Air Force brothers make fitness a family affair

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While fitness is an important part of Air Force life, two brothers have turned a passion for running and fitness into a lifestyle that impacts just about every facet of their and their families' lives.

Lt. Col. Ryan Novotny, and his younger brother, Maj. Reid Novotny, have taken the sport of long distance running into a friendly competition and have involved their families in making running and fitness a way of life.

"My wife, Betsy, and I decided before having children that we would make eating fresh food and exercising a family effort," said Ryan. He explained that he and his wife encourage their kids to participate in as many different sports as possible. "Our goal is to set a good example for our children and show them that fitness is a lifelong pursuit."

To Reid, being fit helps him deal with, not only normal conditions, but those stressful situations as well. He says fitness goes beyond the physical task of simply exercising. "Whether on the marathon course, the workplace or at home - being prepared and fit to handle these situations takes practice and training. Our family practices being physically, mentally and religiously fit regularly."

Ryan, a congressional legislative liaison in Washington, and Reid, who is on his way to take command of a communications squadron in Japan, are both long distance runners, competing in four marathons and a half marathon together and eight marathons separately.

"Running is a great way to stay close, even if we live in separate areas of the world," said Ryan. "We tell each other how we did during a workout, or if we had a great training run. We talk to each other about injury and nutrition. It keeps us motivated to reach the next goal because we know we will run with each other soon."

Reid said that it was actually the Air Force Marathon that brought the family together for both Ryan and Reid, as well as their younger brother Ross. "Ryan was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and we wanted to see each other. I had run a few marathons at that point and was trying to get Ryan and Ross more interested. That race was our first together."

The Novotny brothers grew up in an environment where friendly competition was encouraged, whether it was on the playing field or in the living room playing board games. That culture of competition between the two Air Force officers continues to this day.

"I held the Novotny brother record for a while, until Ryan ran his first marathon after setting his sights on qualifying for Boston," said Reid. "I ran a 3:05, and I know Ryan and Ross have trained well enough to beat this record. I secretly hold my breath every time they go out to run. I suspect the record will fall again soon, which means I'll be running a lot in the upcoming year."

That competitive drive temporarily took a back seat this past April, when the two brothers, along with more than 23,000 fellow runners, were shocked and numbed by two blasts that killed three and injured more than 100 at the Boston Marathon.

"We had decided that the finish line would be too crowded, so my family cheered me on at mile 24, getting me through the home stretch," said Ryan. "I finished an hour before the first blast...and went back to the hotel where my wife and kids were waiting for me. On our way home we heard the news on the radio, then saw a dozen emergency vehicles leaving Boylston St. with the first wave of victims. I immediately called Reid to see where he was at...and was relieved that he was OK. Then over the next hour and a half, we spent our time replying to phone calls, emails, Facebook posts and text messages from more than 100 people concerned about us and our families."

While unhurt, Reid's brush with tragedy was a little too close for comfort. "I had trained pretty hard to get into Boston, but had not been running enough to have a good time," said Reid.

"After a pretty tough race, I finished in a disappointing time for me and walked through the finishing area and sat down to the side for about 15 minutes. At that point I got up and walked to the T train to head back to my hotel. While in the T, there was little or no cell coverage. After a 15-minute ride I had five voicemails and 10 text messages asking me if I was OK. I came to find out I finished 17 minutes before the first bomb went off and was entering the T station, about a block away, when the bombs went off." Reid added that he was thankful that his wife and daughter were not able to attend, "because there is no doubt in my mind we all would have been at the finish at that exact time."

With Reid headed to Japan for a new assignment and a new position as a squadron commander, he says the move won't stop that competitive spirit between him and his brothers. "I've planted the seed with both of them, and I'm encouraging them to come to Tokyo for the big marathon."

(Courtesy Air Force Public Affairs)