A lot of people have a hard time getting motivated to stay in shape. But what if you had a weekend job in addition to your regular 9-to-5 gig that required you to keep in stride with—and keep a keen eye on—some of the world’s most elite athletes?
And what if you were also 51 years old? Yes, 51. That’s the average age of National Football League officials.
“The pressure for NFL officials to stay healthy and fit is enormous,” said Jon Poole, who with his wife, Kathleen, is a professor in Radford University’s Exercise, Sport and Health Education Department. Since 1996 the two have worked as health and fitness consultants for NFL officials.
Just before the NFL preseason kicks off each summer, the Pooles meet with the league’s 120-plus officials in Dallas to conduct physical fitness assessments comprising cardiovascular and body composition testing, and agility drills mimicking game-day situations.
“Many of these guys have white-collar jobs throughout the year," Poole said. "Some are lawyers, judges or dentists. Having these sedentary but demanding jobs, they wrestle with weight gain, making the right choices about healthy eating and finding time to exercise.”
Keeping pace with world-class athletes is only one of NFL officials' motivations to stay in shape. Fitness also means job security.
“Everyone wants to be healthier, but these guys have a motivation," Poole said. “They know the fitter they are and the better they’re able to move, the more likely they are to maintain this career. It’s not only lucrative, it’s high profile. It’s fun, and it’s something they take a lot of pride in.”
Official Bruce Stritesky, 50, is an airline pilot who struggles to find exercise time, particularly when he is on duty aboard a US Airways jet.
"Kathleen and Jon are great with taking time to work with us and helping us when we want to reduce body fat or get in better shape," said Stritesky, a Roanoke native who just completed his sixth season in the NFL. "They're always there to provide support. And what's really nice is they're available throughout the year, not just when they come to our clinic in July."
In addition to the annual fitness assessments in Dallas, the Pooles work with officials individually through the year, sometimes on site during the season and other times on the Radford University campus.
Some, including Stritesky, come to campus for the Bod Pod, a “state-of-the-art body composition analyzer that uses air displacement to determine the fat and nonfat components of the human body,” Kathleen Poole said. “The measurement only takes about five minutes and is useful for helping individuals make changes in their body composition.”
In prescribing general diet and exercise plans, the Pooles draw on their years of experience in teaching and promoting physical health. To build regimens specifically for NFL officials’ needs, they also use data gathered during a 10-game NFL game-day study conducted with research colleagues to examine the physiological demands of football officiating.
Officials in the study were fitted with heart and activity monitors before each game, were weighed before and after and measured to determine changes in hydration. The Pooles analyzed the findings and applied the data to a precise plan for building a healthier, stronger NFL official.
"These guys really found this information beneficial," Jon Poole said. "With it, they can see what they need to do to stay fit for the occupation. They need to have some agility, balance and coordination. These are things that are pretty natural when you’re a 15-year-old but not so much when you’re a 50-year-old man."