Elliptical marathon: Airman achieves fitness best, earns award

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Francesca Popp
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
His peers and his wife said he was crazy, but that didn't stop Col. Joseph Mastrianna from achieving a personal workout best and earning a top fitness award.

Colonel Mastrianna, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Manpower, Personnel, and Services deputy director, completed 37.5 miles in five hours on an elliptical machine at the fitness center here June 4. With that, the colonel also hit the 1 million point milestone to earn the elite platinum status in the President's Fitness Challenge.

"He is setting a great example for our kids that being healthy is important," said Sharon Mastrianna, his wife. "Even though they don't have a workout routine like (their) dad, the seed has been planted that physical activity is something they need to do in life."

He began this journey more than three years ago while assigned to the Air Force Services Agency in Texas. He finished just a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday.

"The commander started a fitness program for the entire agency and wanted everyone to participate in the President's Fitness Challenge," Colonel Mastrianna said. "I planned to complete the program within three years. As it turns out, I completed this goal in three years and three months."

The President's Challenge is part of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports' signature, long-standing initiative to keep America fit. It's a series of programs designed to take fitness beyond the gym, and make it a lifestyle, according to the website.

He earned the bronze and silver awards - 40,000 and 90,000 points, respectively - in four months. He was then reassigned to be the group commander at Royal Air Force Menwith Hill, United Kingdom. By August 2007, the Norwalk, Conn., native racked up 160,000 points - the gold award. When he reached gold, the next level was revealed.

"I had no idea there was anything beyond gold, because on all of the stuff I saw there is no mention of a higher level. I didn't know there was a platinum award until I got the gold award," Colonel Mastrianna said. "On the day I entered my workout information and the computer program calculated my scores for the gold award, was when I learned about the next level. It read, 'Congratulations, you are 16 percent on the way to platinum.'

"It was really depressing and disheartening," he said. "I thought gold was the highest, but the next level, platinum, was 1 million points. All of a sudden I went from being 99.9 percent complete for the gold award to being 16 percent of the way along."

For the next few years, the colonel stayed true to his routine while working his way to platinum status.

He's out of bed by 2:15 a.m. and on the elliptical cross-trainer in his home by 2:30 a.m. during the week. He's at work by 6:15 a.m. and leaves about 6:30 p.m. He rests on Saturdays. On Sundays, he'll work out 2.5 to three hours (on the machine). He gets to bed by 10 p.m. almost nightly.

"I am impressed at what he is able to do. I wish I had a quarter of the discipline that he has," Mrs. Mastrianna said. "If you understand how the Presidential Challenge works, achieving 1 million points in such a short amount of time is amazing."

He said worked out longer on Sundays in the weeks leading up to the June 4 achievement.
"I had planned to do five hours and knew I could do it. I felt really good at four hours; I thought I could go for six. But, I let my electrolytes run out. When I reached 4:30, I hit the wall really hard," said Colonel Mastrianna, who has been in the Air Force for nearly 26 years. "The last 30 minutes was a brutal struggle. I had no intention at that point to go over five hours.

"Thankfully, my wife was there. She kept me from quitting," he said.

His co-workers stopped by and offered moral support throughout his journey. Mrs. Mastrianna walked into the fitness center just as her husband was about to give up.

"I looked over and saw him with his head down and not looking too good. He said, 'I can't make it - I have to stop!' " she said. "Being the kind of loving wife that I am, I said, 'Are you crazy?' I told him he'd invested all this time and only had (at this point) 20 minutes left.

"Go to your happy place," she said.

"I can't, I tried. I can't make it," he told her.

"Slow your pace down a notch," she said.

Mrs. Mastrianna kept reminding her husband that he could do it and gave him a constant count down.
"I basically nagged him to the end," she said.

By noon, the colonel had reached his goal and said emotionally he was feeling good about himself. Physically, however, he said he was "pretty bad," especially when his hands and legs began cramping toward the end.
"I was worried I wasn't going to make it," he said.

In addition to reaching his all-time personal fitness best, the colonel raised about $1,000 for Ramstein AB's Air Force Aid Fund.

When the colonel surpassed the 1 million mark in points, he received the Presidential Champions Platinum Award and this note, "On behalf of the PCPFS and PC administrators, we are proud to include you in an exclusive list of committed individuals nationwide who strive to be and stay active as part of their lifestyle!! ... We hope that you will continue on this fit and healthy path and serve as a role model to family and friends! Congratulations!"

"I was very much expecting, when I put my final results in for platinum, to be revealed the next level would be double platinum," he said with a smile. "But, I was even more disheartened that it went right back to the beginning again."

When asked what's next, Colonel Mastrianna said he is working toward bronze again and is making steady progress. He hopes to complete 12,500 miles, which is more than half the circumference of the earth, before he retires.

The challenge offers programs for people of all ages and abilities. Each program helps identify realistic goals to encourage fitness for a lifetime. A personal activity log records activities online. There are also special Presidential awards for completing each program.

For more information about the President's Challenge, visit www.presidentschallenge.org.