Air Force life motivates Airman after devastating incident

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Olufemi Owolabi
  • 65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Airmen may think they have an issue with the Air Force fitness test, especially during a profile after an injury, but Master Sgt. Monica Strong, 65th Logistics Readiness Squadron's quality assurance superintendent, has overcome her challenges.

Strong recently finished sixth in her age group in a triathlon with more than 700 participants in Germany, after recovering from a car incident in 2007 that left her crippled.

Strong said maybe her strength evolved because she's living up to her last name, or it came due to her strong personality. All she knows is that she wouldn't let anything bring her down -- not even the Air Force fitness program after multiple bone dislocations.

"In 2007 when I was in Korea, I was getting into a taxi cab, and it took off when I was half-way in it," Strong said.

After the incident, her right foot was broken, her knees, hips and shoulder dislocated, and her spine disrupted, too. Some people had already written her off, thinking she wouldn't be able to walk properly again.

Despite these injuries, Strong still had her focus on the Air Force. Knowing her chances of staying in remained slim unless she got back on her feet, she kept pushing herself.
And her Air Force family and friends were there for her.

"What motivated me was my love for the Air Force," said Strong. "I didn't want to get out of the Air Force," she said. "I didn't want to get forced-retired or kicked out based on my fitness."

According to the master sergeant, if an Airman cannot pass consecutive physical training tests or evaluations due to the same injury, he or she has to go through a medical board.
"The medical board will look at your history to make a determination to kick you out or medically retire the individual," she said.

Sergeant Strong would not allow this to happen to her. She kept pushing.

She did all exercises and therapy she was asked to do -- on crutches. She went above and beyond to foot some of the bills the military wouldn't cover in order to get in the physical form she wanted.

It took more than two years, and she was later given a cane to walk with. The paperwork to terminate her Air Force contract was never filed because she was motivated to remain in the Air Force.

"I fought to stay in the Air Force," Strong said. "I had great leadership that supported me; they saw my motivation. The doctors too knew I was trying my hardest to get fixed.

"Nobody could tell me, no," she said. "The only person that could tell me, no, was myself. I said to myself, 'I still want to stay in the Air Force,' and more or less, nothing could bring me down."

Some people had twisted ankles and weren't doing what Strong was doing.

"The incident affected my fitness big time, but eventually, I got through it," she said. "The worst was running because I had a bad hip injury, which took longer time to recover from."

In 2010, as her fitness was getting better, she began contemplating how she could participate in a triathlon, but she dislocated her shoulder again and went through another session of therapy. When she recovered from the shoulder injury, she decided to finally do the Mussbach Triathlon, which was scheduled for June 5, 2011, in Germany. She started practicing every day for the 500-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike race and a 5-k run.

Unfortunately, she developed gall crystal (stones), and she went to the emergency room where she was operated on, just a few months before the triathlon.

She didn't give up, though. She did the triathlon and was categorized as one of the top 10 participants in her age group.

Strong describes herself as a "go-getter." She detests it when someone tells her she can't accomplish something.

"Since I was little, I have always wanted to be in the military; I have always enjoyed it when my father was in the Marine Corps," Strong said. "The patriotism that my dad and my family showed motivated me. So, after high school and ever since I joined the Air Force, I have always wanted to be supportive and take care of our country."

For Strong, the car incident was simply a challenge to test her fitness perseverance. She believes staying in shape is vital to every aspect of life. It could prevent certain disease, and it helps combat stress.

"I think fitness is very important," she said. "It has helped me get healthy and 'Strong' again, like my last name."

She added that anybody could come back from a similar experience. If members have injuries or obstacles with physical fitness, it's on them to make the decision to meet their goals.

"The triathlon was a goal for me," Strong said. "I have little goals in life that I would like to accomplish, and a triathlon was one of them. The feeling of saying I did it was amazing for me. I did it after I was crippled; I was sick and bed-ridden, and had all other things going on, and I still finished it. I completed it. I didn't quit or stop."

When she crossed the finish line and everyone was cheering for her, not only did she make herself proud, but she had represented the Air Force in doing it.

"When they said my number and my name at the finish line, they also said where I came from - 'Monica Strong, United States Air Force, Azores' -- and everybody heard that."