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Team Never Quit: how Jennifer McCreesh has overcome adversity

“Living an active life makes me happy” - Jen McCreesh
Jennifer McCreesh, foreground, with her ParaVolley team. (Submitted photo)

Jennifer McCreesh of Smithers, is a real-life energizer bunny. She has more energy, enthusiasm and positive attitude for the projects she takes on and in her daily life, than three crazed Canucks fans combined.

Often referred to as “Jen the Giant Ginger,” or “Ginger Jen,” these are her self-proclaimed nicknames due to working together with another Jennifer, requiring a unique way of being able to differentiate between the two.

Standing at 6’1” with red hair, McCreesh moves quickly, with purpose, but with the ease and grace of the athlete she is.

McCreesh is a world silver medal-winning athlete having just returned from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina where she competed with Team Canada in the sitting volleyball world championships.

She is also Constable McCreesh, of the Smithers RCMP detachment, and one of the most relatable and positive officers you’d ever hope to meet. Don’t be deceived, as you definitely wouldn’t want to be on her bad side, but McCreesh sees her mission as an RCMP officer as being an ambassador and compassionate member of the wider community.

She takes her job very seriously, but she is also keenly aware all people have faults, and occasional problems, and says “no one should be defined for a bad decision.”

It isn’t specifically remarkable that McCreesh is a world-class athlete, nor that she is an RCMP member, it is her journey, positivity and her never-give-up attitude that sets her apart.

McCreesh always wanted to be an RCMP member in a small northern town. She fully realized that particular dream with her first placement out of Depot (the police training academy for cadets in Regina, Saskatchewan), which was in Fort Nelson, B.C. from 2009 to 2013.

According to McCreesh it was a bit of a “wild west” place at the time, an oil boom town, with a large population (mostly male) of transient working residents, who made a lot of cash and did not always make the best decisions to go with it.

Being the only female officer at the detachment for a time and a “giant” in her own words, she stood rival to her male counterparts and with the uniform and wearing a toque from a distance was often mistaken as “one of the guys.” In this way, she said she became the best drunk meter going.

“If you can’t tell I’m a female in uniform, you are clearly too drunk to be out in public,” she laughed as she related the story.

The experience in many ways fed her keen sense of humour. Being the only member at the detachment who took to bike patrols, she found herself encountering some fairly hilarious reactions from people unused to seeing a cop on a bike on the community trails. “Was that a cop?”, “Was that a woman cop, on a bike?”, “Out here? Whoa, ditch the beers,” were just a few of the reactions that made her laugh to herself.

It was a memorable place for McCreesh, for many reasons.

It wasn’t the kind of place, though, she had in mind to set her roots down, but Smithers was.

“I never wanted to be a nameless, faceless police officer, I wanted to be involved in my community. I also want people to know that I am a person who cares. I want to build bridges and relationships, because it builds trust within the community with police officers, and for police, it allows us to know our community members and people, and to help them, to offer maybe more positive solutions.

“If I can help someone who has made a bad choice navigate that situation so that they can get back on track, that is what I want to do.”

Smithers is where she felt she could accomplish this, but to get here, and continue to serve here has taken more than dedication, it has taken guts.

In the winter of 2009, during an arrest in Fort Nelson, McCreesh sustained an ankle injury, originally misdiagnosed as a sprain. By the time her injury was properly diagnosed in early 2010, she needed major reconstructive surgery, ended up with a serious infection and nerve damage, and was hospitalized with major pain complications.

After surgery in March of 2010, she was able to rehabilitate herself enough to get back to work. One of her goals in rehab was to participate in the Cops For Cancer ride in September.

“It brought together my cardio, my brain and my body working together again, and cycling was a different way I could get my energy out.”

Before her injury, McCreesh ran, not a little but a lot (25 to 35 miles a week), so finding cycling was a hugely positive and enjoyable way to physically challenge herself in a non-weight-bearing way.

McCreesh not only accomplished the Cops For Cancer Tour that September, she went on to ride for five consecutive years in the event.

“It’s approximately 1,000 kilometres that we ride together in the peloton. But there are also the hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres that we put on our bikes and our bodies as we’re getting ready for the ride,” she said. “I loved the endeavour and thought it was absolutely amazing, and I’d really like to do it again at some point.”

During the decade from when she was first injured, McCreesh endured a nightmare of medical complications, pain and rehabilitation, until she finally made a decision most people would be hesitant to do. She elected to amputate her lower leg and ankle. Even that did not go smoothly. She had to have the surgery re-done a total of three times, with all the rehab in between.

In all, McCreesh went through 11 surgeries between 2009 and 2019, but McCreesh did her rehab and worked in between, and she never gave up her positive outlook. She researched everything; doctors, surgery, rehab, prosthetics and she surrounded herself with positive people who would help her return, not only to work, but to the active lifestyle she thrives on.

The ordeal would have challenged the outlook on life for most people, but McCreesh pushed through it all with a positive and sunny outlook.

“I’m Team Never Quit,” she said of herself and the team of people she surrounded herself with, nearly leaping out of her chair with enthusiasm. She does not quit moving forward, ever.

“I got to the point where I was in so much pain, on so many meds, that I didn’t feel like myself anymore, but I knew through all of it, if I could get back to the activities I loved, I could adapt and overcome, and I did, with a lot of support from the best of people.

“I never looked back with any regret, I look at all the opportunities to learn while going through all of this, and I have found my happiness again.”

As a member of Team Canada Women’s sitting volleyball team, who just won silver at the world championships, she has now pointed her radar toward the 2024 Paris Paralympic Games.

McCreesh also recently attended the Pacific Region Training Centre in Chilliwack, BC, to do her recertification for the RCMP, completing this with flying colours. The community will now see Constable McCreesh as she is returning to full active duty in Smithers and living the life she loves.

As if all of this is not enough to keep her busy, McCreesh is “Auntie Jen” to a number of littles. She is also a certified personal trainer and nutritionist, an avid outdoors person, and an enthusiastic crossfitter in her “spare” time.

“I am very passionate about physical fitness and encouraging daily healthy activity,” she said.

She and her husband enjoy the community, have dogs that keep them active and laughing, and love any downtime they can sneak into an otherwise impossibly busy schedule.

This couple has never once regretted their move to Smithers and continue to pursue every adventure the Bulkley Valley has to offer.

“It’s home,” McCreesh states.

“I’m living life with a smile and am happy, it’s busy and crazy and it’s just the way I want it to be.”

Constable Jennifer McCreesh (Submitted photo)
While in Smithers, McCreesh works out everyday. (Submitted photo)