JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
It was summer 2007 in Wausau, Wisconsin.
David Flaten had completed his first mountain bike race through the nine-mile forest course with no prior racing experience and a simple knowledge of cycling. After regaining the feeling in his legs, Flaten said he knew he had fallen in love.
In January 2013, just three years after enlisting and eight years experience cycling, the now Senior Airman started racing professionally.
"I apply a lot of my military bearing in my training and racing; it's important to treat every competitor with respect," Flaten said. "I take pride in taking care of my bike and equipment, just as I take pride in wearing the uniform."
He is currently ranked 43rd of 250 for cross-country mountain bikers according to USA cycling, the official cycling organization responsible for identifying, training and selecting cyclists to represent the United States in international competition.
Flaten participated in the 2013 Conseil International du Sport Militaire cycling competition in Belgium as one of two active-duty cycling professionals for the Armed Forces Cycling Team. In order to be selected for this elite group, a cyclist must be rated as a professional mountain biker or as a category 1 road cyclist.
Flaten is most proud of his continuous self-motivation and said he is "always pedaling in a forward direction."
The 21-year-old's training includes core exercises, stretching, and high intensity cycling on roadways and through mountain terrain. Flaten works out no less than 20 hours a week, though he said clean eating, staying hydrated and resting are a 24/7 discipline.
"The drive you have to force yourself to (train) is more important than being able to physically turn over the pedals," he said. "I get a lot of satisfaction from the hard work I put in every day. I'm hoping that the top step on the podium someday will make it all worth it."
Flaten attributes his successes to his family, friends, military leadership and his coach, 2003 Pan American gold medalist and highly decorated mountain biking professional Jeremiah Bishop.
When Flaten isn't challenging himself biking through back country roads during a rough rainstorm or making a strenuous trek over sun baked mountains, he is working hands on with the 811th Security Forces Squadron. They are the Air Force's largest protective services unit, providing primary escorts and inner-perimeter security for distinguished visitors on Joint Base Andrews.
"I've often observed Senior Airman Flaten excelling in his duties by providing direct security support to the president of the United States one day and then competing in a world-class cycling event the next," said Maj. Aaron Rittgers, the 811th SFS commander. "He epitomizes the whole person concept by giving his all in every area of his life. His exceptional dedication and sacrifice have allowed him to excel both his professional and personal endeavors."
This dedication to his job also led Flaten to be awarded 2013 Airman of the Year for the 11th Security Forces Group.
"The Air Force has certainly helped me maintain structure on a day- to-day basis," Flaten said. "When it comes to work, diet and training, maintaining balance is key to my success."
The military has played a significant role in Flaten's cycling career, providing more than just a paycheck to cover his racing expenses.
"My leadership has given me encouragement to pursue my dream," Flaten said. "They're almost as invested as I am to get me to the Olympics one day. It's an awesome feeling to have that kind of support and that is worth way more than any paycheck in my book."
Flaten is awaiting acceptance into the exclusive Air Force World Class Athlete Program which allows active- duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel an opportunity to be released from their primary mission for two years to participate at national and international level sporting events. The program makes it possible for selected athletes to train and compete full time with the ultimate goal of selection to the U.S. Olympic team.
"Every athlete has a shelf life," he said. "I don't want to look back in 30 years and ask myself, 'Why didn't I give everything I had to be an Olympic athlete?' It would be awesome to be part of a more than a thousand year old tradition."