It was in the midst of cancer treatments that Cst. Ellen Ruf decided to apply to the RCMP. The single mother of three had worked in an office for most of her life, often taking on two jobs to keep her family afloat. Now having faced a life-changing illness, 50-year-old Ruf decided she wanted to make a bigger mark on the world.
"At that point, I knew there was more for me. It made me realize life is really short," says Ruf. "I wanted to be able to help people and make the world a better place for my kids."
As soon as she was well again, Ruf set her sights on the RCMP. With encouragement from her partner — an RCMP officer — she began the task of applying to the force. She put in the paperwork and immediately began getting back into physical shape.
"I've been told my best qualities are my hard work and determination," says Ruf, who just completed her on-the-job police field coaching in Kamsack, Sask. "Being a little bit older has actually helped me through this process. I have life experiences and I know how to talk to different types of people."
Much like Ruf, Cst. David Andrews decided to join the RCMP later in life, at age 55. Before applying, Andrews worked as a photographer and wilderness guide in the Canadian Arctic. There, he noticed the integral role the RCMP played in northern communities like Grise Fiord, Nunavut.
"That's what initially inspired me to apply — that combination of being exposed to Mounties in the North and the possibility of using photography working in the RCMP," he says. "I've learned that policing is a lot different than what I imagined. It's challenging, interesting and the work is more diverse."
In many ways, Andrews says his previous work experience has helped him become a better police officer. Managing group dynamics, being responsible for people's safety and learning to be respectful of others' circumstances are just a few of the skills Andrews has transferred from being a photographer and adventure guide to policing.
"I learned how to get along with a diverse range of people, and those interpersonal skills have proved valuable," says Andrews. "Those experiences helped define who I am as a person, and those skills are applicable to policing because serving the public is a huge part of our job."
Andrews says his experience has already helped him deal with some tough policing situations at his first posting in Grande Prairie, Alta.
"During my first week, we brought an intoxicated guy off the street and a couple of my colleagues commented on the fact that I was able to develop a rapport with him very easily," says Andrews. "He was being obstinate with other members, so I started a conversation with him. He became amicable and began to work with us instead of against us."
Joining the RCMP as a second career isn't unusual — the average age of a cadet at Depot, the RCMP's national training centre, is 28.
Besides a minimum age of 19, there are no other age restrictions when it comes to applying to the force: any person who meets the RCMP's recruiting qualifications can apply. That being said, older cadets like Ruf and Andrews are still few and far between. Over the last 10 years, only 24 cadets over the age of 50 have graduated from RCMP training.
But Depot fitness facilitator Leslie Frei says age isn't a good indicator of how well a cadet will perform during police training.
"If you're coming to Depot unfit, whether you're 20, 40 or 60, it's going to be a struggle," says Frei, who's been teaching cadets for 18 years. "But if you are fit, some people in their 40s and 50s far surpass our younger cadets because they have that experience to draw from. They know their body."
Frei remembers Andrews surpassing many of his peers at Depot. He excelled in speed and running, coming out at the top of his class despite being the oldest cadet. Likewise, Ruf performed in the top 10 per cent of all cadets at Depot for strength and endurance.
"When you set your mind to something, it's never too late," says Ruf. "I'm proof of that."