Air Guard Ironmen
By Staff Sgt John Hughel, 142FW/PA
/ Published April 05, 2011
Portland, Ore. -- Running along the fitness trail at the Portland Air National Guard Base, U.S. Air Force Master Sgts. Jeff Macey and Brian Cummins stretch out their legs for an afternoon workout. Picking up the pace, the two senior NCOs of the 142nd Fighter Wing begin to recall their latest race, the Vineman Ironman Triathlon in Sonoma County, Calif. Both men endured the intense distance challenge of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run, but also showed the mental resilience to finish and become "Ironmen."
Macey and Cummins have been training for several years together both at the Portland Air Base facility and more recently as part of the LaCamas Athletic Club in Camas, Wash. As they were already running long distance races, taking on the added demands of swimming and biking were the next challenges toward the triathlon.
"It takes a tremendous amount of time to train for an Ironman and it nearly becomes another full time job in the process, "said Cummins.
Macey and Cummins both had to overcome physical injuries earlier in life and, in the process, found a desire to push the boundaries and aim for finishing a full Ironman competition.
After climbing Mt. Hood in 2001, Macey twisted his ankle and spent more than a year in pain, until he finally went to the doctor who put it back in place. "I saw the triathlon as a challenge when I was getting back in shape and asked around to see if anyone had a bike to train with," said Macey. With an old bicycle he paid $20 for, Macey spent 2003 competing in shorter distance triathlons. "It was a lot of fun and I started doing sprint triathlons everywhere," he said.
In 2007 he took on his first full Ironman competing in the Grand Columbian Ironman at the Grand Coulee Dam, Wash. "My first ever 26.2 mile marathon was in that race," Macey said.
The swim portion of the triathlon is one of the most difficult parts for many beginning triathletes.
Macey and Cummins both began training at LaCamas in the past several years with a dedicated group of athletes called the "Headhunters," who concentrated on big events from doing triathlons or training to qualify for major races like the Boston Athletic Association Marathon.
Working and training together at the Portland Air Base has been a good experience for Macey and Cummins as both being athletes and Airmen. They said it allows them to push each other through their minor daily aches and pains and major injuries that come along in life.
"I have always been looking for opportunities to test myself, so in the late 1990's I was challenged to run a marathon by then-First Sgt. Max White," said Cummins. "I've been hooked ever since."
The fitness drive for Cummins resulted in running over 15 marathons until he got seriously ill in 2005. A severe septic infection threatened his life and eventually, most of his core abdomen muscles were surgically removed.
"At that time most of the doctors said I would never be able to run again," said Cummins.
During his recovery Cummins thought hard about his Air Force career and what to do next with his desire to keep up a vigorous exercise program. "My wife was doing triathlons and told me it was time to stop feeling sorry for myself and to get my rear out of the chair," said Cummins. There were several more surgeries for Cummins, and after his medical waiver lapsed, he was able to pass the Air Force physical fitness test.
Like any good non-commissioned officer, Master Sgt. Cummins works to share these challenges with younger Airmen. "I really try and help other Airmen with building fitness schedules that I think will help motivate and enhance what they are already doing," said Cummins.
As the First Sergeant of the Logistical Readiness Squadron, his own example of overcoming physical adversity is one Cummins wants to pass along. "Getting them to take it slow in the beginning, not get injured and make progress is the key," said Cummins. "But ultimately it is about building up comradery in the process to meet these goals."
Coming back from such a difficult injury has helped him find simple solutions for Airmen struggling to make the grade on annual fitness evaluations, even if it takes the form of tough love.
"If I can get them to knuckle down to those core exercises, then passing the Air Force physical fitness test is easy, because without any lower abdominal muscles I can pass it," Cummins said.
The new Air Force fitness standards will change January 1st, 2010, with more frequent testing and focused on larger age-group standards. "The Air Force is adapting to keep up with the total force environment with newer work-out and training facilities," said Cummins.
Yet as both Macey and Cummins both overcame bigger injury issues, age is one variable that they and other Airmen face with each year's physical fitness test. "I really did not begin to do most of my endurance stuff until I got to the Air Guard and began running with others on base," Macey said.
In 2008, at the age of 46, Macey finally got his first 100 percent on the Air Force Fitness Test. "I lost 17 pounds just upping my training for the Ironman and that helped me get that score," said Macey.
Training for a marathon or endurance race may not be what most members of the Air Force have in mind. Proving that it is never too late to start anything in life, Macey and Cummins found a fountain of youth that works for them--trading in their duty uniforms for running shoes and workout gear.