Before it was in vogue for companies to be concerned about their employees’ physical fitness and offer them discounted gym memberships and the like, the military has had a standard of health and fitness for its members. According to the Navy Personnel Command’s Physical Readiness website, physical training, often referred to as “PT,” has this as its mission: to “set the foundation to instill a Culture of Fitness that assists Sailors in developing their ability to complete tasks that supports the command mission and Navy operational readiness.”
Twice a year, the Navy checks up on its members’ physical fitness through what is called a physical readiness test, or “PRT.” Personnel are graded on a series of fitness tests, and the results of these, plus the individual’s body fat percentage and weight, can have major consequences on their career. After failing the PRT for a pre-determined amount of times, the service member can actually be separated from his or her assigned duty.
However, the standards for physical readiness adjust with the service member’s age. This is why, when Dustin was a flight instructor in Pensacola, Fla., a person sitting on the beach could easily discern which passers-by were new flight school students fresh out of their various academies and training commands, and which were the older pilots.
My husband, Dustin’s, current command at Navy Operational Support Center in Bangor, where he is the commanding officer, takes physical fitness very seriously. They use the local YMCA twice a week for weight training, then meet elsewhere — usually the City Forest — to run. They do all of this before I have hit snooze on my alarm clock. When I finally roll out of bed, Dustin has usually already come home from PT, showered, and dashed back out the door to start his workday. I remember this whenever I am tempted to say, “But I don’t have time to exercise.”
Of course, I’ve been doing my own physical training at a leisurely pace later in the morning, and since March 1, I have lost 16 pounds and 9½ inches. About a month ago, I made the unfortunate mistake of telling Dustin, “I bet I could pass the PRT now.”
“Then why don’t you come join us at the YMCA for PT one morning,” he said.
Luckily, this was not possible because of child care issues. Then my mom came to town for a visit and I had a built-in baby sitter.
“Looks like you can come to PT now,” Dustin said.
I was holding a can of Diet Dr Pepper (my morning “coffee”) when we pulled into the YMCA parking lot.
“Breakfast of champions,” Dustin said, nodding at my drink.
My hair was sticking up in all directions because I had just pulled myself out of bed five minutes before walking out the door to get in the car. My eyelids were heavy and red. Still, I thought I had a shot at showing the Navy folks how fitness is done.
Inside the gym, there were about nine weightlifting stations set up in a circle. I was instructed to pick a spot and get ready to work. I chose the sit-ups station because it seemed the closest to lying in bed and still sleeping. At least I’d be horizontal. Before I could begin, however, we had to warm up. Everyone else besides me was dressed in the Navy’s new PT uniform: navy-blue athletic shorts and a yellow shirt with NAVY written across the back in reflective lettering. With my running skort and pink tank top that was wrinkled from being stuffed in the bottom of my drawer, I felt a wee bit underdressed. I looked in one of the mirrors that lined the exercise room and noticed my hair. I did not look like a new recruit.
We started with jumping jacks. They chanted and counted in unison, creating one voice that resonated throughout the room. The seriousness of their faces made me want to giggle. I looked at Dustin and knew this wouldn’t be appropriate.
I faired pretty well during the weightlifting portion of the training. Then we moved onto the basketball court, where we competed in relay races. The politically correct term for these running drills is “wind sprints,” but they used to be called “suicides,” because that’s what you feel like you are doing to yourself. Beads of sweat were rolling down the bridge of my nose and dropping like raindrops from the tip. My shirt had big half-circle wet spots under my neck and arms. These military people don’t know the meaning of, “This is going to hurt tomorrow,” “I think I will stop for a break” or, “Can I get a towel to wipe the sweat off my brow?” My quadriceps quivered and my heart was pounding in my ears. It no longer mattered that I hadn’t brushed my hair because my whole head was wet.
At the end, the command fitness leader said with a smile, “Do you want to meet us at City Forest for a run tomorrow?”
I shook my head no because I had no breath. The only comfort I found on this day of Navy training was, thank goodness I wasn’t with the Marines.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.