December 14, 2023

Ehea Schuerch, of Spokane County, says training for The Tactical Games takes discipline and a tough mindset – and has helped her become a better corrections officer.

By Katja Ridderbusch

A nap on a rainy Saturday afternoon. A spontaneous pizza splurge with friends. A weekend trip with the family. Little breaks from the daily grind that are not particularly extravagant. Yet, for Ehea Schuerch, those events are few and far between.

“My life is training and work. That’s it. That’s pretty much all I do,” says the 34-year-old corrections officer and tactical athlete, laughing. It’s not a complaint. She loves every aspect of it.

In her day job, Ehea – pronounced “Eeh” – Schuerch works on the floor and in booking at Spokane County Detention Services, also known as the Spokane County Jail. Before and after her 12-hour shifts, she trains to compete in The Tactical Games. Founded in 2019, it’s a sport that combines “fitness and firearms,” as Schuerch describes it, and tests strength, agility and endurance — both mentally and physically.

“It’s like, can you shoot when you’re tired?” she says. “When your heart is beating so hard that you can barely think, can you still remember the rules? Can you keep going, and how hard can you go?”

The new tactical sport borrows from CrossFit – a fitness regime that involves various functional workouts performed at high intensity, like conditioning, weightlifting and gymnastics. But, unlike CrossFit competitions, The Tactical Games simulate military and law enforcement-style scenarios: obstacle courses, endurance runs, hill sprints, sled pulls, or fireman’s carry. They use handguns and rifles in complex sequences, like precision, long-range and action shooting. Also, competitors wear heavy gear, mainly utility belts, holsters and plate carriers.

Schuerch, with short brown hair and a jaunty smile, first looked into The Tactical Games in 2021. She only started competing in 2022 but has earned a place on the podium in the women’s elite division in each competition she’s entered, including second place at the national championship last year and again, this year.

Ehea’s tenacity and ability to take on a challenge and not be intimidated stands out, says Nick Thayer, owner and president of The Tactical Games. Thayer, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who previously worked in the defense industry, met Schuerch at a CrossFit Competition several years ago.

“She’s loving and warm and lighthearted,” Thayer says. At the same time, “she’s a physical force to be reckoned with, an extremely fit human.”

And extremely disciplined. Schuerch, a high school track-and-field athlete who also played basketball, has a relentless training routine. On her workdays, she typically gets up at 3:30 in the morning, hits the gym for an hour or longer, clocks in for her shift at the jail, goes home and does a dry fire session. Among the guns she uses for The Tactical Games are a Staccato XL 9-millimeter pistol and a Daniel Defense DDM4V7.

On her days off, she puts in more hours at the gym and goes to the shooting range. She follows a strict diet and typically pre-cooks her lunches over the weekend. She tries to get as much sleep as possible. “Six hours is good; eight hours is great,” she says. But she often sacrifices sleep to make time for training.

Schuerch says she couldn’t do it without support from her wife, Theresa, who runs a hair salon and spa. “She’s my agent, she’s my coach, she’s my travel planner.”

Schuerch’s determination is not limited to her life as an athlete. An Eastern Washington native, she graduated from Spokane Falls Community College and worked as a hairstylist before becoming a corrections officer eight years ago.

The Spokane County Jail houses about 700 inmates at any given time, most of them male. Schuerch works with medium and maximum-security inmates. She’s a certified defensive tactics instructor and the only female on the Corrections Response Team (CRT), the jail’s version of a SWAT team.

“I always wanted to be part of it because I knew I was highly qualified,” she says. “It was just a matter of breaking the ice and showing the guys that I had what it took to be on the team.”

Law enforcement and military make up about 50 percent of competitors in The Tactical Games, says Thayer. They usually fare well since they are used to bootcamp-style training and have a solid foundation in marksmanship.

Also, the decisiveness and perseverance necessary to work the streets or jail floors make for a better tactical athlete, says Schuerch. “It takes a certain breed to be a cop or a corrections officer,” she adds. Being able to solve problems quickly and effectively — a must in policing as well as corrections — is another advantage when competing in The Tactical Games.

Vice versa, tactical athletes have more opportunities to train with firearms and achieve a higher level of physical fitness. The latter is particularly critical, as law enforcement officers tend to die at a younger age from heart-related conditions than the average population.

Also, being involved in a high-intensity sport like The Tactical Games helps boost officers’ mental health and resiliency, says Thayer — a topic that only recently made it on the public radar. Law enforcement officers divorce more frequently and struggle with burnout, depression and PTSD at higher rates than the average civilian population. 

Some studies estimate that as many as 30 % have a substance abuse problem. Alcohol dependence is at the top of the list. More law enforcement officers die by suicide each year than in the line of duty, according to the FBI and First Help, a mental health advocacy for first responders.

Training and competing is an invaluable tool to “replace bad habits with another, positive stimulus that creates dopamine, that pushes people to get healthy and stay healthy,” says Thayer.

And simply feel happier, too, adds Schuerch. Over the years, she’s seen friends and colleagues become bitter and cynical, which happens easily “when you work in an environment where people lie to you and try to manipulate you all the time,” she says. “It changes you as a person.” That’s why she says it’s so important for law enforcement officers to have something meaningful outside of work, something “where there’s joy and there are good people.”

It is not surprising that many law enforcement agencies across the country support officers who compete in The Tactical Games — by covering signup fees or providing sponsorships. Agencies also recruit potential job candidates at the games. “Here, at least they find people who are physically fit and proficient with firearms,” says Thayer.

Schuerch has always pushed her limits, and The Tactical Games have driven her to take things a step further in her job and athletic endeavors. She recently received her certification as an EMT. The training, she says, helps her respond better to medical emergencies at the jail — from drug overdoses to heart attacks, seizures and injuries.

And now she is in the vanguard of women pushing into a new arena. The percentage of females competing in The Tactical Games has increased from single digits in 2019 to 25% this year, Thayer says. Schuerch understands and embodies that “there’s opportunity in pushing through adversity, there’s opportunity for growth,” he adds.

A similar mindset is needed for a successful career in corrections. “Let’s not sugarcoat it: Kids play cops and robbers, not jailers and inmates,” Schuerch says. But correction jobs come with certain advantages: Working in a prison or jail is “a much more controlled environment” than policing with its constant exposure to the unknown, she adds.

Corrections can also be a good steppingstone for a career as a cop. Communication is one of the most important tools in law enforcement, she says. As female officers, “we know how to communicate with many different, and often, difficult people.”

Her advice to women looking into working in corrections is to “know that you’ll be working with some rough and tough guys. Know there will be obstacles and challenges. But if you are confident in your skills, you can absolutely do it.”

Photo: The Tactical Games

© Police 1 / Katja Ridderbusch