RAF ALCONBURY, England --
Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the amazing individuals of the 501st Combat Support Wing. Click here for the full version of the story.
Her fingers brushed against engraved metal as they closed around the cold, steel cylinder. Tightening her grip, in one fluid motion she hoisted the solid, metallic mass into the air - exhaling audibly at the same time.
"It's kind of like art," she said, in between raising and lowering the cast-iron dumbbells. "I feel like you can sculpt your body."
For Staff Sgt. Lizeth Rico, the passion toward bodybuilding began the same way it does for many other Service members - with a deployment.
"I dreaded working out before," the 423rd Medical Squadron dental technician said. "Deployment changed that for me. There tends to be a perception that when you deploy you have to be more fit. I guess I fell into that."
Coming from a running background, Rico admitted to not knowing anything about weightlifting prior to her decision to change her training routine. Now, after having researched various techniques and programs, Rico said she feels more comfortable and more motivated to weight lift.
"I really like it," she said, pushing herself through a second set of dumbbell shoulder press exercises. "It's a great way to de-stress myself, and stay fit at the same time - it really goes hand-in-hand."
For the seven year U.S. Air Force veteran, the internal happiness Rico derives from weight lifting was supplemented when she was told by friends from her hometown of Stockton, Calif. that she looked the same as she did during high school.
"That's good for me," she said, with a chuckle. "It really helps my motivation."
Despite her love for weight lifting, Rico said there are times where the desire to curl up in bed outweighs the drive to hit the gym.
"Actually, I felt like that yesterday," Rico said, smiling as she set the dumbbells down. "I didn't want to come in, but I figured that if I didn't go to the gym I wouldn't be in a good mood throughout the day. Sure enough, once I got here I felt the energy and motivation I needed to get started and push through my workout."
With her iPod in tow, Rico sets her playlist to something upbeat and sets off to pumping iron. For her, it's all about maintaining the motivation to achieve the fitness level she desires. Whether that takes time at the gym in the morning or after work, her commitment has developed into a positive habit.
"In the morning it takes me anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour," she said, slightly out of breath. "Sometimes I'll work out in the evening just to finish up with some light cardio - so that will be about 20 minutes."
Averaging about seven hours a week, Rico's fitness routine exceeds the minimum weekly exercise recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by staggering 180 percent. With more than a third of adults in America categorized as obese, the extra time at the gym does more than just help her score well on the U.S. Air Force physical training test - it puts her at lower risk for conditions like heart disease, strokes and Type 2 diabetes.
"I have so much more energy when I workout," she said. "I know people who say they barely have any energy during a normal day, go home and watch TV after work and then wonder why they struggle to pass their PT test."
Coming up on its second year, the recently revamped Air Force PT program emphasizes total fitness as a way of life, rather than a means to pass a test. By adopting an active lifestyle, Airmen can properly support the Air Force mission through increased productivity, optimized health and a higher degree of readiness. The PT test is merely a metric to demonstrate how effectively Airmen support the overall program.
"I don't work out to pass the PT test," Rico said, as she took a sip from her water bottle. "I work out because I love the feeling I get from going to the gym."
Rico admits her love of the gym wasn't always so apparent. There was a lot of personal anxiety she had to overcome before she began feeling comfortable inside a weight room.
"I used to walk into the weight room and literally just walk right out," she said. "If there were people in the gym I would get butterflies in my stomach and leave. I felt like if I didn't know exactly what I was doing I would be judged. I know a lot of people feel that way when they go to the gym."
Once Rico overcame her initial anxiety and began to feel more confident with her workout, she realized people weren't watching her - they were focused on their own fitness goals and routines. With that in mind, her anxiety disappeared - replaced by a drive to achieve her own personal fitness goals.
"If I wanted to make a difference in my body, I had to start feeling differently about working out," she said. "If you're complaining about the way you look and you're unhappy then you have to do something about it. You can't just take a magic pill and have it change your body for you."
She smiled again, effortlessly hoisting a barbell above her head and back down.
"You have to put in the work," Rico said, lifting the weight off her shoulders one more time. "No pain, no gain."