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Omaha police officer, who is 'tough as nails,' uses CrossFit to stay sharp on the job

Omaha police officer, who is 'tough as nails,' uses CrossFit to stay sharp on the job

Even when Libby DiBiase is ready to drop from exhaustion during her CrossFit workouts, she keeps going.

The workouts — which can incorporate high-rep body-weight exercises and weightlifting — force her to keep thinking and stay focused. That same mentality helps her on the job, too.

DiBiase is in her second year as a police officer with the Omaha Police Department.

“CrossFit workouts force you to think while you’re exhausted, which could be a lifesaving measure on a call,” DiBiase said. “You never know what you’re going to get... You’re on pins and needles all the time.”

DiBiase started thinking about a career in law enforcement about eight years ago. She tested three years later and started the training academy.

“As I was growing up, I had a pretty good upbringing, and I felt I kind of owed my debt to society,” DiBiase said. “I thought I could help the community in a different way.”

Sgt. Kevin Elliott, with the Omaha Police Department, said physical fitness is imperative to a career in law enforcement. Officers never know what they might encounter. One minute they could be driving along and the next they’re chasing a suspect on foot, said Elliott, who was previously assigned to the training academy, where he was in charge of recruit fitness.

The academy is taxing mentally and physically. Recruits follow a rigorous schedule that can include a workout, defensive tactics training and firearms training.

“There are brutally exhausting CrossFit workouts, but nothing can compare to what they put us through in the academy mentally,” DiBiase said.

Elliott said DiBiase was one of the fittest recruits at the training academy.

“She was tough as nails,” Elliott said. “She was always going after it and didn’t back down from any challenge. She was always ready to step up and take it on.”

The Omaha woman has always kept active. As a child, she accompanied her parents to the gym while they worked out. Then she started doing gymnastics, running track and playing soccer.

DiBiase ran track briefly during her time at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During her workouts, she met her now- husband, Joe Westerlin, who got her to try CrossFit.

“It’s the variety and the kind of general physical preparedness that it gives you,” DiBiase, 30, said of the exercise. “It provides a constant state of physical readiness for anything, no matter if it’s life or work.”

DiBiase previously did CrossFit competitions, even participating in the sport’s marquee event, the CrossFit Games. She competed as an individual and on a team.

Two years ago, DiBiase competed on the CMT show “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge.” In a test of strength, stamina and endurance, eight women, including DiBiase, were pitted against each other in head-to-head competitions until one was left standing.

DiBiase had to race up a steep hill, throw sandbags and pull weighted sleds. Her CrossFit experience prepared her for the challenges. She was eliminated just before the final challenge.

DiBiase works in the Omaha Police Department’s uniform patrol bureau. Being in a cruiser most of her eight-hour shift, means DiBiase is used to eating quickly and on-the-go. She packs snacks and a meal.

A snack usually includes jerky, nuts and an apple. A dinner could include chicken, broccoli and avocado.

DiBiase exercises out of the Gretna gym, CrossFit Kinesis. She often exercises with her husband. The couple’s son, Cruz, 8, takes a CrossFit class.

Westerlin said his wife’s goal has always been to be fit. He said her decision to go into law enforcement “just made sense.” Now, keeping fit is key to her career, he said.

“It’s not the only important thing, by any means, but it certainly could save (her) life someday or someone else’s,” Westerlin said.

DiBiase typically visits the gym before work. It’s an outlet to relieve stress and socialize with fellow gym-goers.

DiBiase sported a 14-pound vest for the duration of her recent 20-minute workout at the Gretna gym. She tackled 10 reps of three tasks. She started each round by hoisting a 73-pound stone in her arms and carrying it across a concrete patio. Once she plopped it into the grass, she sprinted across the lawn, weaving through seven tires scattered in a “V” shape. She wrapped it up by climbing a 12-foot rope.

After the last set, DiBiase rested on the stone and sipped water. The workouts prepare her for the unknown.

“Say you do get in a foot pursuit. You’re not going to go in a straight line,” she said.

DiBiase never knows what her shift will entail with the police department. Each day starts with roll call and a recap of happenings during the previous shift. Then she hits her cruiser and waits for calls to roll in. DiBiase said she most often responds to car crashes and well-being checks.

On the job, DiBiase has to think on her feet, especially during traffic stops when she doesn’t know who might be in the vehicle she’s pulled over. In a matter of seconds, her heart rate spikes. She called it “one of the most nerve-wracking things you can do on the job.”

DiBiase said she tries not to push the sport on her colleagues. But it’s good preparation for any first responder.

“First responder work is just an unpredictable environment,” DiBiase said. “Anything can happen and require a variety of different physical demands. That’s how CrossFit helps.”, 402-444-3100,

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