‘We’ve All Won Gold’: GRPD Detective Returns From World Police & Fire Games

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids Police Department detective has returned home after competing in the World Police and Fire Games in Rotterdam, and he did not return empty-handed.

Detective James Vakertzis won a gold medal in this year’s competition.

“It’s not just about me, it’s about the city of Grand Rapids,” he said.

The competitive powerlifter started competing in the World Police and Fire Games in 2019 when they were held in China where he won second place.

“The first time, second place was exhilarating. It was wonderful,” he said. “Most people who go there for the first time usually don’t win a medal because the competition is world class. You lift with some of the world-class athletes who aren’t considered pros, but you lift with some really strong people.

After winning a silver medal in the 2019 contest, Vakertzis was determined to win a gold medal once the games resumed after the pandemic.

Although the excitement of an epic gold medal comeback quickly waned when his 19-year-old daughter Sophia died in a car accident last September. He had no plans to compete, but he said his daughter was one of his biggest supporters and even dragged him down during training.

Detective Vakertzis shows his gold medal and the tattoo of his daughter, Sophia, who died in a car accident. “Sophia was with us,” he said.
(Photo courtesy of Detective Vakertzis)

Earlier this year, he decided to return to the international stage for himself, his daughter and his city. He began intense training and a strict diet to lose weight and prepare for competition.

“This time it was much bigger,” he said.

Vakertzis couldn’t do it alone. The community helped lift another heavy weight that Vakertzis had to carry: trying to figure out how he would get there. Companies and individuals have contributed and donated money for the trip to cover expenses such as airfare, transportation, meals, accommodation, cost of using a gymnasium and more Again.

“The support made me want to win more,” he said.

The competition took place from July 22 to July 31. He competed against 20 other first responders across the country in bench and deadlift, although there were thousands who were up for the competition.

Vakertzis racked up 403 pounds, surpassing his goal in this category and winning the gold medal.

He was just shy of being named Rotterdam’s strongest weightlifter, but failed in the deadlift competition.

“The guy who beat me in China was there, and I beat him this year even though we couldn’t lift against each other. He was in a different age bracket, so I’m kind of redeemed,” he said. “We’ve all won the gold and no one will ever be able to take that path or the city away from us because it’s on the books.”

Next year’s competition will be held in Winnipeg, Canada. Vakertzis plans to win more medals and break a world record by lifting over 700 pounds.

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