Her real motivation wasn’t to make history, or be a pioneer, or be publicly celebrated for doing something unprecedented. For Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputy Kelsey Zorc, becoming the first woman to earn a coveted place on the agency’s 15-member Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was all about the adrenaline rush.
“That’s a big reason why I decided to go into law enforcement,” Zorc said. “I could never imagine spending all day sitting behind a desk. I like to be where the action is. And being a deputy, you never know what’s going to happen when you show up for work.
“Being a member of the SWAT team takes that to another level,” she added. “You’re one of the elite, the best of the best, the ones who get called in when stuff goes bad and people need you.
“They’re usually the high-intensity, heart-pumping-type calls, so you’ve got to love the adrenaline.”
You’ve also got to be qualified – physically, mentally and tactically.
SWAT team members must be in outstanding physical condition, possessing the strength and endurance to perform skillfully in pressure situations.
Those physical demands, in fact, are among the key reasons women comprise less than 1 percent of the nation’s SWAT teams.
And it was the physical demands that presented Zorc, who has been a deputy here for five years, with the greatest challenge in her two-year quest to join the Sheriff’s special ops unit.
The team was created 30 years ago, the same year Zorc was born.
“I first started thinking about it a couple of years ago, when I was at a Christmas party at the local CrossFit where I train,” said Zorc, a Vero Beach native who played softball and basketball at Vero Beach High School before attending Indian River Community College and the University of South Florida on softball scholarships.
“I was talking to one of the owners about our SWAT team and told them no girl had ever tried out. And they told me I should do it. That conversation was what got me started. But even after six months of CrossFit, I wasn’t strong enough.”
Zorc’s first attempt – at the September 2013 tryout – ended when she failed to do the required eight pull-ups in a grueling ordeal during which candidates must also run 1 1/2 miles in 12 minutes, do 50 push-ups in two minutes and 15 sit-ups in 90 seconds, then complete an exhausting obstacle course in five minutes.
Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team Commander Lonnie Rich said the tryout is designed to test the candidates’ fitness and mettle when placed under stress.
“The best way to induce stress is through fatigue,” Rich said. “We want to see if they can handle the equivalent of a stressful SWAT call during the heat of the summer in full gear.”
Though she was disqualified only 10 minutes into the tryout, Zorc wasn’t at all discouraged.
Instead, she became even more determined, knowing she had a full year to get stronger.
She went back to CrossFit, where her trainer developed a program to build the strength she would need to successfully complete the SWAT tryout.
In addition to training at the gym during the week, she worked on her stamina on weekends, when she would run on the beach or up and down the stadium steps at the Citrus Bowl.
“When I went back for the tryouts in September, I felt pressure because, after failing the first time, I had a whole year to think about it – every day, every month, every workout,” Zorc said. “Then, all of a sudden, it was here. So I was a little nervous.
“But I knew I was ready,” she added. “Once we started, I was loving it.”
Not only was she up to the challenge, but her future SWAT teammates were rooting hard for her to make it.
“Throughout this whole process, I’ve never heard anything negative,” said Zorc, who, at 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds, is the smallest member of the Sheriff’s SWAT team.
“When they heard I was trying out the first time, they were like, ‘That’s awesome.’ And when I failed the tryout, they told me, ‘You’ll make it next year.’
“That’s one of the reasons I felt so much pressure the second time,” she continued. “I knew how much they wanted me to make it, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
Sheriff Deryl Loar called Zorc’s accomplishment a “monumental moment in the 90-year history of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.”