Thursday, December 23, 2010

Octogenarian cop keeps young officers in shape

At 85 years old, this hulking Hialeah police officer is the oldest on record in Florida.

   At 85-years old, Hialeah Police Officer Leo Thalassites is the oldest active cop on record in Florida.
At 85-years old, Hialeah Police Officer Leo Thalassites is the oldest active cop on record in Florida.
THEO KARANTSALIS / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD

When a mugger shoved a .357 into Leo Thalassites’ ribs at a Miami parking lot last summer, he got more than a wallet. He got a beatdown.

“He thought I was soft,” said Thalassites, a Hialeah police officer, who, at 85, is the state’s oldest active officer.

Thalassites calmly recalled the night near Southwest Eighth Street when he cracked ribs, knocked out teeth and fractured the skull of a would-be mugger with his bare hands.

When the 6-foot-2, 250-pound thug woke, his blurry vision focused on Thalassites, who was looking down at him, with eyes closed, praying softly in Greek.

“I forgive you,” said Thalassites, before the startled man darted through an alley and called police for his own protection.

Thalassites commutes three times a week to Hialeah from his home in Palm Harbor, near Tampa. He hires a driver for the more than 3-hour commute. His job is to work in the gym to get officers in shape.

The FDLE could not identify another officer who has served at age 85 or older.

“He is still a certified police officer and he has active employment,” said Heather Smith, an official with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

His father, George Thalassites, was a seventh-generation priest who served Miami’s Greek community in the 1940s. He also taught combat fighting to elite Greek soldiers.

The younger Thalassites couldn’t learn to write Greek well enough to be a priest, so his father gave him two life lessons:

• Put “Jesus first” before anything else in life.

• Take care of your body.

He shuns fatty foods and hasn’t had a soda in more than 60 years. He eats measured portions of chicken and vegetables and drinks only water.

“My body is the temple of God,” he said.

On the rare occasion he goes to a restaurant, he chats with the cook.

“I talk to him, see?” said Thalassites, in a thick New England-accent. “I have him show me his hands then I tell him I want it cooked right. Understand?”

Each day at 4 a.m., he springs out of bed to pray, run a few miles, lift weights and punch a heavy bag.

Thalassites, a Marine Corps fight club champion in the 1940s, insists that teaching discipline can save lives.

He joined the Dade County Police Department in 1956, then transferred to Hialeah in 1963 where he was promoted to sergeant and taught defensive tactics.

He has taught self-defense to thousands of officers during his 54-year police career.

Thalassites has trained boxers like Hector “Macho” Camacho, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran.

In 1999, former Hialeah Police Chief Rolando Bolanos and the department honored Thalassites by naming the police gym after him.

The biggest threat to public safety today, according to Thalassites, is out-of-shape cops who are not serious about training.

“Leo inspires confidence in younger officers,” Bolanos said. “He can overpower any man I have ever met.”


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