Pilot enters fitness competition, boosts resiliency

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Azaria E. Foster and Senior Airman Hayden Legg
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

Air Force PT tests have been suspended for over a year, and for Airmen like Lt. Col. Aaron Jones, finding motivation during the new normal became its own test.

“I was going to the gym on average four to five times a week before COVID,” said Jones, former director of operations at the 81st Fighter Squadron. “And then throughout that next 12 months, it went from four to five times to three or four times to twice to – eventually I just stopped going.

“My wife got a picture of me doing the COVID routine, cutting my son’s hair,” Jones said. “And I remember looking at it, thinking how much weight I had gained and how out of shape I was – and pushing back the PT test and all the aspects of the new normal really weren’t helping because that motivation to stay fit wasn’t there. So I was like, I got to do something about this. This is getting crazy.

“So I ran into a friend on base, we got to talking and I thought, let’s do a physical fitness competition, and see if that’s enough motivation to get out of this daily rut of not going to the gym,” Jones said.

Jones entered into the Organization of Competition Bodies No Gear pro-am in Greensboro, North Carolina, under the Men’s Physique category.

“I knew nothing about it,” Jones said. “I knew we wanted to get the show done before June, that’s really why I chose this show, because it gave me the most amount of time to prepare for it physically and mentally. I linked up with a coach from Absolute Fitness and almost right away he put me on a nutritional plan and a workout plan. And we’ve been going after it ever since.

It started out pretty tough right away,” Jones said. “I think the cardio was the hardest part for me, because we started out with 10 minutes, but now I’m doing 45 to 60 minutes of cardio for each session. But over the course of the last five months, I’ve seen the results. And from the hard work and dedication and commitment, I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life.”

The Air Force puts a lot of emphasis on the pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness: physical, social, mental and spiritual. For Jones, taking care of his physical pillar helped the rest fall in line.

“Mentally, I feel better,” Jones said. “Physically, I feel better. Spiritually, I feel better. Emotionally, I feel better. I actually take the time to meditate now to get my mind right before going to work. I just started to see an increase in my day-to-day activities and in my day-to-day life. My relationship with my family is astronomical.”

The biggest surprise for Jones came in finding how much extra time he had to focus on his home life.

“I committed myself to doing this show, which is actually committing time to prepare for it, but I found that I have more time to do other things because now my day is planned out,” Jones said. “Those hours have been allocated specifically throughout the day to do certain things: gym, work, family, eat, sleep. The thing I want to take forward is the time that I’ve been able to allocate with the family in doing the simple things like making breakfast on Sunday or cooking dinner on a random night throughout the week, things that I took for granted with my wife because she’s an awesome military spouse.”

On top of finding more time to spend with family, Jones found time for personal development in the form of online courses. In addition, he found time to give back to his community by establishing a non-profit scholarship fund in the name of his fraternity’s local chapter.

Entering into a fitness competition, spending more time with family, continuing education and chartering a scholarship foundation for local youth – Jones says all those things stemmed from staying resilient.

“Resiliency is a huge part of what we do on a day-to-day basis in and out on the military,” Jones said. “I encourage people to really sit down and think about what it is that they’re missing, or what they think they need and understand that everybody, whether they’re talking about it or not, has those low points in their life. And they need to be able to push through in a positive way that’s going to help them come out. I just hope people can see this and say, ‘well, yeah, it was a lot of work, but he found something that helped motivate him to push through.’

“There’s been some ups – a lot of ups – few downs,” Jones continued. “But the family support has been phenomenal. And it’s been a great journey. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do from here.”

Jones placed in the top five for the Men’s Physique categories Debut, Novice and Open and said he’s found the motivation to enter again in the future.