessity of functional fitness, this 25-year-old Wisconsin native wasn't sold on the idea of CrossFit right away.

"Many of my coworkers, to include my boyfriend, were doing CrossFit. I was bored with the conventional gym. Wasn't seeing results. But I definitely did not think I was 'that girl' that could do CrossFit," Maria says.

Nearing her one- year 9'erversary this summer, Maria looks back at her starting photos (above) and says "I think I was ten pounds heavier." She notes more lean muscle in her upper body and back, definition in her legs, and a leaner waist.

But as impressive as the physical changes are, they pale in comparison to the ones you can't see.

"I'm more likely to push myself. I have more mental toughness. More self-confidence. More body acceptance. I'm less interested in the scale and more comfortable in my own skin."

She notes her favorite milestone so far was putting 100 lbs. over her head on push jerk day.

A few months in: Getting into the swing of things.

Fit For Work

That newfound upper body strength has special meaning to Maria. As a patrol police officer, it's the difference between a successful pursuit and one where the bad guy gets away.

"I want to be able to hop over a wall if I need to, which is tough with a uniform on. But now I can!"

Maria says she's done better on this year's department physical fitness test than in years past, an improvement that paid off in the literal sense. Officers get rewarded with more personal time off.

She notes she performed better than some of her male coworkers and hopes to see more women taking the functional fitness route.

"I feel like a lot of female officers are intimidated by the PT test and don't want to do it because we're outnumbered by males and fear looking bad. Working out in classes at CrossFit9, that doesn't even bother me anymore."

Guns n' Poses: Maria (front and center) flexes with her noon classmates.

Change of Pace

Maria says she feels like she needed to mix things up to expand her social circle, too.

"I wanted to meet new people. I knew that would happen with CrossFit9."

Having started her law enforcement career at a time most 20-somethings are still in college, Maria says she had to grow up a little faster than most. It left her feeling disconnected from old circles of friends and needing to reach out for a new sense of community.

It wasn't comfortable at first.

"I hate change, but I needed change."

She was a little reserved when she first started, but now you could set your watch to Maria's consistent CrossFit9 noon class attendance. She learns her classmates' names, greets them with a warm, sincere smile, and asks about their lives outside the gym.  She's always cheering them on until the last person finishes.

Her advice to someone who is still sitting on the sidelines?

"You have to tell yourself you are going to do it, and step outside your comfort zone. So much growth comes once you do."

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