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On the Right Track

It really is true that your best work happens outside of the office.

Case in point: a recent run at my local track. A long-time, self-diagnosed workoutaholic, I was spending a beautiful Saturday morning running a few laps in preparation for an upcoming 10K race. After running a few miles on the cushioned track in solitude, a group of 12 decked out in head-to-toe camouflage fatigues joined my “ranks” (military pun intended). After quickly surveying the scene to make sure no official military action or invasion was taking place in Kansas (silly, I know), I finally clued in to what this diverse group of ages and races was doing: their physical readiness tests or PRTs.

After covering military fitness for the magazine for more than two years, I like to consider myself fairly knowledgeable about each branch‘s requirements and programs. However, I‘d never had the opportunity to see an actual fitness test up close and personal (and without government clearance!). It was serendipitous to say the least.

So, the troops lined up at the starting line for their 2-mile run. And, once their sergeant yelled “Go!” they were off. Some faster than others. A couple of the younger and obviously in-shape guys sprinted off and easily finished the run in under 15 minutes. (I decided to time them after they lapped me, not once but twice.) However, some of the older, heavier soldiers took a bit longer. In fact, after just a lap or two they started walking. I imagine that because some of them were older, they probably had higher ranks in the military and were pretty distinguished. Yet, here they the high school track...unable to run even half a mile.

I have spoken with countless military fitness professionals whose sole job is to prepare soldiers, airmen, etc. for this exact thing. They‘ve always said it isn‘t easy--you can only motivate and train someone to a certain extent; eventually the client has to take charge of their fitness. While in a normal health club a person might just fail to renew their membership, a servicemember doesn‘t really have that luxury. They either make the cut, go on probation or get kicked out entirely. (Granted, I have no idea what the past PRT history of these runners is and if this was their first or final attempt to pass the PRT, so the direness of this particular test is still up in the air. However, for added drama, let‘s assume it‘s the walkers‘/runners‘ final chance.)

Here comes the warm fuzzy: Instead of the finishers quietly stretching or watching the last three guys and gals hurrying against time to the best of their ability out on the track, about five of them went out to the other side of the track and ran alongside the winded runners/walkers shouting words of encouragement as they paced them.

This outwardly team-oriented cheerleader behavior really struck me. I have to be honest; it warmed my heart. And sure enough, all three of those in danger of failing picked up their pace and crossed the finish line within their age and gender adjusted time. Once each one did, the team shouted and cheered.

Imagine how the health of the average American might change if every deconditioned layperson got this sort of attention and response when it comes to exercise. My time on the track showed me that everyone needs a cheerleader every now and again--even the military. --Jennipher

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