a day in the life of a soldier: meet sara!

Happy (almost) Fourth of July! This year the holiday is especially important to me as my brother is out in Kuwait serving our country (and hopefully returning home soon!). My family, since they are related to an active soldier, get to walk in our hometown’s Fourth of July parade, and NJ Governor Chris Christie is headlining it, so this year is quite a good parade to walk in!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to deploy to a foreign country? Well today I am going to give y’all a glimpse into the health + fitness life of a deployed soldier! First Lieutenant Sara Mathewson, Mobility Officer for a Movement Control Team, was deployed to Shindand Airbase in Regional Command West, Afghanistan from May 2012 to the end of January 2013. She was always an active person, but shipping off overseas gave her the time to really focus on her fitness. I knew I had to pick her brain to hear about life over there. I’ve always wondered about soldiers and how they get fit!

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Some fun questions I had for Sara:

  • Favorite workout? Treadmill run (but I also hate it) because I feel so good after doing it
  • Dream workout? Paddleboarding or kite surfing in the Carribbean!
  • Favorite cheat food? Pizza rolls
  • A silly fact about herself: I did have a hot pink silk pillowcase that a family friend made for me while I was there that I used and took EVERYWHERE. Now that I am home I seriously can’t sleep without it!

Now onto the real stuff!

What was a typical day like for you out there?

We had a very easy schedule because we worked so heavily with contractors who only work 9-5 jobs out there. I would generally wake up around 5, work out for about 30 minutes, shower, be in our Tactical Operating Center (TOC) at 8, do some work. I was the supply representative for my unit and I was also the Officer in Charge of the rotary wing terminal where we would load and unload the helicopters. After that, lunch, work some more, then leave anywhere between 3 and 6 depending on the day, go work out again and then either be done for the day or come back to the TOC to do some reports or whatever needed to be done.

In terms of fitness, were there reasonable options for everyone to use?

There was a lot for people to use. A fully stocked gym and cardio center about 100 feet from our living tent. Tons of weights, treadmills, and ellipticals. There was a mile long running track on the base as well but it was very hard to run outside because of the dust, wind, and altitude so we just used treadmills most of the time.  There were two other huge gyms on base as well but they had to be driven to.

Did you have your own fitness regimen out there? Please describe your typical schedule.

I worked out everyday with my commander and another NCO from my unit. In the mornings about 3 times a week we would do a 30 minute run that my commander introduced us to. You start off at a slow and maintainable speed, and every minute that goes by you increase one incline. You do this until you hit 15 minutes so you are running at a full incline. After that 15 minutes has passed, each minute you decrease one incline and increase one point in speed. You do this to 31 minutes and you are done! It is sooo hard. Over time when you get used to it you start to increase the speed that you begin with to continue challenging yourself. At the end of the day we would do Insanity and P90X. We ordered the stuff we needed for P90X online. We graduated Insanity and P90X once and then towards the end we combined the two and called it “Pinsanity”!

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Sara out in Afghanistan…looking nice and trim thanks to those treadmill workouts!

How was the food situation? Aside from probably getting tons of cookies in care packages, was the dining hall filled with junk? Any healthy options?

The dining hall was terrible! The food tasted bad, nothing was fresh, and there was a limited amount to choose from. They always had some sort of veggies and fruits, which is what I generally ate, but it was very hard to eat healthy out there.

What would you say was the biggest roadblock (or advantage) to fitness while you were abroad?

I believe the biggest roadblock to fitness was the motivation. I noticed that people either got really fit or really out of shape out there. We didn’t have busy schedules most of the time, so all you really wanted to do was go back to your room and chat with friends and family and watch movies. You really had to motivate yourself to get up and work out.

Now that you’re back, are you maintaining your regimen? Have you switched it up or improved it? Have you taken a break?

I have been terrible at maintaining my regimen. It was so much easier to just walk the 3 minutes to the gym and run for 31 minutes. Now I am member at Gold’s Gym but I have to drive there and the motivation is terrible! Especially during the summer with my friends–they always want to go to the pool or take the boat out! Its been a constant battle with myself to go work out, especially since I have been traveling so much!

As you can see, Sara is just like any of us–working on self-motivation, trying to eat healthy, and looking to keep fit. I have to admit, I would definitely find it hard to stay motivated to work out while being deployed. It would be so much easier to just slug around and talk to family and friends online, probably while munching on the cookies and candies everyone likes to send. I applaud Sara for getting out there to the gym and actually combining Insanity and P90X…that sounds crazy in a good way!

I hope you all have a safe and adventurous Fourth of July. I’ll be spending the day in my red, white, and blue while thinking of my brother. I know I’ll be walking in my hometown’s parade in spirit!

If you or anyone you know is deployed or has been deployed and would like to talk about their experiences, contact me at fitchronicles@gmail.com. I’d LOVE to feature you!