TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) --
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Daily obstacles in life can take on many forms, and one Airman from the 325th Aerospace Medical Squadron has found overcoming obstacles encountered during triathlons helps strengthen his four domains of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness.
Staff Sgt. Jason Parker has been strengthening his physical, mental, spiritual and social domains for the past three years by competing in triathlons and has discovered a correlation with the difficulty of the activity and accomplishing goals in his personal and professional life.
“While being stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, my wife and I really got into triathlons,” Parker said. “I’ve competed in a fair number throughout Mississippi and Alabama and have grown to enjoy all aspects of it; from the training, to the equipment, to the tactics.”
Raised in the state of Washington, Parker said most of his hobbies involved elevation of some sort: skiing, mountain biking and rock climbing. When he moved to Mississippi, he needed to find things that did not require elevation, so Parker and his wife joined a local running club.
Throughout their training and events, the Parkers met other triathlon athletes and started to build their support network, bolstering the social domain of CAF.
“Having a strong social network during training and competing is extremely important for a triathlete,” Parker said. “Nearly all triathletes train with other people both for accountability and for motivation. You’re much more likely to push a little harder or go on that bike ride that you aren’t in the mood for when there are others encouraging you.”
Parker recalled the memory of his first triathlon and the preparation it took to get him across the finish line.
“The first race we did was a popular local triathlon in southern Mississippi called Traditions Triathlon, in 2013,” Parker said. “Traditions is a sprint triathlon, consisting of a 600-yard swim, 17-mile bike ride, and a 5K run.”
Despite all of his preparation, he said it was still incredibly intimidating for him. He told himself beforehand that he would be competing only against himself.
The event was a true test to his physical domain.
“I was looking to do the best I could and not worry about those around me,” Parker said. “I would tell myself different mantras to try and keep my mind off of things, primarily, ‘Pain is temporary, quitting is forever,’ and ‘embrace the chafe.’”
Finishing a triathlon, whether it was his first or his last, brought an immense feeling of relief and accomplishment. They are all a challenge, he added.
“The other (domains) are what most people think of when you talk about fitness, but having values and being able to prevail and endure is just as important for a triathlete, if not more so,” Parker said of how triathlons are also a test of the spiritual domain. “Similarly, when race day comes and you’re lining up at the start, you need to have faith that your training was enough and that you’ll be able to succeed; second guessing and doubting yourself will only serve to negatively affect you. Be positive and of good character and you will succeed.”
Being mentally prepared for a triathlon is also crucial, he added.
“Mental fortitude is absolutely essential for distance racing, such as triathlons,” he said. “Even the fittest people will find themselves at breaking points in a race, and your mental ability to overcome challenges and push on is the only way you will succeed.”
Before becoming a triathlete, the native of Bremerton, Washington, attributed his wanting to join the military to growing up in a “Navy town.”
“Growing up in an area surrounded by Army, Navy, and Air Force, I wanted to join the military since I was a little kid,” Parker said. “I would see the pride and courage of those military members serving, and I knew I wanted to be a part of their ranks. Having been located close to McChord Air Force Base, (Washinton), I would see planes flying overhead and knew I wanted to fly; this is what drove me toward the Air Force in particular.”
Having just hit his five-year time-in-service mark in August 2016, the Air Force has been everything he hoped it would be, he added.
As time has gone by, he sees kinships of his triathlon training with his goal of commissioning.
“They are similar in that both triathlons and commissioning are not things you’ll do well at if you don’t prepare; you need to know in advance what is required of you and get ready accordingly,” Parker said. “Furthermore, both are extremely challenging tasks that will take all of your effort and dedication; preparation certainly helps, but even with the best preparation, neither will be an easy undertaking.”