An all-round achiever
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For the second time in just over a decade, Mike O’Leary has become the recipient of an inaugural police-related honour.
The 61-year-old inspector from Hastings has been named as the first recipient of the Police Sport Lifetime Achievement Award for his participation, commitment and service to Police Sport over several decades.
Mike was also the first Police member to receive the Police Association’s Bravery Award, introduced in 2010, after the courageous off-duty rescue of two children from a crashed and burning van. He later received a NZ Bravery Decoration for the same incident.
In a life full of sporting and career highlights, these awards stand out for Mike, who says he is immensely proud to have been recognised by his peers.
“I’m a very proud police officer. We all are, and we try to do our best in the communities in which we live and work,” says Mike. “I have had the privilege of working and playing beside a whole lot of role models, and I’m honoured to have been considered for a lifetime achievement award.”
Though he points out that it’s not quite a lifetime yet. He’s still working fulltime as the professional conduct manager for Eastern District, still blazes his way around the PCT, and he’s always up for whatever sporting challenges he can find.
Frustratingly, he’s been having to take it easy after shoulder surgery in April for an old sporting injury. Even with the injury, he managed to collect four gold and five silver athletics medals at the Whanganui Masters Games in February. Three weeks later, at the 2021 NZ Masters Athletics National Championships, Mike restricted himself to just three events, winning gold in the shot put, silver in the javelin and bronze in the discus. His injury meant he was unable to defend the national pentathlon title he won in 2020.
At the 2020 Dunedin Masters, he won gold in all seven events he entered (100m, 200m, long jump, triple jump, discus, shot put and javelin), and at the NZ Masters Athletics National Championships in Hastings in late February 2020, he brought home one gold, three silvers and a bronze.
He’s confident that his shoulder will be right soon, and he will be good to go for Masters later this year and for the 2022 Australasian Police & Emergency (AP&ES) Games in Rotorua in March next year.
The last time the games were held in New Zealand, in Lower Hutt in 2012, they marked the start of a decade-long AP&ES medal-winning streak for Mike. That year he threw his hat in the ring for the first time, and, with no training, entered eight track and field events, reaping seven golds and a bronze. “From that, a passion and a focus developed for the games. I had previously focused on rugby sevens where our team had done well.”
In fact, the roots of that passion stretch back to his schooldays in Hastings when he just loved anything to do with sport – rugby, cricket, volleyball, basketball and swimming – but with a special affinity for track and field events.
He went to Otago University to study PE, and play rugby, with the idea of becoming a teacher, or, if that didn’t work out, a police officer. “As it played out, I got the best of both worlds,” he says.
He joined Police in 1983 and, after frontline work in Lower Hutt, was seconded to the Police College in 1986 as a physical training instructor (PTI). Around the same time, district civilian physical education officers were hired to implement the new physical competency test (PCT) that was being introduced.
His own competency on the sports field fitted neatly with his ethos on policing. “It’s about being fit for the job, yes, but it’s also about being ‘fit for life’. It’s about making sure your body is prepared for adversity that may come your way. We spend a lot of time studying and training our brains to pass exams. You’ve got to want to do that for your body too.”
Mike says there is no doubt that the PCT has lifted the health, fitness and wellbeing of police in New Zealand. “Some people might think it’s past its use-by-date, but show me something better? The test has been validated and reviewed by overseas universities and experts and has retained its value while being refined over the years.”
He left the PTI gym-based role in 1990 to become a recruit instructor in law and practice and then, in 1992, when the Ministry of Transport merged with Police, he taught cross-training policing to the former MOT staff.
Among the thousands of recruits and senior course members that he trained were a future assistant commissioner, Tusha Penny (Wing 130), and his current district commander, Superintendent Jeanette Park (Wing 123).
In 1993 he took a sergeant’s job in his home town of Hastings, raising a family of three with his wife, Deb. He was promoted to senior sergeant in 1998 and inspector in 2006.
In 1998, Mike founded, co-planned and hosted the North Island Police Touch Tournament that was held in Hastings for eight years.
He also set up what became, literally, a legendary sevens rugby team. Mike knew a lot of police in Hastings had played senior rugby, so he organised a team of over-35s to enter the NZ National Rugby Sevens tournament held in Palmerston North. Mike’s team beat the national champs, 40-nil. He later drew in other players from Napier and Gisborne and those teams won national titles consecutively up to 2002. He then took the team to compete in the AP&ES Games in Australia and New Zealand till 2014. They hold multiple national and Australasian titles.
“We became ‘The Legends’ and they call me ‘Legend’ for setting it up, being the planner and keeping us all in contact. It’s very nice of the team and we appreciate the camaraderie, the fun and laughter… but when we competed, we didn’t play to come second.”
The list of Mike’s sporting and sport administration and organisational achievements is long, ranging from being secretary of the Hawke’s Bay-Gisborne Masters Athletics Association (responsible for coordinating the NZ Master Track and Field Champs in Hastings in 2020) to being a multiple medal winner in track and field events locally, nationally and internationally.
He was the Police Association Police Sport Administrator of the Year in 2016 and the Sport Hawke’s Bay Masters Sportsperson of the Year in 2020.
He credits his sporting success to “being very competitive and having good genes”. “I’ve never pressed weights. I jog when I feel like it. If I think I’m putting on weight, I’ll do something about it. But, really, I enjoy the competitions and having fun doing what I like. Sport is a passion and I have played with and against some awesome people. I’m just trying to follow my ‘bliss’, doing what I enjoy.”
He’ll keep on track – pardon the pun – as long as he can. “I see people in their 90s still competing. It’s inspirational. I’d like to be one of them. It gives them a focus, keeps them fit and gives them a goal.”
He’s ready to register for the 2021 NZMA North Island Champs this November, the February 2022 Dunedin NZ Masters Games, the AP&ES Games, and then the NZMA National Champs to have a shot at getting that pentathlon title back.
Mike will be presented with his Police Sport Lifetime Achievement Award at a dinner at the Police College on June 10.