JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
The mercury is creeping past 100 degrees on the thermometer as the horn sounds and shrieks, groans, moans and maybe a few choice words echo through the area as athletes compete in an intense, five-hour CrossFit competition under the Texas sun.
One Airman, who almost overtaken by the heat, takes a swig of fluid, and presses on, beating his biggest competitor: himself.
Staff Sgt. Christian Chavez, a recruiter with the 341st Recruiting Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, finds the intense and sometimes painful CrossFit training a release from his day-to-day activities. Also, because he is geographically separated from a base it helps him find a sense of community.
"Things I was never able to do like rope climbing and lifting these heavy weights, it comes naturally to me now," he said. "We cheer each other on and you begin to do things you never thought you could."
While stationed in Conroe, Texas, Chavez began to get bored with his regular workout routine and wanted something different. Working long hours and meeting stressful deadlines to meet his requirements in acquiring quality candidates for the Air Force took a toll on his physical fitness and he decided to make a big change.
After speaking to one of his friends, he decided to try using a CrossFit gym. After his first training session, he had to take a few days off, but was admittedly hooked on the program. The difficulty and the complexity of the exercises fascinated him, and Chavez began to see changes in himself that let him know this was for him.
"I got a lot of bruises, I fell a few times, but you just have to get back up. It comes with the territory," Chavez said. "But it's still fun," he said with a laugh. "My idea of fun is different from others, but it keeps me in shape, keeps my self-esteem up and keeps me motivated."
The motivation doesn't just stop with himself, though.
The recruiting office holds conditioning sessions for participants in the delayed entry program to prepare for basic training and Chavez incorporates some of his exercises into the sessions. Not too much though - he doesn't want to scare them away.
"I take it easy on the newer people, and I kind of push the ones who are about to leave," he said. "I've had Airmen come back and do the recruiter's assistance program and thank me for preparing them and also tell the new recruits how important physical fitness really is."
Although the Air Force does not endorse CrossFit, Chavez implements many of the exercises into helping prepare incoming recruits for basic training and beyond. Currently, there are several openings for Special Forces Airmen, a field where the washout rate is historically high. Because Chavez has a duty to recruit based on the needs of the Air Force, he trains harder to be an example for these recruits.
"I can't expect the recruits to understand how important physical fitness is unless I lead by example and show them," he said. "I also understand how hard it can be. I had to lose 60 pounds to join the Air Force. I know what hard work looks like. The body is capable of so much. Physical strength has a lot to do with it, but you also have to be mentally strong,"
As he trains for a competition in August, Chavez hopes to stay focused and break his own personal records, and maybe beat some of the other competitors. His wife, who cheers him on at every event, and is an athlete in her own right, provides most of his motivation, he said.
"My wife is a big motivator. She's five months pregnant and she's still in the gym training. She's a bulldog."
Chavez offers a few words of motivation for anyone who has gotten bored in their routine, wants to improve their fitness level, or just wants to try something new.
"Find somebody who can help you and motivate each other," he said. "My motivation was my family and wanting to feel better and live longer. Find yours."