Whether she is motivating her teammates during endurance-style cycling classes or running loops at her base in the dark, one reservist says fitness provides the focus and sense of community she needs on her first deployment.
Staff Sgt. Jessica Houser, an aerospace medical tech in the Air Force Reserve, often teaches group fitness in the early mornings at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and laces up again after sunset. Nighttime runs have become a part of her regular evening routine due to a packed schedule and the desert’s brutal heat during the day.
Make it count
“One of my personal mantras that I apply to everything I do is ‘make it count,’” said Houser, who started training for two upcoming marathons — in Chicago and Berlin — when she deployed to the Middle East last December. “I am already here so what I do and how I spend my time, well, I am really passionate about making sure it counts towards something.”
Not only is Houser determined to make her deployment downtime count toward her personal goals, but she thrives when creating a sense of community through fitness.
The people you meet
“One of the best things about a deployment is that you get to meet so many people you wouldn’t normally have met,” she said. “So just as much as I have brought to them, they have brought things to me. I have someone teaching me how to swim because I am not a strong swimmer. It’s been a big community of fitness overall, and that’s what makes it so special.”
Houser was recently coined for excellence by 379th Medical Group Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Jason Donovant for building an environment full of health, fitness, and motivation at Al Udeid, including teaching indoor cycling classes to 395 people. She says a lot of the people who come to her classes have never been on a bike (to nowhere) before, but she conquers their fears by luring them in with “really great playlists.”
Inspirational beats are a good thing because Houser admits her workouts are far from easy.
“I am a really nice person, but when it comes to teaching spin, you’ll see the passion literally pour out of me as a healthy motivational coach,” she said. “Once they come to one class they are hooked. Who doesn’t want to sweat in a dark room with a bunch of other people to great music? It’s amazing.”
Besides delivering a grueling workout, Houser says her cycling sessions also provide a bonding experience.
“People show up for a time to connect with other people,” she explained. “With COVID everything we do has been very isolated. The connection and making friends is what keeps people coming.”
Houser began connecting with the fitness community through running, initially logging three miles a day and gradually increasing her goals, race training, and joining running groups. After her father passed away suddenly due to a massive heart attack at the end of her college career, she became even more dedicated.
“That major life event, plus my nutrition major were both catalysts to really learn about health care and how to fuel my body,” she said. “Running showed up for me in all capacities, and after that it was pretty much game on.”
Today, Houser, who has earned a Bachelor of Science in Community Health from George Mason University and a Master of Public Health from Purdue University, can add ultra-marathoner to her list of accolades.
During deployment, she says recruiting a lot of members in her unit to join her on runs has been a reward. Houser feels fitness is vital in a military setting, especially because it helps with cardio conditioning for PT testing.
“If I can show up and show them a cardiovascular workout with less of an impact that can help them gain strength and can pay off for them personally with their fitness testing, I feel like that is a triple win.”
As for Houser, she plans to return to the U.S. from deployment sometime this summer, complete the Berlin Marathon in September, and the Chicago Marathon a couple of weeks later.
“I am driven to create the things that I’ve always wanted,” she said. “Purpose comes from pain.”
Follow Houser’s journey on Instagram @runningwithkale.