Keeping an attitude for fitness

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It's a hot July afternoon at the Portland Air National Guard Base, in Portland, Ore., as the 142nd Fighter Wing Vice Commander Col. Matthew Schuster and Executive Officer Maj. Frank Page take off for an afternoon run.

It would be easy for Schuster to skip the workout and catch up on work in the office or other pressing task, yet like most fighter pilots, he is continually goal oriented.

"Getting out the door is never easy but once I begin, working out is something I like, and actually enjoy doing," said Schuster. "Besides, when you have an ultra-marathoner like my executive officer to get you out the door, I have no excuses."

With the 142nd Fighter Wing members having just completed the annual fitness test earlier in the month, Schuster weighs in on the overall results, where almost 20 percent of the unit failed the test.

He said the Wing is going to have to find the right mix of 'carrots and sticks'... to get its members to buy into fitness as way of life outside of just doing their jobs.

Schuster will retire in the coming months. He didn't need to take his last fitness test but did so, "to be part of the team, one last time," he said.

As difficult as this might be for some Airmen, others in the Wing consistently embrace Schuster's attitude of health and fitness as a way of life.

When not working as an egress mechanic, Staff Sgt. Dwayne Farr has found a way to turn his off duty workouts into representing the Air National Guard at the highest levels.

As one of only 10 members on the Department of Defense road bike racing team, Farr has been competing on the national level Category I pro racing team. The team will meet up and perform two-and three-day stages races and compete against the best teams internationally.
"It can be tough", Farr said. "These guys we go up against do this for a job but we hold our own."

His interest in biking began with a simple goal of just commuting to the air base.

"I got a road bike three years ago from a co-worker, and started at first riding to work and back," said Farr. "Then over that first winter, the riding evolved into a desire to race."

Seven years ago when he first joined the 142nd Fighter Wing, he had a tumor in his ankle that he had to first address before he could enlist.

"There were a few waivers I had to take care of," Farr recalled. "I was involved in other sports and activities before my bike training, so I knew I could probably handle the challenges in the guard," he said.

As the only Air National Guard rider on the DoD team, he recently found a coach to help streamline his routine. Farr trains about 10-20 hours a week, depending on his work load and other mission training.

"My command has been amazing with the support they have given to me," he said.

When he is road racing alone, the events are normally 70-100 mile scenic routes, with a mix of flat open areas and rolling hills. In March of 2013, he competed in the 80-mile Gorge Roubaix, in The Dalles, Ore.

Farr described the course roadway fill with gravel, "a mix of up and downhill stretches, with sufficient wind gusts and plenty of gravel areas."

In the late stages of the race, he got a flat tire.

"It took two minutes or so to get a new wheel but I caught the lead pack of riders and placed-second overall," he said.

The racing and training has helped him understand nutrition and the importance of getting extra rest. He has lost over 35 pounds and recently scored 99.5 on his recent Air Force fitness test.

"My wife is very supportive of my work and workouts," he said. "Often she and I will go ride together on my easy recovery days."

Sometimes competition serves as a motivating factor to help Airmen discover new ways to stay fit and take on new challenges.

When Master Sgt. Anna Persijn, a full time command post controller, was looking to lose weight after having a child, she discovered weight lifting.

"After my first child, I had this weight gain issue and got a personal training," she said. "I loved it, and before long I got addicted with throwing weights around in a gym."

She became a personal trainer for a few years and began to understand the value of eating a more balanced diet.

"Working out with weights and getting into the gym changed my attitude toward health, where at one time in my life I had smoked cigarettes and not taken the proper care with my body."

In 2004 with the suggestion from another fitness instructor with whom she worked part time, she entered her first body building competition in Vancouver, Wash.

"There were 185 competitors and I was first in my class and won the overall title (for women) in body building," she said. "That was a great day!"

Now after the birth of another child in 2009, she has transitioned into the body figure competitions. With two children and working full time with the Fighter Wing, she still is able to devote 10-15 hours a week for her sport.

Persijn is one of the founding members of Team Dream Quest, a national group that competes in figure shape competitions. With over 150 members, they help motivate each other.

"You have to be so disciplined," said Persijn. "For those outside of this group it is hard to understand the sport. We all understand each other; that is why I like to compete."

Often working out in groups helps reinforce the desire to stick with the challenges of staying fit. Finding the inspiration is a key aspect to staying with an exercise and training program.

"Getting older can make working out harder, but you gotta do it because you enjoy it," she said.

Maintaining a high fitness lifestyle does not mean always having to train in a gym of long hours or competing at elevated levels in a fixed sport.

Master Sgt. Jason Lee has discovered the extraordinary joy of being outdoors as a catalyst for his fitness goals and adventures.

"In 2001 I had hiked the first part of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to New Jersey and I finished it the next year all the way to Maine," he said.

Lee has been in the military almost 20 years, the last six as a member of the 142nd Fighter Wing Medical Group.

"I moved here out here (to Oregon) because the outdoor scenic opportunities far outnumbered those from where I was living back on the east coast," he said.

His love of the outdoors began as a Boys Scout in grade school, but with backpacking, "there were always these heavy packs that I didn't like," he recalled. Lee reawakened his love for the outdoors years later, in the Chicago International Airport, of all places.

"I picked up a copy of "A Walk in the Woods," by travel writer Bill Bryson as I was passing through the airport, and it rekindled how I felt about my love for the outdoors," he said.

Right before he moved to Oregon in 2004, Lee caught a flight to San Diego, Calif., and found a ride to the Mexican border. He began a five-month hike of the Pacific Coast Trail, and took it all the way to Canada.

"I average about 30 miles a day on the trail, waking up at 6:00 a.m., getting a quick bite to eat making a few stops for rest during the day before nightfall," said Lee. "When I am hiking, I've learned to take it easy and to listen to my body."

When it came to taking on the next challenge, Lee joined, "The Mazamas", a Portland-based mountaineering club.

"I've taken their basic course, and later that led me to climb Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and some other challenging climbs in the region," he said.

Yet, still other challenges lie in wait for Lee.

"There's still The Continental Divide (National Scenic) Trail," he said.

Lee has found the right balance between staying fit while still challenging him with captivating outdoor adventures.

"The biggest drive for me is to stay fit and constantly be in good shape, because without it you're struggle to find the endurance, and it is just safer to take on some of the objective hazards."

For all Airmen, a key element of military readiness is maintaining a basic level of fitness.

"It's finding those healthy activities that can sustain a basic level of fitness and readiness that are important to all our Airmen," said Schuster.

"For me, when I am working out, it's never about passing the fitness test," said Schuster. "It's about knowing I am doing something for me; that is personal and that it's just part of my overall life style."