In my present position as an instructor at the Navy’s International Training Center (NITC) I teach many different subjects in several of the different courses we run here. However, my favorite course is the International Professional Advanced Leadership course (IPAL). It’s my favorite because frankly I wrote most of the curriculum, developed the Leadership Reaction Course and (to the constant worry of my Navy CO) run the PT program. I designed this course based on the model of the Marine Corps SNCO career course and it’s open to all branches of international military, LE and Intel services. In the last five years we’ve had students attend from over 60 different countries, that have all levels of military experience, training and physical conditioning.
Before our last IPAL class started we learned that we would have a student that was a 46 year old police officer from a small African country. Now I didn’t give it a second thought, however there was considerable worry and concern over this persons ability to handle our PT program. I assured the command that if he was just in good general health and had no physical limitations he would be fine as this wasn’t my first bus ride training out of shape, older people. However after several meetings generated even more concern from the head shed, it was recommended that he be given the “option” of attending PT, or not. I flatly dismissed that and I strongly reminded everyone that this course is first and last, a leadership course and it was inconceivable that we would allow one student to “Opt out” of what the rest of the class would be required to do, PT or otherwise. IMO this went against every basic tenet of leadership training I had every learned. It turned out to be a heated debate and I ended up having to standing on some desks in full Master Gunny mode to make my case.
In the end the CO sided with me and it was decided that he be required to PT with the rest of the class, BUT I was directed to be very mindful of his advanced age when we ran PT, (Advanced? I found this funny as they seemed to forget that the PT instructor was 55). In any case the students arrived and the one in question looked exactly as you might have guessed; overall thin, with a slight gut and no visible muscle tone. He was about 15 years older than the next oldest student. After questioning them (as I always do), about what their PT program was, it was apparent that this senior police officer had done very little in the way of PT during his adult life. However he was professional and actually seemed excited to have the opportunity to get learn about fitness and to participate in a structured program.
Now there is only so much you can do in six weeks and the overall goal of our program is train students in how to develop and maintain a PT program in their own country, not to bring them to a high level of fitness. However, while this isn’t Marine Boot camp or Ranger School, it’s no sissy program either. We run PT 3X a week for an hour each and gradually ramp up the intensity. The workouts are purposely structured to allow those that are in better, or worse condition to preform and improve at their own level. So there was no need to make special adjustments to the program for him. Over the six weeks he participated fully in all of the different sessions that we did. Yes, he was very slow (with some walking) on all the initial runs and he struggled with calisthenics. However, with encouragement from his classmates and staff ,he steadily improved. Along the way he lost body fat, gained strength and remained injury free. At the end of our course we made a Field Studies Program trip to San Diego. In between visiting the USS Theodore Roosevelt and MCRD San Diego we took a day off and made a hike up Mt. Woodson to the famous; “Potato Chip Rock” (see pic) just outside of the city. We made steep hike up the 3 mile trail with “Robo Cop” (this was the nickname the other students gave him) leading the way without a hitch. He remarked that he never would have considered doing something like this before he came to our course and felt that he was in the best shape of his life.
To the dismay of the head shed (and my great amusement), at the completion of the course he remarked at the final debrief that the PT program (and the hike), was his favorite part of the course. He also intended to continue his new fitness routine, AND to incorporate this with his officers when he returned home. Now the point of this story? It’s that people tend to seriously underestimate what can be done when it comes to getting in shape and improving their health. Especially if they’re presently out of shape, or haven’t exercised much in their life. This story is just one example of many that I have personally witnessed over the years. The fact is a simple and consistent exercise program can produce amazing results if people would give it a chance and it doesn’t matter how poor your present condition is or how old you are. Give yourself a chance and don’t listen to the doubters, especially if that doubter is yourself.
Be safe always, be good when you can.