A few nights ago, I was reminiscing with a friend who is known simply as “Tits” amongst the street gangs and schoolchildren of Minneapolis, Minnesota. And also to me. She is, admittedly, large and buoyantly-breasted and has blonde hair. Kind of like a foul-mouthed Barbie doll. Anyway, she and I met back when I was still in the military and running my squadron’s fitness program. She claims we met earlier, but I claim she’s a liar. Like me, Tits started as a Chinese linguist and remained locked and bound inside the NSA; I just fled the scene at my first opportunity, hence, fitness program management. Tits was an amazing linguist, but alas, physical fitness was less interesting to her than watching a documentary on the history of dust.
Everyone knows the military requires physical fitness tests and there are consequences if you don’t pass. Even in the Air Force. Which is funny because when I first joined, we simply had to hop on a bike and ride it for 8 minutes. The catch is that we never knew if we were passing or failing until it was over. They made us do push-ups and sit ups for a few years but the assessment monitors reminded us gently, “Don’t worry. They don’t count.” One friend said after, “Know what I did? One of each.” She then crushed her cigarette out under the bottom of her sneaker. Whereas every other branch was outside dying in the heat or freezing to death in the cold running, doing calisthenics, and push ups, Olympic feats, and beating the shit out of each other, we Airmen watched safely from the windows of the comfortable confines of our perfectly air conditioned or heated office sipping coffee and saying to ourselves, “Thank God I joined the Air Force.”
That all changed in 2004 when the Air Force realized it was way behind in the game and revolutionized its fitness program (I know, pause to laugh). Suddenly, WE had to join those we had scoffed at outside doing all manner of physical movements unknown to the average Airman. Because the Air Force is known as the “Think smarter, not harder” branch, the clever ones raced to their doctor to get waivers. Unfortunately, a component of the fitness test was an abdominal circumference measurement, and unless you were knocked up or had recent surgery, it was happening. Even if you had a sprained pinky finger, which actually got someone exempted from the 1-mile walk test once. This abdominal circumference measurement caused a greater war at that squadron than when the chow hall canceled Taco Tuesdays. I never deployed, but I can tell you, I certainly went to war daily with people who were pissed at the world, but especially me because it was my job to enforce the rules. Once, a senior officer said “Fuck you. You’re an asshole.” to me when I told him he *had* to obey military rule. At that point, thankfully, I was a civilian, so I said back, “Oh, go fuck yourself, sir. Lay off the cheeseburgers. I’ve seen you down in the cafeteria at least three times this week at Burger King. See you in a bit after you fail.”
In any case, if someone failed their test, they essentially belonged to me. It was my job to help coach them, build an exercise program for them factoring in all of their “challenges,” and basically, make sure they passed or they’d be forced out. And I truly cared about them. Granted, I wasn’t always sweet or cheerful about it (by 815am I had been drained of any shred of that I had), but I learned quickly to weed out the ones who really wanted to stay in versus the ones who were trying like lab mice to find any loophole available.
So, being creative and like-minded souls, my friend Larisa and my mentor, the resident exercise physiologist and awesome boss of all the fitness squad, Patrice came up with a 60 day program and a PT schedule that would rival any commercial gym. We had over 40 classes a week at one point ranging from military PT, yoga, Pilates, sports training, run clubs, recess (kids games burn adult calories, y’all), kickboxing, and it goes on and on. Our 60 day program, “BOOTCAMP” was required for everyone who had failed their fitness test. 5 days a week, an hour session each day. For the first week, it was all classroom work- teaching them the fundamentals of health, fitness, nutrition, behavior modification, and overall wellness improvement. The subsequent weeks were comprised of 3 days of PT test-focused drill sessions (running, push ups, sit ups) that increased in intensity but still tailored to each person’s needs. The other two days we made them do the “specialty” classes, like yoga, and kickboxing, and spinning. We taught them how to use cardio equipment efficiently and how to lift weights properly in the weight room. Every week they would have to check in with either Larisa or me just to see how things were going and we’d help motivate them. Of course, there was pushback from those that didn’t want to do it, and there were tears when people didn’t feel they were progressing fast enough to pass. But here’s the thing, at the end of each cycle, if everyone didn’t pass their PT test (I believe our pass rate was 90%), they had improved their score tremendously. Moreover, because they now had the knowledge and had been exposed to so many different ways to work out, they had found things they enjoyed doing. So they kept doing it and continued to pass their PT tests. While some people hated the process, they realized at the end how important it was and were genuinely thankful. That’s what wellness coaching is all about.
In any case, Tits of course failed her PT test and ended up in BOOTCAMP. If there was anything negative that could happen to someone in the military, this girl was destined for it, if not sprinting toward it. Blessed with gigantic breasts and a beautiful smile, she was cursed with a lack of foresight. A smart girl, just not a wise girl. She speaks fluent Chinese but posted on Facebook, “Oh, my God. I have my pottery class final exam today.” I imagined just what everyone else is imagining, but in my mind, a saggy-titted hippy with a gourd necklace is sitting behind this young lass helping her mold spinning mud. She told me during our late night conversation, “You were a fucking bitch to me during Bootcamp!” I simply said back, “Imagine how I would have treated you if I didn’t like you.”
The truth is, those were truly the best years of my life and I forged some of the best friendships in the world. Almost 8 years later, I’m still in touch with so many people and even if it’s just through Facebook, it feels good to still have that connection. I think what makes it even more beautiful is that many of them only knew me as that “fucking asshole” fitness guy. But they rolled the dice and saw that there’s more to me than just that. Not a whole lot, but enough to keep them amused, at the very least.