Burnsville’s Gutzman overcame cancer
A “team player” and “champion survivor” who stayed on the job during treatment for cancer has been named the Burnsville Police Department’s 2019 Officer of the Year.
Officer Roy Gutzman “has the attitude of a lion and will do what he can to help his partners, his supervisors and this organization,” Sgt. Dan Anderson, Gutzman’s supervisor, wrote in a letter nominating him for the honor, announced last month.
Plowing through adversity exemplified traits Gutzman already possessed, as “a leader of this department and someone that the younger officers look up to,” Anderson wrote.
Inspired by “Miami Vice” and other shows, Gutzman always wanted to be a cop. Raised in West St. Paul, he graduated in 1995 from Henry Sibley High School, where his pitching career included a 1994 state baseball championship.
Gutzman graduated with a law enforcement degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and worked for five years for the South Lake Minnetonka Police Department.
His friend Dan Anderson, who was two years ahead of Gutzman at Sibley, was already working for Burnsville and took Gutzman on a ride-along. Gutzman was hired here in 2006.
“It was very exciting, especially coming to Burnsville,” said Gutzman, 42. “It was a lot busier than when I worked at South Lake Minnetonka, a lot more action.”
The kid who once imagined himself working undercover eventually discovered that “being a regular street cop is my passion.”
But years of overnight shifts, especially after having two children with his wife, Sarah, took a toll on his sleep habits and attitude.
“A lot of times you deal with strictly people that can be negative or are intoxicated,” Gutzman said. “You don’t see all the good people out in the community, necessarily, working overnights.”
Seeking a change, he applied for one of the two school resource officer positions at Burnsville High School, where he’s in his fifth and final year. The nights and weekends with his family are great, Gutzman said — and so is the business of building relationships with students and school staff.
He and fellow resource officer Javier Jimenez do have their skeptics among the students, though.
Some “might not like us,” Gutzman said. “Maybe their parents have always said police are not good people. ... But I’ve seen it turn around after talking with (students). And letting them know we are human beings who eat and drink and sleep just like them. When a kid grows up in an environment where they’ve seen negative things, they might think we’re just out there to get them in trouble. We try to prove that’s not the case.”
In the fall of 2018 Gutzman developed problems in his hands and feet. His fingers swelled and he couldn’t make a fist. Blood tests ruled out rheumatoid arthritis. A colonoscopy revealed colorectal cancer.
A lifelong Catholic, Gutzman prayed a lot and wore his cop’s “tough outer skin” as he entered treatment and thought about his children — Aubrey, now 10, a dancer, and Wyatt, now 7, a baseball player.
“I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I was alone thinking about the cancer and thinking about life and so many things I didn’t want to miss out on,” Gutzman said.
He began four months of chemotherapy in January 2019. Gutzman worked light duty during the two-week treatment cycles, on tasks such as assisting investigations, taking reports over the phone and doing licensing and administrative work.
Two months of radiation followed, with Gutzman returning full time to the high school. Surgery was done in August.
“There wasn’t much left of the tumor at all by then,” Gutzman said. “The chemo and radiation treatments did a great job of shrinking it and neutralizing it.”
Gutzman never complained about the stinging in his hands or the lost feelings in his feet and knees he suffered during treatment, Anderson wrote.
More time must pass before the chance of reoccurence diminishes, Gutzman said, but he’s confident.
“I’m very thankful,” he said. “My faith and the support I’ve received from my family and my co-workers has been absolutely amazing. I think when it’s all said and done, it’s going to make me a stronger person. I think it has already.”