by Ed Pilolla
After retiring from the Los Angles Police Department as a lieutenant in 2006, Marcella Pierson became a personal trainer and landed “her dream job in retirement” when one of her clients showed up to a beach workout session wearing a Peninsula Track sweatshirt.
Her client was Jen Mackenzie, wife of Peninsula High Track coach Mark Mackenzie, and after a conversation on the beach and subsequent interviews with Peninsula boys coach Norm Towers and Peninsula athletic director Wendell Yoshida, Piersol became the new Peninsula girls cross country coach.
Piersol had a successful career with the LAPD but no coaching experience, so Towers mentored her during her first year last year. And now she’s making strides as head coach on her own.
“She’s done a great job for just beginning. I think her background in the police department helped, but she learned very fast the concept of coaching for distance,” Towers said. “There’s a possibility I may retire pretty soon. This is my 51st year. I would not be hesitant to let her take over the boys team as well as the girls team.”
Piersol, 5-2 and 105 pounds, has learned the nuances of coaching high school athletes after learning to supervise the sometimes gruff rank and file of the LAPD.
As a 21-year-old officer, she was paired with grizzled Vietnam War veteran as a partner. In front of all the officers at her very first roll call in 1984, he said, “I ain’t going to work with this little runt.”
Piersol responded: “I didn’t come on the job to work with my grandfather either.”
They became the best of friends, she said.
“They’re testing you, seeing how you are going to handle it,” Piersol said. “You just go with it. They’re only doing it because they like you. They want you to survive. And if you can’t survive, they don’t want you.”
Piersol at 22 worked as an undercover narcotics officer in Venice High School in 1985. She also was a DARE officer in junior high and elementary schools. But her goal was to become a lieutenant, and there were two different paths to that rank: by becoming a detective or a sergeant. Piersol became both, first a detective and then a sergeant, bolstering her resume toward her goal.
As a senior detective, she retuned to supervise her former co-workers still working undercover operations 15 years later. They remembered her as a young officer and were not very welcoming of her as a supervisor. But she prevailed.
“It was my unit,” Piersol explained.
Besides advancing in a managerial culture that is male dominated, Piersol said her challenges as a supervisor were dealing with some tragedies.
One of her officers committed suicide, and she drove to Oxnard to inform the next of kin and then greeted each of her officers as they arrived for their shifts to inform them of the news. Another time two of her officers pursued a fleeing vehicle at high speeds that ended in a collision and death of the underage driver.
“People think you’ve got these hardened, callused officers. They’re not,” Piersol said. “They have to deal with that because their actions led to this. That was challenging.”
She also found that as a woman supervisor, the men were better able to open up about their feelings when they needed to, she said.
Piersol credits her physical fitness and strength for helping her overcome challenges. She traveled on the police department’s running team throughout the country and to Whales and Canada. She’s also competed in 27 straight Baker-to-Vegas races.
Among those who ran alongside Piersol in the department was LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. Piersol worked a number of investigations for Beck, including the O.J. Simpson murder case.
“She brought the same kind of drive to her investigations that she brought to her physical fitness. She was just tireless at it,” Beck said. “She’s got strong people skills, and she’s very committed to the people she leads.”
Among co-workers she earned the nickname Buffy from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar.
“She kind of looked like her,” Beck said. “She was really energetic, a really good detective, very smart but just intensely committed to being in shape.”
Piersol did not belong to a gym while she was on the force because she always worked out in the department facilities, whether at the academy or the division headquarters. When she made lieutenant in 2005 and was transferred to the Harbor Division, she joined the Spectrum fitness center in Rolling Hills because the gym at Harbor Division didn’t suit her needs. At Spectrum, fitness instructors encouraged her to teach the classes instead of participating in them, and Piersol knew she wanted to transition to become a personal trainer.
Piersol teaches spin and boot camp classes at Spectrum Athletic Club in Rolling Hills and at Terranea Resort. In the summer she runs beach boot camp classes at Avenue C where ladies bring their children.
Piersol said the sudden death in December of her close friend Steve Bowen who owned PV Bicycle Center has reminded her to live life to the fullest. They were participating in a monthly century race when Bowen suffered a heart attack.
“Initially, my law enforcement experience helped my deal with the situation but then things settled and it hit my like a ton of bricks,” Piersol said. “This event really took a toll on me emotionally and I am trying now to live each day to the fullest because I know life is too short.”
Piersol, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, surfed and played softball her entire life but didn’t run until she joined the LAPD. Now she’s 50 and running with her Peninsula Track team. In August, she competed in the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast, Ireland and won three gold medals and a silver. Then she returned home to south Redondo Beach and a few days later took several of her runners to Big Bear for some high altitude training.
“I think the kids initially were intimidated by me,” Piersol said. “I think a lot of my law enforcement bleeds over to my coaching style and technique. And once they get to know me they understand how approachable I am and concerned I am for their success, not only in their sport but also in life. The coaching at Peninsula by far is something I feel personally I was made to do.” PEN