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PADECKY: A bicycle cop you might not be able to outrun


ROHNERT PARK -- We all know the phrase by now, for we have seen it often on the sides of police cars: To Protect and Serve.

Except for this weekend in San Diego.

Law enforcement personnel from all over America will be there to protect the soccer goal and serve a tennis ball and surf, and play billiards and softball and basketball. Fifty-eight events will be held at the 2013 U.S. Police and Fire Championships, including a sniping competition that promises to redefine the phrase "World's Biggest Loser."

Bowling and horseshoes and karting and dodge ball will be played, and right now you're probably thinking, "Dodge ball? Is this summer school for 10-year-olds?"

And then you look at Troy Newton and those questions seem knucklehead silly.

A dish of ice cream contains more fat than Newton.

Newton is a 41-year-old Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy with a lean, taut 6-foot-2? frame that doesn't belong to a couch potato. With his 165 pounds spread evenly and firmly, Newton has the prototypical side profile of what he is: a cyclist, a serious cyclist, an amateur who has competed against the pros. An assistant coach for Team Swift, the Santa Rosa-based, nonprofit youth cycling club.

Newton found cycling late in life at 28. He also found cycling to be the elixir he needed to take if he was ever to truly, fully enjoy his life.

"Thirteen years ago, I weighed 220 pounds," said Newton, a Santa Rosa resident who then produced a Sheriff's identification card from 2000 that looked, frankly, like someone else.

The stress of law enforcement was binding Newton up. Carrying a gun to work every day can do that to a person. He had been a county sheriff's deputy for a little less than six years at that time. He loved the job but, "I needed a healthy outlet" to release the tension.

That's when Newton turned on the television one day and saw this dude tearing up the Tour de France. Cycling up mountains and thumping hard on the flats and never taking a break to have a muffin. Well, that appealed to Newton.

"I'm an adrenaline junkie," he said.

While he was a moderately successful cross country runner at Placer High School in Auburn, Newton found the attraction to cycling irresistible.

"I saw where this guy named Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France," Newton said, "and I said to myself, 'Well, if he can do it, why can't I?'"

Of course, no one who starts cycling at 28 wins the Tour de France. But Sonoma County is the veritable center of the cycling universe for a lot of people. Newton found the right people who gave him the right advice on how to enter the sport intelligently and thrive at it. His immediate goal was to be fit enough to ride against the pros in local events, and he. He did, the Grasshopper and the Twilight series at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds being two of them.

Newton then came across the U.S. Police and Fire Championships. He was intrigued. How could he not be? The competition is in its 46th year. Law enforcement personnel from all 50 states are eligible to compete. That meant men and women from the FBI, DEA, CHP, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Justice, the Department of Fish and Game, city cops, county cops and state cops all will be there. But no Robocops and no lawyers.

In other words, San Diego should be the safest city in America from Saturday until the competition ends Wednesday.

And he will be competing against people for whom fitness is a job requirement. Couch potatoes need not apply. So there may be dodge ball, but the guess here is someone who threw 95 miles an hour in the minor leagues will be there.

Newton will be heading south with two other competitors from the Sonoma County Sherriff's department, sergeant Steve Gossett and deputy Eddie Engram. There will be five different cycling events: time trial, climb, road race, sprint and criterium. Last year Newton won the road race competition. Competitions are divided into age groups. This year Newton will compete in the Open division. He wants to win it all.

Cycling is not only his zest, it has become a conduit for him to reach young people as well. As an assistant coach at Team Swift for the past eight years, Newton works with kids on nutrition, training and attitude. But in what has become a very personal mission to him is this admonition to his young charges: Stay away from drugs.

"To me, and this is just my opinion," said Newton, a third-generation cop, "the hub of crime is drugs and money. To me drugs are the root of all evil. Whether it's burglaries, homicides, assaults, rapes. I've seen so many times that drugs are at the center of it."

Before he entered law enforcement, Newton thought of becoming a teacher. Now he is one, and it doesn't feel like a side job for him, even though it is. It's a way of life he is teaching that will last long past adolescence: healthy, clean, motivated.

"Laura (Charameda, Team Swift director) teaches responsibility, accountability," Newton said. "I tell them never sell out to drugs. Never."

To Newton, that means more than saying no to marijuana. It means staying away from the performance enhancers — the ones that would make someone a faster, more successful cyclist and the ones that lead to embarrassment, ridicule, scorn.

"I've got to look at myself in the mirror at night," he said. "They do, too."

How much of a chance did you take that day? How far were you willing to push it?

This is how far Troy Newton, a sheriff's deputy for 19 years, is willing to push it.

Five months ago Connie Newton gave birth to a boy.

His name is Ryder.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.