VASSALBORO — Jeffrey Parola still holds one of the fastest times in the mile and a half ever run at the police academy. His frame was thicker, and shorter, than many of his counterparts in the Maine State Police, but what he lacked in physical stature was more than erased by his drive.

“He was most definitely a physical specimen,” said Joe Poirier, who served with Parola on the Maine State Police Tactical Team. “He was just very impressive.”

Parola was killed in 1994 when he crashed his cruiser in Sidney while responding to a report of a domestic dispute, but memories of him have endured. One of the final acts of charity of a foundation established in his memory came to fruition Friday when the Jeffrey S. Parola Obstacle Course was dedicated during a brief ceremony at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

“He’d go crazy on this and try to set a record,” said Parola’s father, John Parola. “It fits him perfectly.”

Several members of the current tactical team, lead by Sgt. Nicholas Grass, were the first to take on the course, which spreads 10 elements over a little more than a mile designed to test upper and lower body strength as well as mental and physical endurance. Parola’s name is emblazoned on a sign at the beginning of the course and on the elements along the way.

“It’s cool,” Grass said. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”

Grass, along with the other tactical team members at the dedication, wore T-shirts bearing Parola’s badge number, 326, and a reminder to “Earn your place here every single day.” The slogan and the badge help the team, most of whom never new Parola, to honor his memory and learn from his example. The team talks about Parola every month, Grass said, and now future cadets who train on the obstacle course will get to learn from him as well.

“A trooper killed in the line of duty,” Grass said. “If that’s not enough to keep you locked in and thinking about what you’re doing, nothing will.”

Parola, 27, had been with the state police for five years when the tactical team was called and asked to deal with a man who had threatened his girlfriend and then fled into the woods with a gun. Parola’s car crashed on Lyons Road in Sidney when he drove through an intersection and hit a guardrail. The car rolled down an embankment.

Parola had moved into a home in Winslow with his wife, Shelley, shortly before the accident.

“He was just getting ready to settle down and start a family here in the area,” state police Maj. Gary Wright said two years ago during a wreath-laying ceremony at Parola’s grave.

Parola’s family started a foundation that helped provide the state police’s tactical and bomb teams with safety equipment, as well as scholarships for students who wanted to attend the police academy. The foundation gave the tactical team about $300,000 over the years.

“The biggest amount of our money was to the tactical team,” John Parola said. “It was all safety-related.”

The Parola family dissolved the foundation in 2013 as many of Parola’s peers began to retire.

“We just wanted to end it that way,” said Parola’s mother, Judy Raymond.

The remaining money was split among scholarships, the tactical team and the academy, which put the money toward an obstacle course. Poirier, who went to work for Cianbro after retiring from the state police, got the construction company to donate to the project as well.

“We’re very fortunate to have their support,” Raymond said.

Academy Director John Rogers said the obstacle course was a fitting tribute not only because of Parola’s passion for fitness, but also because of his time spent training cadets as a fitness instructor.

“Because of Jeff’s passion for teaching and training, we think it’s really appropriate to name this course after him,” Rogers said. “Jeff’s name is always going to be remembered here.”

Academy representatives visited a number of obstacle courses, including some at military installations, to design the academy’s course. Some of the features they saw, Rogers knew, would never pass muster with the academy’s risk management team.

“Anything with razor wire and electricity was off the table,” he said. “I think Jeff would be impressed with this course.”

Rick Desjardins, the academy’s assistant director, said the course is designed to duplicate difficult scenarios the officers could encounter on the job. The course stresses strength and agility, both of which serve officers well, Desjardins said.

“It’s part of the overall general requirements,” he said. “Law enforcement requires someone who is physically adept but also mentally capable.”

The course also is designed to introduce a level of fear so that the cadets learn how to respond appropriately when afraid. Fear is part of being a police officer, Desjardins said, and it is crucial to know how to remain focused when stress settles in.

“If you don’t train people how to react to that fear, you will respond, in a lot of cases, horribly,” he said.

Jeff Parola learned how to respond to that fear so well that he was called on to help train future police officers how to do it.

“He was a go-getter,” Poirier said. “He was always in it.”

Being a trooper was the life Parola had always envisioned, and the one he had worked so hard to create.

“It was his life,” John Parola said. “It was his dream since he was in high school.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4


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