In May 2016, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Carolynn Cuzynski grinded her way from Somerset, N.J., to Washington, D.C., as a first-time participant in the Police Unity Tour.
The 300-mile bicycle ride, held every year, raises money for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Cuzynski, who became an OCSD deputy in 2013 after working as an EMT, signed up for the ride a few months prior at the pursuasion of a friend at the California Highway Patrol.
Never a bike rider, Cuzynski, who grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, took training seriously and completed the ride with thousands of other cops and relatives of fallen officers on a black-and-white Cannondale purchased by her parents.
They were waiting for her at the finish line: her father, Christopher, a retired captain from the San Gabriel Fire Department, and her mother, Susie, a stay-at-home-mom who also worked as a respiratory therapist.
Cuzynski would end up riding in the Police Unity Tour (slogan: “We Ride for Those Who Died”) the following year, in May 2017.
But that ride would turn out to be a far more emotionally grueling experience for Cuzynski, one of the few participants from O.C. law enforcement in the Policy Unity Tour, a ride that always will generate profound emotions in her.
Cuzynski grew up in a family devoted to public service.
In addition to her father, who spent more than four decades in the fire service, her brother, Joseph, has served as a Los Angeles County firefighter paramedic for the last six years.
Cuzynski always was close to her “teddy bear” of a father, as she described him.
“The value of public service and seeing the respect that he had for his partners and the people he supervised – these are the values I try to carry with me,” Cuzynski says of her father, who retired as a firefighter in 2012.
Five months after her first ride in the Police Unity Tour, Cuzynski experienced the worst day of her life.
Chris Cuzynski, 62, was traveling to Reno for a retired police officer’s funeral on Highway 395 near Lone Pine when he suffered an aortic aneurysm that took his life resulting in a solo car accident.
He had served with distinction for 38 years with the San Gabriel Fire Department. Prior to that, Cuzynski served two years as a federal fireman assigned to El Toro Marine Base and two years in the U. S. Forest Service as an Oak Grove Hot Shot.
Throughout his career, he worked with numerous fire associations as a labor representative/negotiator. For many years, he also was a featured instructor at CSFA’s Employee-Employer relations seminars.
His passing was considered a line-of-duty death, and his name was put on the California Firefighters Memorial Wall in Sacramento and Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The tears still come easily these days when Cuzynski, 32, talks about her father.
“He had a great personality,” she says. “He had a huge heart. He was such a helper. He was a true depiction of a public servant.”
After riding in the Police Unity Tour in 2016 and 2017, Cuzynski took a break in 2018.
She was back in 2019 and riding for OCSD Motor Sgt. Matt Davis, who died on Sept. 22, 2002, after a vehicle pulled out in front of him at the intersection of Marguerite Parkway and La Sierra Drive in Mission Viejo and struck his motorcycle.
Davis, 38, left behind his parents, a wife, and three children.
Cuzynski is returning to the event this year, but only as a spectator.
She plans to ride in 2021 in honor of Deputy Carlos Cammon, who died Aug. 23, 2019. On July 18, 2013, Cammon collapsed during a SWAT tryout at the OCSD’s Regional Training Facility in Tustin and slipped into a coma. He was 35 when he died.
“I think everybody that works in law enforcement should go to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Week in D.C. at least once in their career because it’s incredible,” says Cuzynski, recalling the supporters who line the street and the helicopter flyovers that honor the 3,000 riders.
“It’s a very emotional experience,” Cuzynski says. “There are family members thanking you for riding in honor of their (fallen) loved one. It should totally be the other way around.”
After working the jails and serving a stint at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach, Cuzynski became a patrol deputy. She has been assigned to Mission Viejo Police Service for the last 2 ½ years.
Cuzynski initially planned a career in trauma medicine.
She went to Cal State Northridge for two years and spent the next 2 ½ years at Cal State Monterey Bay, which she attended on a water polo scholarship.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in exercise science.
After graduating in 2009, Cuzynski went to EMT school.
“I guess I didn’t realize it at the time,” she says with a laugh, “but apparently I was an adrenaline junkie.”
She earned her EMT license and started working for American Medical Response (AMR) in San Bernardino County. At the same time, she coached boys and girls water polo and swim at Rancho Cucamonga High School.
“I never really put (a career in the fire service) on my radar as an option,” Cuzynski recalls. “I was raised old school fire and women just didn’t do it. Not that my dad wouldn’t have supported me 100 percent. I just never felt like that was an option for me.”
A couple of friends in law enforcement told her she’d be a great cop.
“And I’m, yeah right, whatever. I have no interest in doing that.”
Eventually, Cuzynski got tired of making around $10 an hour doing the same stuff every day.
“So I was, ‘You know what? I’m just going to apply.’ And it was a little bit of a shock to my parents. But they fully supported me.”
Cuzynski entered the police academy on Oct. 9, 2012 and became a deputy the following year.
She says she loves patrol and has no definitive career plans.
“I don’t want to (promote) if it’s something that’s going to be handed to me,” she says. “I want to earn the respect of my partners and my supervisors and when I get something, I want people to think, ‘She’s done her time and she’s earned it.’ I want to be respected in the positions I obtain.”
Cuzynski has kept her EMT license up to date and teachers other OCSD deputies CPR at the agency’s training facility in Orange. She also trains with the OCSD’s Search and Rescue team, and is a field training officer (FTO).
“My dad always used to say, ‘No matter what, you’re a public servant. At the end of the day, you’re there to serve the public.’
“I think a lot of times in law enforcement, we forget that. There’s a time to do business and there’s a time to be kind, and at times we forget those little extra acts of kindness.”
For more information about the Police Unity Tour, visit here.