Resiliency is the other bounce in fitness

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Renee Wiederspahn
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

Editor’s note: Commentary by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Renee Wiederspahn. This is the fourth article in an ongoing series in which the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center staff and faculty share their perspectives and spark discussion about the organization’s lines of effort.

We all know the PT test is inevitable in the military. To some, it is just another day; to others, it is one of the most stressful things they face every six to 12 months. For the majority of my career, it was the most stressful time every six months.

I became a mom of twins two years into my career (2006), and time was tight with only six weeks of maternity leave and only six months to get back in shape. Not only the short time frame but working 12-hour rotating shifts with two newborns and a military husband also on crazy work hours made it almost impossible. I struggled to pass every PT test with the waist measurement being my biggest hurdle.

In 2014, I deployed to Kuwait. I vowed to work out during my time overseas, eat right, and lose weight. I lost 35 pounds during my six-month deployment with the help of my teammates and determination and was feeling better than I ever had in my career. I had to buy all new uniforms, and I earned my first 96 on my PT test! I also sold all my “fat” clothes and swore I would never go back.

My resiliency paid off, but life at home crept up on me, and a year later I had gained the weight all back and was back to an average test score.

Fast forward two years, my twins were 10, and I could no longer blame being out of shape on them. I did not work 12-hour rotating shifts, yet I was still overweight and out of shape. The weight loss I so proudly achieved during my deployment was long gone. I was back to square one.

Then I was given the fantastic opportunity to become a professional military education instructor! It was my dream job, and I wanted to make the most of it.

A permanent change of station makes military life hectic and demanding. Mine came with fast food and hotel living, moving my family across the country, a six-week instructor school, buying a house, etc. Then came the classroom, with very long hours going over lesson plans, slide shows, grading papers, and so much more. Fitting time in to work out, or even to eat right, was just not my focus.

That is when I failed my fitness test for the first time in my career; although, I met the minimum pushups, sit-ups, and run time, they only got me to a 72 due to my waist measurement.

I felt humiliated, but somehow that failure was not enough to truly change my ways. I came back, and passed my next test, but only with an average score, in the mid-80s.

A striking realization came to me about six months later, when I was put in charge of Human Performance for the hundreds of enlisted PME students who attend classes here at the U.S. Air Force’s largest EPME center. I thought, “there is no way that I can stand up here the way that I look and tell these students how they should be working hard, getting in shape, and being ready at all times.”

That epiphany changed my entire thought process, including the way I eat and how I feel about fitness. I recalled that personal promise to stay fit that I had made to myself years before.

Once again, my ability to bounce back, in my process of change, I lost 50 pounds! I had to get all new uniforms again, and even a new official photo for my classroom biography. I earned my personal best fitness-test score with a 96.1! I have kept the weight off for two years and have now scored Excellent on two successive fitness tests.

Here is my lesson: life and service never stop requiring our resiliency to move forward. My ability to bounce back from adversity is the reason why I stand in front of students today and actually look the part of the instructor who maintains themselves above standards.

(Sergeant Wiederspahn is a professional military education instructor for the Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted PME Center.)