Power lifter: Chicago officer’s strength rooted in family as he works to elevate community and set records in the gym

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CHICAGO — The famous philosopher Aristotle said: “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.”

Tommy Harrison is the embodiment of that.

He’s a power lifter and a current record holder.

When he is not in the gym, this married father of two boys is spending time with the family or on the job.

Harrison is a 23-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. He believes like many in the ranks these days it’s hard to be aggressive while on patrol. And when someone is arrested even for violent crimes sometimes it’s only a matter of hours before he or she is out of jail.

It’s a frustration shared by Supt. David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“I think the morale is real low,” Harrison said. “It’s hard to do proactive policing. The ones who deserve to be locked up are back out in 24 hours. It feels like … it takes so long to do that paperwork, by the time you finish the paperwork they are out of jail. … Everything, it’s just a microscope which I welcome because I’ve always done my job correctly. But you get a lot of press when it’s police.”

For better or worse, it’s not like it was when he first came on the job, he said. Today, it’s too often waiting for the next emergency 911 call for help.

“In terms of proactive policing, it’s kind of hard to do,” he said.

Harrison strives to help those in need with the goal of creating independence.

“I still do coat drives, toy drives. But I don’t want to just keep giving, giving, giving,” he said. “I want to give you an opportunity to get a job and make money because if I keep giving  to you, you are going to keep expecting me give it. So I’d rather lead you to water and teach you how to drink.”

His father, also named Tommy Harrison, worked for American Airlines for 36 years. His mother Viola worked a variety of jobs all the time.

“My mom, she worked every day,” Harrison said. “She was my Superwoman! I know she is still in my heart because I hear her speaking to me. That sounds kind of weird but you lose a parent, you still hear them talking to you.”

Growing up, church and God were a mainstay, too and remain so to this day.

“My grandfather Alvin Moore, we would go to church every Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday,” Harrison said. “While the kids were out playing we were waiting on the church van to come  I sang in the choir, believe it or not . My mother made us sing in the choir. She played the organ. My sisters sang.”

A good student who graduated from Englewood High School, Harrison played sports and even captained the wrestling team. But it was off the field  where he learned some of life’s most valuable lessons.

Harrison’s mother was a classmate of Avis Lavelle who was Mayor Daley’s press secretary. 

“I had an opportunity to work in the mayor’s office my junior and senior year,” Harrison said. “And that was an amazing experience because it upped my level of exposure.”

Harrison and his wife Kathy, a Chicago Public School teacher, have two boys, 17-year- old Tommy (III) and 10-year-old Timothy. They are public servants at heart. Harrison has taught weightlifting to his sons and other young men and women.

He currently holds the state powerlifting bench record of 905 pounds. But it came at a cost — Two compound fractures in separate incidents on his arm.

Still there is no quit in him. He is currently training to eclipse the 1000 pound bench mark. He regularly uses a variety of  compression bands for safety. 

He dedicates his quest to his parents.

“My mom passed away from cancer, brain and lung cancer. My dad … had cancer in the same year. My dad had prostate cancer. He is in remission,” he said. “My mom passed away December 4, 2016!”

You can learn more about Harrison’s efforts on the Team Viola Facebook Page.

Just last week at the Southern Power Lifting Federation Competition in Harrisburg, Illinois, Harrison nearly broke his record. But he promises to be back in several months to try again. And while the job is more challenging and dangerous than ever, Harrison says, God willing, he’s not going anywhere.

Harrison just held a 5K for his mother and will hold a toy drive in the days ahead.

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