Joe Rivard: The Police Officer Who Keeps Running

Joe Rivard has embraced the running lifestyle. Photo: MarathonFoto.com

The 38-year-old is approaching day No. 2,000 of his running streak.

The suspect fled by foot when a fight broke out at a Helen, Ga., bar. Police officer Joe Rivard darted off, chasing the man through a time-share complex.

Around a corner, past one building, zig-zagging through the maze.

Woefully out of shape at 5-feet-7, north of 200 pounds and a 2-pack-a-day smoker — “I was a heart attack waiting to happen” — Rivard prayed the man wouldn’t escape. Mercifully, the suspect, not exactly the picture of health himself, ran up a flight of stairs. A winded Rivard cornered him and slapped on the cuffs.

The next morning, Rivard told his then-wife that the chase served as a fork-in-the-road experience. A police officer with a young son, it was time to take care of his health.

“She laughed,” said Rivard, recalling the 2007 tale. “It was about the ninth or 10th time I said I’d quit smoking.”

This time, he kept his word. He quit smoking and started mountain biking. Come Dec. 31, 2008, he resolved to run at least one mile every day. The man hasn’t missed a day since.

On June 21, Rivard, now 38, will run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon. Regardless of how painful his body feels the next day, he’ll jog at least one mile, the streak hitting 2,000 days.

“I was going to see if I could run for a year,” Rivard said. “After the first six months, I knew I was going to keep this going. It became part of my life.”

“When I first met him, I thought he was a little crazy,” said Amanda Vassett, Rivard’s girlfriend of nearly four years. “He told me, ‘I’m on this running streak. Have you thought about running?’

“I said, ‘No, absolutely not. I would never run.’”

RELATED: California Cross-Country Coach Breaks Run Streak Record

Rivard’s influence soon seeped into Vassett’s lifestyle. She started hitting the pavement. She’ll run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Half Marathon, her third 13.1-miler. She’s signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon in November, her first go at 26.2.

Rivard lives in Cleveland, Ga., about 70 miles north of Atlanta. He now works as a police officer for the City of Baldwin, Ga., and is a part-time county marshal.

His weight has shifted from 210 pounds to 165, his body fat from 28 percent to 9.

“At the beginning, I ran for me,” Rivard said.

Now, there’s an altruistic bent to his passion.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle Marathon will be Rivard’s eighth marathon during the streak. He has run the last five as part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team-In-Training program, having raised more than $15,000 for cancer research.

He was moved by the cause after losing a 13-year-old cousin to leukemia in 2006.

As part of the Team-In-Training program, runners and walkers adopt an “honored hero” who is battling leukemia or lymphoma.

“Most of them are children,” Rivard said. “You see some of these children, they’re suffering and it’s heartbreaking. The kids are going through a terrible ordeal, yet if you look at their pictures, they’re going through chemotherapy and they’ve got a smile on their face.

“I realize I have this gift to run. I want to let others benefit from it as well. I don’t think I’ll ever run another marathon if it’s not for Team-In-Training.”

As for Rivard’s streak, there have been challenges to keep it intact. On Day 870 he was hospitalized briefly for a colon exam. During the brief stay he told a nurse he needed to work in a one-mile run, the minimum recognized by the U.S. Running Streak Association.

The nurse said that wasn’t possible.

“Then I need to see my doctor, right now,” Rivard said.

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With the doctor’s OK, Rivard slipped into hospital scrubs, laced up his running shoes and with his IV tube taped to an arm, jogged one mile in the parking lot.

Late night 1-milers on the treadmill before the stroke of midnight are common.

So how long will Rivard continue streaking?

“Barring unforeseen injury or accident, it’s going to live forever,” he said.

He cited Harriette Thompson’s example, the woman from North Carolina who ran the Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon at 91.

“If a 91-year-old woman can run a marathon,” Rivard said, “why can’t I run a mile at 91?”

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