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April 16, 2014

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One Metro officer’s passions: Fighting crime, penning teen literature

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Sam Morris

Metro officer Beth Choat is seen Thursday, June 2, 2011.

If Beth Choat’s life were a novel, it would read something like this: A girl with four brothers gets talked out of entering West Point, pursues journalism instead and travels the world before fighting crime in Las Vegas.

But when the reporter-turned-officer isn’t donning her Metro Police uniform, she’s often sitting at her home computer writing about other ambitious females — characters in her young adult novels about teenage athletes.

Her first novel, “Soccerland,” debuted in October, the same month she, at age 46, completed field training to become a Metro officer.

“I’m not afraid to jump,” Choat said, explaining her career moves. The northern New York native graduated from Williams College and embarked on a journalism career that included working for Sports Illustrated, ABC Sports and Olympic news services. In 2002, Choat moved to South Africa to pursue freelance radio gigs.

“Africa was truly an eye-opening experience for me because I was seeing danger on these levels I had never seen before,” she said. “Looking back, I took a lot of risks.”

At one point, BBC told Choat it would deny she was working for it if she ran into trouble in Zimbabwe during economic unrest. Other situations were emotionally brutal: Meeting six children who were supporting themselves after their parents died of AIDS.

“I still today haven’t forgotten the faces of those kids,” she said.

Several years later, Choat started writing “Soccerland” during eight-hour visits to local libraries in New York City. She completed a rough draft in six weeks despite never writing fiction.

The story tracks the journey of 14-year-old Flora, a gifted soccer player training at the fictional International Sports Academy, loosely based on Olympic training centers where Choat spent time as a reporter and an athlete growing up near Lake Placid, N.Y.

Choat said her passion to empower young girls motivated her to write the book and fill a void in the young adult literature market, where books with gossip and materialistic themes dominate.

“As a journalist, I covered a lot of elite young athletes,” she said. “I had this unique look into this bizarre world of elite athletics for girls.”

Choat and her husband decided to move to Las Vegas in 2008. She continued editing the novel and pondered her next move, preferably a job outside of media but one that would complement her journalism skills.

She approached Metro about a job posting for an editor without luck. It wasn’t hiring for that position anymore, but a recruiter encouraged her to join the Metro Police Academy.

“Become a police officer at age 45?” she thought.

The recruiter kept encouraging her, emphasizing the seemingly good marriage between journalism and law enforcement careers: critical interviewing, listening and analytical skills.

Like past career choices, Choat decided to take the leap and joined the Police Academy in November 2009.

During the fifth week in the academy, she tore her knee ligament while scaling a wall during an exercise. Armed with a brace, painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication, Choat carried on despite warnings from instructors that she would not receive special treatment.

“I said, ‘If you want me to leave, you’re going to have to tell me to leave because I’m not leaving,’ ” said Choat, the oldest recruit in her class.

Six-and-a-half months later, she graduated from the academy in May 2010 and began five months of field training.

“I feel like it was a combination of luck and guts that kept me in it,” she said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done emotionally, physically, and academically it was very hard.”

Choat said the situations she encounters as an officer can be jarring — reminiscent of her time in Africa — especially compared with her upbringing among a family of educators.

“I didn’t grow up in a house of chaos or addiction or lawlessness,” she said, acknowledging the need to compartmentalize the tragic scenes.

That’s where writing comes in. Choat said it gives her a creative outlet.

The challenge, she said, “is being able to go from a very aware, vigilante state to come and sit in front of your computer and be a 14-year-old girl because that’s what I write.”

She’s busy writing the second novel in the International Sports Academy series, which is about a gymnast who appeared in “Soccerland.”

It’s the constant variety in her life along with the emails from young readers that keep her motivated to juggle her two passions.

“I feel really lucky that I have these two very different things going on — incredible challenges in my life,” Choat said. “Being a police officer is the most challenging career I could possibly embark on, especially at this age.”

Now, she’s counting down the days until she can return to the streets as a patrol officer following knee surgery. Since her operation in the fall, she has been working in the sheriff’s office on special projects.

“I couldn’t have scripted this any better if I had tried,” Choat said.

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