Army vet turned Michigan police officer finds international success as competitive power lifter

Michigan police detective James Vakertz is pictured at the Grand Rapids Police Department, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Vakertz won silver in powerlifting at the World Police and Fire Games in China in August.


By KAYLA SOSA | MLive.com | Published: September 19, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (Tribune News Service) — The Grand Rapids Police Department became internationally known after one of its own officers placed second in a world power lifting competition in August.

While Detective Demetrios James Vakertzis is not one for the spotlight, he found himself bringing home the silver medal after competing in this year’s World Police & Fire Games.

“I don’t know how to describe being on that platform and holding the American flag,” Vakertzis said. “The respect and honor you have, to be able to come back and hold that up … We left a mark in China.”

Considered to be like the Olympics, the games take place every two years in major cities around the world. Active and retired police officers, firefighters, Secret Service and first responders come from all over the globe to compete in over 60 different athletic events.

This year’s games were held in Chengdu, China. Vakertzis, 44, competed in the push/pull event against about 40 other people. The event consisted of three attempts to bench press and dead lift.

Vakertzis’ first bench attempt was 365 pounds, his second was 386 pounds and his third was 402 pounds. His first dead lift came to 545 pounds, then 573 pounds and he finished with 601 pounds. Vakertzis came close against another American and a firefighter from Slovakia, both whom had participated in the games before. This was Vakertzis’ first time competing in the games.

“The guy who won gold on me beat me by 16 pounds,” Vakertzis said, of the Slovakian firefighter.

Vakertzis has been power lifting for over 20 years, since he played football in high school. Having grown up in a military family, Vakertzis was athletic growing up. He joined the Army at 17 years old.

“All we did was run,” he laughed, of being in the Army. “I always liked to lift heavy things really good and I hate running.”

Vakertzis started at the GRPD in 2000. Over the years, Vakertzis has done third shift patrol, worked in the vice unit and now serves on the Michigan State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, dealing with cases of child exploitation, child pornography and sex trafficking. He also deals with all the department forensics and major crimes.

“We have to figure out an outlet,” Vakertzis said. “It’s a very good outlet for me to get all the stuff we see that you just can’t unsee, out.”

Vakertzis is goal oriented, which translates well into the sport of power lifting.

“There’s no subjectiveness in power lifting, compared to bodybuilding or weightlifting,” he said. “It’s you and the weight.”

It’s more mental than physical, Vakertzis said.

“The weight doesn’t lie to you, you either lift it or you don’t,” he said. “No one’s going to look at me and say, ‘You know, your pec just doesn’t look right.’ The weight is the only thing. If you don’t lift it, the only person you can blame, pretty much, is yourself.”

In the end, it was a competition, but Vakertzis said his fellow competitors felt like brothers.

“No matter what was going on between pictures, Google Translate and speaking to people, everyone was just nice,” Vakertzis said. “It was a very humbling experience to be there. With all the bad stuff that’s out there in the world, this is one place where you have so many people from so many different … upbringings and nationalities and races, but everyone just was one.”

Vakertzis plans to compete in the 2021 games in Rotterdam, Netherlands. His goal is to win gold and deadlift 700 pounds and bench 450-500 pounds.

This year, Vakertzis was inspired to see a 91-year-old compete in the games.

“I’ll power lift until I can’t do it anymore,” Vakertzis said.

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