JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The Warhawk Fitness Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland is packed with people of different ages, body types and fitness goals. In one of the fitness center's three weight rooms, standing amongst a sundry of individuals, a military couple ponders what exercises they want to do.
After deciding on chest presses, Tech Sgt. Eric Chaney, 37th Training Support Squadron NCO in charge of combat operations flight, grapples with two 140-pound dumbbells, taking them off the rack. He settles into a firm sit down position on the bench, gripping his weights as his wife, Staff Sgt. Tanisha Chaney, a 37th TRSS combat weapons instructor, stands behind the bench and spots him. He simultaneously lifts the hefty weight with so much tenacity that his face is ready to explode and it looks like his chest is going to rip through his Superman tank top.
Eric Chaney reciprocates the help by spotting his wife through a shoulder exercise and encouraging her to perform one more rep, telling her 'you got it baby.'
Since their first date in 2009 - a blind date orchestrated by co-workers that included "listening to horrible karaoke," according to Eric Chaney - and marriage two years later, the couple have had each other's backs, and shoulders, chests, legs, etc when training for a sport they share a common passion for - bodybuilding.
"She's always my training partner," said the technical sergeant. "There are some guys at the gym who walk up to me when I start using weights and ask me if I need a spotter and tell them no. I don't need them because one, I have my wife and I trust her with everything and two, she knows how to push me. She's not going to pull weight off unless I need it. Tanisha is going to push me because if she doesn't then I'm not happy."
"There are days when I cry that I don't want to go to the gym, and he will tell me 'get in the car we are going,'" Tanisha Chaney explained. "He pushes me and I push him so it works out."
Fit to fight
Eric Chaney admits his personal fitness has fluctuated since joining the Air Force 19 years ago - citing his time deployed in Korea in 1999 as the best physical shape he was in before entering bodybuilding. While deployed to Iraq in 2003, Eric realized that his fitness level and strength had dropped and he wanted to do something about it.
After returning to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland from deployment, he decided to check out the 2004 Lackland Bodybuilding Classic. Watching various competitors show off their physiques gave Eric Chaney the idea he could be good at it with dedication.
"Training for this sport is 365 days a year with no off days," the Plattsburgh, N.Y. native noted.
He entered the sport in 2007, and his commitment paid off this year when he earned first place honors in the middleweight novice division at the Branch Warren Classic July 12 in The Woodlands, Texas.
The 5 foot 9 inch bodybuilder chokes up reminiscing about the phone call to the couple's three children -daughters Hailey and Mya, and son Cameron, - after finally winning a competition at the show.
"It just re-enforced to them hard work, dedication, and commitment pays off - no short cuts and no easy way to do it," he preaches. "And to have they yell and scream 'yay daddy' was so motivating for me."
Making a name for herself
Tanisha Chaney was on the verge of getting kicked out of the Air Force due to being overweight. Her goal at first was to lose weight and tone her body, she said. Once she started working out with her future husband, the power of lifting weights motivated her to build strength in her arms.
"Once my muscle definition was noticeable, someone told me that I could do figure bodybuilding," said the combat weapons instructor. "Now, I like to train and be competitive."
Tanisha Chaney has made a name for herself in her short time as a competitor.
The staff sergeant has finished in second place in her first two competitions - the 2012 Lackland Bodybuilding Classic in the Women's Figure Military division and the Ronnie Coleman Bodybuilding and Fitness Classic in the Women's Figure B-Class division.
Because she finished in the top two of her category, Tanisha Chaney became nationally qualified to earn an International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness pro card. She looks to compete at the National Physique Committee USA Bodybuilding Championships in July 2015 in Las Vegas.
Being close to pro status makes the staff sergeant want to push herself harder at the gym, she said.
"I know that I will have to work even harder to get to the level that all the other girls at the national level are at," explained Tanisha Chaney. "With the help and support from my husband, family and friends I know it is achievable."
No fooling around
Generally, couples celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, work promotions, etc with a nice dinner out on the town or at a nightclub for dancing. The Chaneys can't afford to do that when they are in preparation for future contests.
When they are not at work, their free time is spent at the gym - individually or together - and eating home prepped meals consisting of eggs, oatmeal, fish, turkey, chicken, etc.
The couple says that they could chow down at Burger King if they wanted to, but fast food consumption could halt their progress.
To not be deterred from their goals, they both have a "tunnel vision" mindset.
"There are times when we are detached from everything else," said Eric Chaney. "If it is not a means to the end of what we are working for, we are not interested in it. It's not a bad thing, but we have to be that way if we want to get positive results."
Their strict mindset leads to occasional ribbing from co-workers.
The Chaneys admit that colleagues tease them to eat something they know the couple can't eat.
"'Come on, have this cheeseburger,'" said Tanisha Chaney.
Even though the married couple takes the good-natured ribbing in stride, their commitment to the sport is nothing to scoff at.
Their dedication to the sport includes turning off fast food commercials whenever they watch television, the couple said.
"It's one of those things we have to do," said Eric Chaney. "It's not that we can't control ourselves because obviously if we have made it this far, we know can do it, but we don't want to see those commercials if we don't have to."
The Chaneys do set aside some time at least once a month and put away the gym gear to spend some quality time together.
A typical date for them isn't going to the movies and spending $10 on popcorn and soda or dining out at restaurants.
Rather, a "date" consists of strolling around the mall or visiting SeaWorld.
"We will go to a comedy club or do anything that's not associated with training because we need the break mentally," said Eric Chaney.
After a day of relaxation, it is back to the gym and back to motivating each other to achieve goals.
"He knows when I want to give up and I am annoyed that I can't do a certain exercise," said Tanisha Chaney. "He will tell me to put a weight down and do this exercise instead or a modification of it so I don't give up."
All it takes is one look at his wife to realize that Eric Chaney can't give up on training when he feels the need to.
"I know she expects me to train hard," he said. "There is no greater motivation. She expects me to work hard."
"If I tell him to do one more rep, he is going to do one more because he doesn't want to say that he couldn't do what I asked of him," his wife interjects.
The couple's commitment to bodybuilding has peaked family members' interest. The Chaney said that their three children love playing outdoors and eating healthy. However, they don't enforce their same strict eating and exercise regimens on them, Eric said.
"If they want pizza, we will feed them pizza - they are kids," he said. "We have pictures of our kids doing different body poses. They love it."
At a recent show, Tanisha Chaney said her mother and 13-year-old brother, who she described as "hefty," want to go to the gym.
"It makes me proud that our family is being influenced," said the Clute, Texas native.
Knowing family members are interested makes the hard work worth it, said her husband.
"If I didn't have family or friends who appreciate what I do or weren't motivated by what I do then it means nothing," said Eric Chaney. "Bodybuilding is a great sport, and it is a sport that I sacrifice for to get people into it."
The Chaneys' future goals in bodybuilding aren't necessarily to keep piling up trophies. For Eric Chaney, his goal is to continue adding muscle mass and overall weight to "hang with the big boys and not get outsized."
"For me genetically, I am 100 percent certain that being between 202 to 212 pounds is my limit," said the technical sergeant. "I'm comfortable there because I'm still agile and not getting winded just walking around."
Tanisha Chaney doesn't have any specific goals for bodybuilding, but she said wants to continue being healthy and competing. In the future, she does want to earn her personal trainers license and help other people reach their own specific goals.
"I really enjoy helping people, and we have talked about opening our own gym," she noted. "If that's the road we go down then that's the one we go down."
Whatever road they decide to take in their career, one thing is for certain: they will have more than each other's back.