Semper Fit: How Military Spouses Stay in Shape During Deployments

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By Donna Gorman

Maryellen Duren’s husband, Staff Sergeant Joshua Duren, had only been home for 8 months when he got the call: the Marine Corps needed him to go back to Kuwait. He had just four days to pack his bags and say goodbye to his wife, his 4-year-old son and his 2-year-old daughter.

‪He left for the Middle East, and Duren did what she always does: she hit the gym.

‪It’s tricky enough for moms of young children to stay on top of their fitness game, but what happens if your spouse is deployed with the military, leaving you alone to run the household? Worse still: what if your spouse is one of the fittest people on the planet? How can you possibly keep pace with him?

‪ “If anything, being married to a Marine only encourages me to be as fit and healthy as I can be,” says Duren. “His motivation motivates me.” At her current home near Miramar, in California, Duren doesn’t have many opportunities to go to the gym, so she focuses on walking and running. “I walk a fast-paced 5K in the mornings. In the evenings, I go for a run with the kids in the double stroller. It’s mainly uphill, and pushing 70 pounds of kid in the stroller is a great work out.”

‪Trina Lutes-Johnson is another Marine spouse and mom to three kids, whose husband is currently in Eastern Europe. She’s a deployment exercise expert, having already worked out through her husband’s tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lutes-Johnson says, “I work out for many reasons, the first being my sanity! I am just plain cranky if I don’t get a workout in. I aim for being active every day. With three kids, that’s not easy, but it can be anything from walking one day to P90X2 the next.”

‪How does she find the time? “Kids come first… even more so when I’m playing both mom and dad. So I squeeze workouts in during naps or after bedtime, or even when kids are eating dinner. I also do leg lifts, squats or kicks when I’m on the phone, drying my hair or brushing my teeth. All the little extras add up.”

‪Spouse Nicole Cahill finds inspiration in her kids. “I was on the treadmill one afternoon, pouring sweat, wondering why I decided it would be a good idea to train for a half marathon while my husband was gone. I was discouraged, pissed off that I was tired, pissed off that Scott was gone again for work…. Then I felt someone watching me. It was my son, standing in the garage doorway. He said, ‘you’re doing a good job mommy,’ and ran back inside. I was able to get into my groove thanks to my 3-year-old.”

‪Cahill can do pull-ups and handstand push-ups now, but she wasn’t always this strong. Several years ago, she and her spouse, Command Sergeant Major Cahill, moved to Guam, a tiny island in the South Pacific. She was pregnant with their third child, and the move overwhelmed her. Feeling herself spiraling into a cycle of anxiety and depression, she knew she needed to do something. But what?

‪At the park one day, she saw three of her neighbors working out. “They were doing push-ups, sit-ups, and running laps while their kids played,” she says. “I was 6 weeks post baby, so I was like a little kid, hoping they would ask me to come play. One of them yelled out, ‘get over here!’ and that moment changed my life. I start working out with them three days a week after we dropped the kids off at school, rain or shine – mostly rain in Guam. The four of us turned into five, then 10, then 30.”

‪The group stuck together, even after they’d left Guam for other parts of the world. Today, they work out together via a Facebook group. “We created a real support system thousands of miles away from home. These ladies are family. And we all became better mothers and wives because of our workouts. We took the stress and left it at that park.”

‪Does all that time spent sweating pay off? Yes, say these super-fit military spouses.

‪”It took me more than six months to be able to do some of the P90X2 moves,” says Lutes-Johnson. “But I feel pretty badass for doing things I never thought I could.”

‪She credits working out with bringing the family closer together as well. “We go hiking together a lot while their dad is gone,” she says. “It’s a win-win: family time and a workout.”

‪Cahill says even her athletic husband is wowed by her transformation. Once, in Guam, “he drove by the park while I was doing pull-ups on a swing set. I didn’t see him, but my friends said he slowed the car to a crawl and watched me crank out 15 pull-ups. They said the look on his face was priceless. He has always been an amazing athlete, and to see his wife doing unassisted pull-ups at the park might have put him back.”

‪Duren’s commitment to exercise changed her life. Before she became a Marine Corps spouse, she was an obese teenager, with no idea how to work out or eat right, but over the years, she transformed herself into to a 128-pound mom of two. “It amazes me that this girl who was 260 pounds and couldn’t walk up the stairs can now run a 5k with ease,” she says of her new self. During her husband’s last deployment, she studied to become a nutrition specialist and personal trainer. Now she runs fitness classes for other military spouses on base while she awaits her husband’s return.

‪”That moment he steps off the plane and sees me in person for the first time in months, all the sweating will be worth it.”

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