The Beauty of a Faceplant

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Anyone familiar with the Mounted Police will be aware of a demonic torture device they’ve devised called the P.A.R.E. Or, Physical Abilities Requirements Evaluation. It is kind of like an obstacle course devised by a devil to be inflicted upon the unwary. To undertake, and pass, this evaluation is a mark of honor, because it has been turfing people out of the recruiting process since the mid-nineties. As a prospective member of the RCMP you have to pass the PARE in four minutes or less before you can finish training and earn your badge. As a regular member, at least in BC, you have to undertake the PARE every three years as part of the maintenance of your operational skills.

When I was twenty-two years old, and made up solely of piss and wind, completing the PARE during training was no big deal. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but I never worried about it, and always came in under time without too much trouble. Now, eleven years, thirty-five pounds and three knee surgeries later, the PARE isn’t quite so easy. I spend a lot of time in the gym, but I’m a bit of a meat-head and cardio isn’t exactly my strong suit.

All week, during the course to update my mandatory training, I was worried about the PARE, even though my job wasn’t riding on whether I could pass or not. When my name was called, and I had to step up to the start line, my heart was pounding. I looked around the big training-center gymnasium and saw the oldest guy on the course, Al (who is in his sixties and has been a Mountie much longer than I have been alive) running the course. He wasn’t running fast, but he was getting it done, and he was doing it with a smile on his face.

I figured if a guy who was double my age could run the PARE without complaining, that I should stop being such a sissy and just get it done. So I stepped up to the line and took my turn.

The course is six laps of obstacles (sharp turns, a five-foot jump, six stairs to go up and down twice, two hurdles and a vault), followed by a “push-pull” station. If you want to see what it looks like, you can see it here:

The first lap felt great. I was up and down the stairs two at a time, the hurdles felt like the easiest of hops, and the vault was no problem. By the end of lap two I was sucking wind. By the end of lap three I thought there was no way I could finish. By the end of lap four my vision started to change – it went all white at the edges and my field of view narrowed – and I began to experience auditory exclusion.

Then, on lap five, I tripped going down the stairs and did a full on face-plant. Like, not just a little stumble, but a full-on, sprawling, face skidding across the gym floor while everyone in the room winces, type of face-plant. The facilitator ran up, his thumb poised over his stop watch, and asked if I wanted to call it quits. And, in truth, every part of me, from my freshly bruised face to my quivering legs, wanted to give up. But there was something inside of me, the thing that comes out when I hear someone screaming for help and have to kick down a door when I have no idea what I might find on the other side, that told me to get up and keep going. So I got up and kept going.

I felt like I was going to die, but I finished. And when I lowered the weight on the “push-pull”, the facilitator held up the stop-watch and showed me my time. Four minutes even. I had met the qualifying time, even though I didn’t really have to and had completed a large portion of the course on my face.

I decided, later, as I was struggling to catch my breath and not vomit, that the test had been as much against myself as the stopwatch, and I was infinitely glad that I’d struggled through and not given up.

Later that night, after I had gotten home and badgered my wife for sympathy, I sat down at my writing desk. I did not feel very creative, and I looked at my lap top for a long while before I actually even went so far as to open it, but I started writing. And I wrote a lot. And more importantly, it was good. I had been on a bit of a roll for the past week, since I was stuck out in Chilliwack for the course and had nothing to do in the evenings besides watch television or write, but the day of the PARE seemed especially significant in my progress. While every fibre of my being wanted to go and lie on the couch, I forced myself to sit down at my desk and dig around in that place in me where the stories live – perhaps the same place that sends me through that unknown door.

This year has been a hard one in my writing life, because my general existence has been tumultuous. After my dad died in January I had a hard time engaging my imagination and moving forward on any project. As the year went on it seemed like every time I dredged up some motivation and got a little momentum going, something would come along to slap me down and send me back to the beginning.

But this little experience running the PARE, and finishing when I didn’t think I could, seems to have sparked something in me.

Sometimes, it is not the act of writing that is actually hard, it is the getting our asses in the chair that presents a problem. We have the skill, we have the ability, but what we lack is the work ethic, or what my dad called ‘the stick-to-it-iveness’, to sit down and get the job done.

There is motivation in all of us, and it rests in the same place we find or stories – as well as our courage – and all you have to do is dig deep enough to find it.

As always, thanks for reading.

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