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Comprehensive Airman Fitness: Human body has limitations but human spirit is 'without boundaries'

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Neil Samson
  • Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
I started my career as a non-athletic, Air Force ROTC cadet with no physical talent. On top of that, I didn't participate in any sports in high school unless walking a half-mile round-trip from my house to high school was considered a varsity sport.

I began my first year in college as an add-on, non-scholarship ROTC cadet was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 230 pounds. At that weight, working out always seemed like a chore. The first time our cadet detachment organized a PT session after our leadership laboratory, I was overwhelmed when the upper-classmen cadets led us in a 1.5-mile formation run followed by 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups after the run. I even remember fainting and hitting my head on the paved concrete because I was so exhausted afterwards.

It wasn't until my second year in Air Force ROTC that I was recommended to voluntarily leave the detachment because I wasn't quite making the cut with the minimum standards on our physical fitness test. Keep in mind, that was about 10 years ago when the requirement was to perform two minutes of push-ups and sit-ups and a 2-mile run.

One of the cadre members recommended me to leave ROTC voluntarily and to come back when I was capable of passing the test. I took the recommendation of the cadre member and I decided to find the next few years to establish a newfound respect for fitness.

After I left ROTC, I decided to find something that would cause an itch in my curiosity, yet something that would be fitness related. Riding a bike sounded interesting.

I decided to buy an affordable mountain bike from a name-brand company. I was able to ride the entry-level trails around my home and ride to school and to work at the United Parcel Service a couple of times a week. I really had a lot of fun doing it. Little by little, my family, friends and the mechanics at the bike shop where I purchased the bike noticed I was losing a lot of weight. Yet, I didn't even feel like I was working out because I was having a lot of fun.

One thing led to another and as soon as I picked up biking, I decided to pick up running again. But this time in such a way that I actually enjoyed running. For the first time in my life, I went running, but without the overwhelming feeling I had that day when we had to run 1.5 miles for our first PT session.

One day, I remember my mother giving me an article in the local newspaper on the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon because she noticed that I was consistently biking and running. She was also implying that might be the next logical step in the right direction. But it didn't have to be an Ironman, as my mother explained. She said there were a bunch of shorter distance triathlons I could sign up for and you didn't have to be an Olympic-caliber athlete to participate.

"No human being can do that, let alone me" I said.

First of all, what is an Ironman triathlon? An Ironman is a three-pronged race that you must swim 2.5 miles in the ocean, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon -- 26.2 miles. On top of that, if you wish to compete in the Hawaii Ironman, you have to qualify for it at a separate Ironman competition outside Hawaii, since it is a world championships race and they can allocate only a certain amount of slots.

Fast forwarding to more than eight years after my mother's words, there were a couple of things that occurred over these past years. Eight years later, I was 80 pounds lighter, I was finally commissioned, and it became routine and effortless to score an excellent on a fitness assessment -- even if I was scheduled to take a fitness assessment at a moment's notice.

It is also hard to accept a couple of other things. First, it is hard to accept the fact that people in your unit think you are "torturing" them at weekly PT sessions when I lead them as the physical training leader. And next, it hasn't set in that I have qualified for and finished the Hawaii Ironman World Championships triathlon, twice.

You don't have to race an Ironman triathlon, but the take away to this is when confronting what you might consider as an impossible feat, it is a belief more than anything else. It is a belief in yourself that you can do it and it is a belief that is a learned trait. That's what I think the symbolism of what everything from triathlons, physical fitness tests, sports, career, school and even life. It is the belief that you prove to yourself you can do things you never thought you could.

If someone had said to me after my first Air Force ROTC PT session 10 years ago that you're going to go out and compete at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships two times and be in the best shape of your life, I would have said, "That's impossible, I'm too overweight and not physically gifted to do stuff like that."

It only sets in when you actually achieve something you once thought impossible - your spirit reaches new peaks. It teaches you that you're better than you think you are, and you can go further and accomplish more amazing things than you think you can. In short, your spirit is without boundaries and you can improve your health, your perspective on the future and your life.

(Note: This is the 18th in series of 24 stories for 2011 by Air Mobility Command Public Affairs highlighting the Comprehensive Airman Fitness culture through a "commitment of caring." Comprehensive Airman Fitness, or CAF, is built on "four pillars" of fitness -- physical, social, mental and spiritual fitness -- and five "Cs" -- caring, committing, communicating, connecting and celebrating. "Comprehensive Airman Fitness reflects our commitment to developing a holistic approach to caring for our people that equips, enables and empowers everyone to grow more physically, socially, mentally and spiritually fit," Gen. Raymond E. Johns, Jr., AMC commander said in June 2010 while addressing CAF to AMC wing commanders. "It's not another program, but rather, a means to enhance mission effectiveness by intentionally investing in one another.")