CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - The days before winter holidays can be a lonely time, especially for those far from home. Rather than sit around feeling and eating poorly, athletes at CrossFit KFOR, a military affiliated gym on Camp Bondsteel, took advantage of the opportunity to test their fitness.
The Holiday Rundown was held on Dec. 23 and pushed athletes to their thresholds as they worked their way through three, or for some, four workouts throughout the course of the day.
First Lt. Kristen Walls, fusion and targeting intelligence officer in charge of Delta Company 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion started with the beginners CrossFit class when it was offered early in the deployment. She thought that the timing of the competition couldn’t have been better.
“Holidays are probably the most stressful part of deployments,” said Walls. “You are away from your family, and friends, and may not have much support during this time. The competition not only gives the soldiers something to look forward to and prepare for, it also provides support.” She added it keeps you feeling good about yourself because you are eating healthy to stay competition ready, and not snacking on all the goodies sent from home.
Staff Sgt. Pete Morrison, non commissioned officer in charge of the 121st Public Affairs Detachment and director of CrossFit KFOR worked with a small group of people to get the competition put together. He invited anyone on Camp Bondsteel who felt they were fit, to participate.
More than just testing the limits of fitness, CrossFit offers increased confidence, community, and direction. That’s what led Morrison to CrossFit nearly 3 years ago, and that sort of quality is what he hopes to leave behind.
CrossFit was officially branded in 2000. It is defined as a strength and conditioning program that uses constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements. The program does not cater to any particular muscle group, but rather a variety. It uses kettle bells, barbells, dumbbells, body weight and gymnastic movements. The idea behind functional fitness has led CrossFit to be highly popular amongst military personnel, firefighters, and policemen. Morrison himself, both a firefighter and a soldier was introduced to the sport of fitness after he returned from Iraq in 2004.
Morrison found himself off track after returning home to Portland, Maine, fueling his body with food and alcohol. The leadership in his National Guard unit in Maine kept pointing him in the direction of CrossFit, to get him back to where they knew he should be. Discovering CrossFit Camp Keyes in Augusta helped him get back on the right path, get his focus back, get fit, and be the soldier and person he wanted to be.
“That’s one of the reasons CrossFit is so important to me,” said Morrison. “I knew I was lost, and I needed to find some direction. And the great leaders in the Maine Army National Guard helped me get there. So I am trying to be that same great leader and return the favor for anyone who may be a little bit lost and in need of a little direction.”
Morrison said that once he started getting into the CrossFit lifestyle, it was easier for him to make changes in other areas of his life. He lost weight, got stronger, and started working on his nutrition so he could continue to get better.
“Once you are working on one aspect of your life, you want to work on all the other aspects. So you become healthier. You focus better mentally, and for some, spiritually.”
Walls, who will return to her home in Sudbury, Mass., at the end of this deployment says the confidence she has gained from CrossFit makes her want to share it with her younger sisters who are at that vulnerable age where body confidence is always in question.
“I feel better. I am more fit. I have more confidence, not just in my athletic ability, but in myself,” she said. Walls said it has definitely helped her become a better, stronger soldier. It has improved her confidence, and helped her to overcome mental challenges.
Morrison agreed, saying that as a coach he is able to see improvements in the people who consistently come in and do the work.
“I have seen people come in to CrossFit who don’t think they can do anything, and then seen the look on that persons face when they put a heavy weight overhead for the first time. CrossFit teaches people to face their obstacles and then chuck them out of the way. I think that with a physical strength comes a mental strength, like hey if I can get through this workout without dying I can get through anything. They leave with more confidence and more resolve.”
Spc. Sarah “Sunshine” Stupniki, a human resource specialist with the 4203rd U.S. Army Hospital says that to her, CrossFit is the “eighth wonder of the world. It transforms bodies, finds muscles that I didn’t know existed, and teaches you that weights aren’t just for boys.”
The biggest obstacle for people who attempt CrossFit is a lack of consistency. People get frustrated when they only come in once a week and they don’t see a change or they are always sore. That’s the biggest thing, continuity.
“Progress doesn’t happen overnight it’s a steady progress,” said Morrison. “If you want to see gains, you have to keep showing up."
Stupniki, who lives in Lexington, Ky., says the proof is in her lifts. When she first started coming in she could only lift the empty barbell. Now, she can lift 105 pounds overhead. It didn’t come easily, but she kept showing up, she kept facing down that barbell and trying her hardest.
CrossFit KFOR has built a community. Everyone comes in and does the same workout. It is a shared experience, a shared struggle and usually it is hard. So everyone does something that is difficult. In combat, and in the military, when people share in a struggle together, they are bonded closer together, said Morrison. With that stems the community where everyone struggles together, everyone is trying to better their lives, becoming stronger healthier people, and they build that bond further. It feeds into all aspects of your day.
Stupniki said the friends she has made in CrossFit support her through the physical and mental challenges, and never give up on her. They push her to constantly be better. Goals are shared, obstacles overcame, personal records set, and they are there to pick you up when you fail as well.
“It is a group of people who support you in all your struggles,” said Walls. “They won’t give up on you and don’t let you give up on yourself. They are there for you through every squat clean, burpee, and thruster that gets in your way.”
Morrison hopes to hold more competitions over the course of the deployment. A competitor himself, he said that competitions are where you really push yourself, where you see what you are capable of. Everyone wants to be battle tested, and this is just one way that we can go out there and perform under pressure and see just how far we can push ourselves, and just how far our bodies are willing to go. Every now and then you want to see how far you have come, and how strong you really are. The competitions test that. Whether it is physical training in the morning, Insanity or yoga class in the evening, or infantry training, whatever, this proves exactly how fit you are.
This work, Competition builds community, confidence, by SSG Angela Parady, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.