Through Airmen's Eyes: AF captain coaches ultra fitness while deployed

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tristan Hinderliter
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Six days a week, her iPhone alarm - a soothing instrumental melody - goes off at 4:10 a.m.

She puts on her PT uniform, stops by her office to check e-mail, then drives across base to the outdoor CrossFit pad, where this time of year it is cold and dark.

That's how Capt. Lesley Lilly, 451st Expeditionary Force Support Flight commander and a volunteer CrossFit coach, has spent the past month. For two months before that she attended the 5 a.m. class as an athlete, then she stepped up as a coach when the previous coaches redeployed back home.

Lilly, deployed here from Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, has been doing CrossFit for about a year, but fitness and health education is nothing new to her. She earned her bachelor's degree in community health education from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and during college she had an internship at a non-profit organization, Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., where she taught classes on health and fitness.

She's currently working on her master's degree in health and kinesiology from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

"A key philosophy I live by is, 'your health is your greatest wealth,'" Lilly said. "You can't buy good health in the sense that you can go out and buy a nice home. You have to invest in good choices to really be healthy throughout your life."

The CrossFit workouts consist of a warm-up routine, stretching, a skill - such as a particular lifting movement - and the Workout of the Day, or "WOD" in the parlance of the athletes.

Most workouts include strength training movements such as snatches, deadlifts, hang cleans, push jerks or squats. There are kettle-bell swings, handstand push-ups, sprints and box jumps. There are exercises with names like burpees, thrusters, kipping pull-ups, double-unders and the Sumo Deadlift High Pull.

"CrossFit is really good in developing well-rounded athletes because it incorporates so many different types of physical activity," Lilly said. "The workouts are intended to be constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movements."

Lilly is one of two coaches for the 5 a.m. class. The other is Joey Wisniewski, a General Dynamics contractor who is a mechanic on the Stryker armored combat vehicle.

Wisniewski, from Renton, Wash., has been at KAF since June 2011 and has been a CrossFit coach here for the past two months, including the past month with Lilly.

"Lesley is very positive, encouraging, and always brings everybody up," he said. "She's a really hard worker, and I appreciate her positive feedback and motivation to all the athletes."

Lilly said when she returns home to Texas she hopes to get her CrossFit Level 1 certification and to be able to coach part time.

"Coaching here has been a great experience," she said. "Trying to figure out what you need to do individually to improve as an athlete is very different than observing someone else's form and technique and trying to articulate to them how they should improve."

One of the most rewarding things about coaching is watching people develop and improve, she said.

"When you see an athlete that couldn't do a certain exercise a month ago and now you see them able to do that because you are giving them the instruction they need, that's been really rewarding," Lilly said.

Her passion for fitness, it seems, is matched only by her enthusiasm for nutrition.

"When you're thinking about nutrition, it's so important to incorporate it with physical activity," she said. "They really do work hand in hand."

The overall principle to keep in mind, she said, is that food is fuel.

"What you eat fuels your body throughout the day," Lilly said. "So you want to focus on eating a lot of natural, healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as poultry and fish or lean cuts of red meat. Fuel your body for success."

When she's not teaching CrossFit or picking out healthy food at the dining facility, Lilly leads 20 Airmen in the 451st EFSF. The flight is responsible for Manpower, Personnel and Services functions for the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing.

Lilly said one of the highlights of her deployment so far was arranging activities as part of a "12 Days of Christmas" campaign.

"It was very rewarding to be able to provide a venue for our Airmen to enjoy the holidays while they were deployed and away from their families," she said.

Despite a very demanding work schedule, Lilly said she tries to get at least seven hours of sleep a night in order to have the energy to keep up her workout routine. 4:10 a.m., after all, comes early.