EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, AK, UNITED STATES
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska - From arid deserts to heavy rain showers and finally the frozen tundra of Interior Alaska, a long-time athlete proves that fitness is a state of mind. Thousands, if not millions of footsteps over scorching pavements and iced-covered roads characterize a motivated individual and her need to stay fit.
Ten years ago, Kandi Vaillancourt, an avid walker and wife of Staff Sgt. Edward Vaillancourt, 354th Operations Group security manager, took a step in the right direction, choosing to take her exercise into the great outdoors.
While accompanying her husband in England, Vaillancourt made a personal choice --a decision to avoid the everyday hassles of the gym.
"I loved it so much from that moment forward I did all my walks outside," said Vaillancourt. "Everyone got to know me as the walker, but I really earned my name ... in Tucson."
Because she trained on Craycroft Street, Vaillancourt said people at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., called her the "Craycroft lady." Improving by leaps and bounds, the Craycroft lady soon saw results through walking and stair stepping routines.
"I enjoyed it so much and lost so much weight from doing it," said Vaillancourt. "I'd do a walk around Davis-Monthan AFB ... one day it was about 115 degrees and I didn't even know it."
Having started the regiment in England and later adjusting to the dry desert heat of Tucson, Ariz., Vaillancourt said many thought the move to Alaska would be too much for her. They doubted her ability to overcome the challenges of an Alaskan winter.
"The joke was ... 'Kandi you are moving to Alaska, how are you going to walk outside,'" Vaillancourt said. "I said, I don't know but I am going to do it."
The Vaillancourts arrived at Eielson Air Force Base in the summer of 2009. Immediately, she began her regiment and soon acclimated to the Alaskan summer, which was rather mild when compared to the dry heat of Arizona.
"I will admit that first summer [and] fall I did it," she said. "That winter I crashed."
Vaillancourt said that she started her winter walking in November 2009, and finished her first full winter walk in 2010.
"I enjoyed it," Vaillancourt said. "I was [walking] in the winter when it was fifty below outside. I think the coldest that I ever did it was last year when [temperatures reached] almost 60 below. I officially can say I did a 58 below zero walk."
Vaillancourt said walking in colder temperatures can be dangerous and should not be taken lightly. Safety remains a top priority, especially when participating in outdoor activities where even those with years of experience are challenged.
Winters in Interior Alaska are often unpredictable and wearing the wrong clothing can get you seriously injured. When planning to be outside for extended periods, wearing layers is one of the best ways to combat dropping temperatures.
"That day I wore my mask, a scarf underneath and an extra hat," said Vaillancourt of her -58 degree walk. "I wanted to cover every layer so that there was no skin showing."
A three-mile trek in the middle of winter may take Vaillancourt as much as two hours. She covers a lot of ground and her route encompasses much of the base, including parts of Flightline Avenue, Heritage Park and the maintenance sections.
With so many options, the opportunity to change up walk routes allows her to train effectively and keep each walk new and exciting.
When venturing through the more isolated sections of the base, a heightened situational awareness may save your life. Moose and other wildlife roam several areas of the base, particularly the more wooded regions where an abundance of food can be found. It's a fact Vaillancourt said she knows from experience, having encountered moose on her walks.
"It's no man's land," Vaillancourt said. "There's nothing out there. You don't see anybody and it's kind of scary because you are [thinking], is this road ever going to end. When I saw the moose I was walking a little bit faster."
Training in the presence of traffic -- places where people travel through -- is not a bad idea, said Vaillancourt. Because there are places on base where cell phones receive no signal, playing it safe serves one best.
After a little preparation and prudent situational awareness, exercising and training year-round keeps her motivated and healthy. Vaillancourt said she aims high, with hopes of meeting bigger challenges.
"I want to start running soon," Vaillancourt said. "Who knows, maybe one day I'll run in the Boston Marathon. Some of the toughest goals start as words."
As an athlete who takes each workout as serious as the next, the Craycroft lady adheres to a strict training regiment, constantly pushing herself to meet each challenge head on. And with each permanent change of station, Vaillancourt has experienced a new environment forcing her to adapt and overcome whatever odds she is presented with.
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This work, Craycroft lady lets the walking do the talking, by SSgt Yash Rojas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.