The police: they serve and protect – and love the Four Days Marches!
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Dutch police – as a group in uniform – joining the Four Days Marches. One of the groups that made up the National Police contingent this year was the North Holland unit. We talked to their enthusiastic commander Ger Zandstra.
Ger remembers a time when he and his fellow police officers were booed as they walked along, but that was in the 80s. These days, it’s one high-five after the other. ‘Yeah, times have changed’, he laughs. Ger was presented his 37th cross this year and for 25 years now has also been in charge of organising the event for the North Holland unit. Thirteen units participated in this edition, with around 300 police officers in all. Ger always personally sees to it that everyone who registers with him turns up at the start well trained. ‘I want to see the people walking. Then I can also give them tips on their walking posture for example.’ And his approach bore fruit: only one person from his detachment did not make the finish.
When asked what makes the Four Days Marches so special, Ger’s answer is almost mystical: ‘There’s no such thing as a typical walker’. He goes on to explain, ‘In no other sport do you see so many different types of people – young and old, big and small, thick and thin... everyone’s equal here. And that creates a real feel of togetherness.’ He’s grateful that he can participate in the event. “I haven’t missed a single edition since my first; that tells you something about my health.’
When Ger talks about the influence of the marches on the bond between the colleague officers he radiates enthusiasm. ‘You really get to know each other here. To be able to complete such a feat, you really have to go beyond your own limits, and that’s something you all do together. That makes you proud, proud of yourself, and proud of each other.’ The Four Days Marches always provides plenty of things to talk about, in the Netherlands and abroad. There is a special bond, for example, with the Calgary Police Service (Canada), who took part for the third time this year. This bond is symbolised by the Calgary Police challenge coin, which Ger always carries with him.
What is Ger’s secret to keeping all his colleagues in good spirits? ‘A positive approach. If someone is having a tough time during the march, I don’t say, “Come on, just two more days to go.” Instead I say, “Come on, the sooner we cross the finish line, the closer we’ll be to the next Four Days Marches.”’
Those are the words of a real fan.
Completely unexpectedly, on Friday Ger was presented the silver ‘dedication’ medal by the event organiser Stichting De4DAAGSE . ‘A great honour,’ says Ger.