TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Obstacles in daily life can take on many forms, and one Airman from the 325th Aerospace Medical Squadron has found overcoming the obstacles encountered during triathlons helps strengthen his four pillars of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness: physical, mental, spiritual and social.
Staff Sgt. Jason Parker has been running in triathlons for three years and discovered a correlation with the difficulty of the activity life 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, most of Parker’s 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. 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 pillar of Comprehensive Airman Fitness.
“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, 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 pillar.
“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 one or his last one, brought an immense feeling of relief and accomplishment. They are all a challenge, he added.
“The other pillars 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 pillar. “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.
“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, attended Klahowya Secondary School in Silverdale and graduated with a class of approximately 100 others. Parker attributes 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, I would see planes flying overhead and knew I wanted to fly; this is what drove me towards the Air Force in particular.”
Having just hit his five year time in service mark in August, the Air Force has been everything he hoped it would be, he added.
As time has gone by, he sees kinships of the training he has done in triathlons 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.”
Parker’s supervisor agreed that he would make a great impact in the Air Force as an officer, and even though he has his goals set beyond his current role, he continues to excel in flight medicine.
“Since he has come to us, he has added so much value to the unit,” said Tech. Sgt. Ashley Carter, 325th AMDS Flight Medicine flight chief. “He came in ready to work and to train his subordinates. He also brought fresh innovative ideas to the table that have increased our efficiency as a flight. I think that he is very reliable, hardworking, trustworthy and knowledgeable when it comes to his primary, additional and wingman duties. He really has the whole Airman concept down packed.”