Learning from failure

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Denise Jenson
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
When I joined the military, I stood at five feet and two inches tall and weighed 140 pounds, which was a healthy measurement for a 19 year old female. I was fairly active in high school, so I never had any real issue with exercising on a routine basis.

When I graduated basic military training, my weight was down to 115 pounds, and in tech school, I got down to a healthy 110 with a physical fitness assessment score of 87.2. Nothing extraordinary, but I was proud and happy with my newfound strength.

My first year at Ellsworth Air Force Base, I was exercising regularly and eating relatively healthy. I even managed to score my first 90 percent on my PFT in October 2015.

After that test, I got a little too comfortable and slowly started exercising less and eating out more. I thought to myself, ‘I have a year before my next test, I’ll be okay.’ I passed my next few tests, but I noticed a trend - my run time was steadily increasing. Then finally, in April, I had my first PT failure.

I felt absolutely mortified as I finished my last lap. All I could think about was what others would think of me, and the repercussions that were ahead of me.

After meeting with my leadership and receiving a letter of counseling, I made strides to pass my next test. I started working out five days a week, and I included new activities like high interval intensity training, swimming and yoga into my routine. I also ran a timed mile and a half every week to ensure I was doing everything I could to pass my next test.

Additionally, I also met with Geri Seal, the 28th Medical Operations Squadron health promotion program manager, to talk about my eating habits and my overall goals like improving my run and losing weight.

When the day of my retest came, I was nervous, anxious and afraid of failing again. I tried to take all of those negative thoughts and focus on the progress I had made over the last 90 days, but the anxiety got the best of me. I failed my second PT test, and this time the consequences could cost me my career.

Meeting with my commander, first sergeant and public affairs chief, we discussed the repercussions of a second failure and the importance of passing.

I also met with one of our wing staff agency’s acting superintendents at the time, who gave me an honest talk about my situation and what was at stake. If I failed my next test, it was highly probable that I could be discharged and lose my benefits, including my GI Bill.

I had another 90 days before I retested and this time I was determined to pass. I cooked healthier meals and watched my calorie intake. For my fitness routine, I mixed in more strength and endurance training rather than just running a mile and a half.

Then in October, I earned a passing score. With the help and encouragement of my supervisor and friends, I was able to push my limits and crush the run, the thing that gave me trouble in the first place.

Through all my struggles, the biggest thing I learned is no one is accountable for my fitness except for me. The only person responsible for how often I go to the gym and how healthy I eat is me. I couldn’t blame my failing scores on anyone else even if I wanted to.

As a military member, one of the easiest things you have control of is your motivation to stay fit and healthy. By no means am I saying you have to lift and run for hours a day and only live off vegetables, but a big part of maintaining your body comes with balance.

Whether you may have failed a physical fitness assessment, or you simply want to take preventive measures for your health, there are multiple sources that offer services. The Health and Wellness Center provides one-on-one appointments to discuss nutrition, fitness and other health-related topics. The 28th Medical Group also has a dietician who can go in depth about the important role that food plays in weight loss or living a healthy lifestyle.

As cliché as it sounds, the most important thing I learned through this ordeal is that I couldn’t start preparing for my test at the last minute and expect amazing results. Some people may be able to do it, but I couldn’t and there may be others that are the same. By making exercise and healthy eating a priority in my life, I’m not only able to pass my test, but my overall health has been changed for the better.