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This Police Chief Uses Triathlon to Stay Sharp for Fighting Terrorism

The NYPD's Chief of Counterterrorism is an avid triathlete.

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Some people say superheroes aren’t real, but 59-year-old James Waters proves just the opposite. As the chief of counterterrorism for the New York City Police Department, Waters is a real-life superhero—he’s even got the spandex suit to prove it.

By day, Waters oversees the NYPD Counterterrorism Bureau (CB), the city’s first line of defense against the threat of international and domestic terrorism. To say he’s got a busy job is an understatement—in addition to coordinating with federal and state agencies to share intelligence for detecting possible terrorist targets, Waters is in charge of developing strategies to guard against attacks.

Waters, who is a second-generation NYPD officer, considers the job an honor.

“I have served in the NYPD for 38 years,” Waters says. “I appreciate the opportunity to protect and serve the people of New York City each and every day.”

And superheroes need to stay in shape. The hectic schedule of the CB requires a special kind of endurance: “Law enforcement careers are physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding,” Waters says. “Throughout my career, I have always worked to keep my body strong and my mind even stronger, honing the ability to ‘play the mental game’ through concentration and focus.”

The demanding aspects of his career translated seamlessly to his journey as an endurance athlete. In 2018, Waters joined the NYPD Triathlon Team, one of 23 athletics programs for NYPD officers that make up the Police Commissioner’s Sports League.

“I had little background in the sport, but a great interest,” Waters recalls. “When I initially met with the team members and learned about their stories and accomplishments, I was duly impressed.”

Waters wasted no time getting his feet wet; after just three weeks of workouts with his new team, he dove into his first race, the Smith Point Sprint Tri on Long Island. “I was officially hooked,” Waters laughs. This year he tackled his first 70.3 in Virginia. He technically doesn’t have the time to train, but he makes the time because triathlon takes his superpowers to the next level.

“When I’m putting in that hard work, remaining focused and disciplined, and I get to see the results, I thrive.”

James Waters’ Tips

“Training requires making difficult decisions, balancing a hectic work schedule while still prioritizing early mornings, and sometimes even late evening workouts. When I skip a day’s workout, I feel guilty, but I try to rationalize and remember to listen to my body. Every athlete needs to also make rest and recovery a priority—it’s a part of training, too.”

“There are some days that I just don’t feel like I have what it takes to complete a workout; the demands of my job are immense, and there are not always enough hours in the day. On those days, I look to my teammates for the support to do the ride, swim the miles, or get out on the road. Whether it’s a text or phone call, or just scrolling through Strava to see the workouts everyone’s posting, that engagement with my peers gives me the boost of strength and confidence I need to get back out there and get after it.”

For more of James Waters’ story, read “Would You Teach Your Boss to Swim?” here.