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Putting in sweat: Soldier gives all to make fitness team

By Devon L. Suits Army News Service

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Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Zayas wiped the sweat off his brow as he glared at the box on the floor in front of him. Listening to the loud music that echoed throughout the gym, Zayas took a deep breath as he anticipated his next set of exercises.

During a typical high-intensity workout, Zayas would be surrounded by other fitness enthusiasts, but not today. Alone at the Army Warrior Fitness Center, Zayas had one thing motivating him -– the clock.

"Training by yourself is OK -- you need it sometimes,” he said. “However, you always want somebody right next to you to try to beat you in a workout and give you that extra push."

With a loud beep, the gym's timer went off launching the former detentions noncommissioned officer into a fury of movements. For the next 20 to 25 minutes, Zayas would complete a series of box jumps, pushups, rows, wall-ball shots, and kipping pullups.

This was his first of three workouts that day.High-intensity training started as a way to get back into shape and later evolved into a means to compete, he said. As a member of the Army Warrior Fitness Team, Zayas is determined to represent himself and the Army at high-level competitions, all while encouraging others to join the service he admires. 

FINDING HIS PATH

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Zayas was the first in his family to join the military. During the early years of his career, Zayas served as an 88H cargo specialist, but later re-classed to become a 31E internment/resettlement specialist.

Zayas married shortly after joining the military and his family grew, he said. At the same time, the family lifestyle took over. Zayas started to put on excess weight through poor eating habits and an ineffective fitness routine.

"I was back and forth between being in and out of shape," he said. "I was on the border of getting kicked out of the Army."

In 2011, Zayas deployed to Afghanistan and saw this as an opportunity to reset. He quickly locked down his diet, engaged in a rigorous fitness routine, and got back into shape.

Zayas returned home to Fort Bliss, Texas, with a healthier mindset and desire to help others. Upon his arrival, Zayas' wife announced that she was pregnant with the couple's second child. With a newborn on the way, he did what was necessary to balance his work, family, and fitness schedules.

Shortly after the birth of his second daughter, Zayas and his wife joined a CrossFit gym to help her get back into shape, he said. This was his first introduction to CrossFit.

"I was hooked," he said. "But, the workout wasn't much. I would go for one hour like everybody, and then I would work out again [later on]."

COMPETITION

Zayas continued to dedicate much of his free time to his fitness routine, all while helping other Soldiers with their PT performance, he said. The family eventually moved on to their next assignment at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Zayas was quick to find a local CrossFit gym. 

"I met two guys over there that were really competitive," he said. "I started training with them. That's what got me into the [competitive scene]. It gave me a purpose."

Determined to break into the competitive-fitness circuit, Zayas allocated what little free time he had toward his diet and workouts. As a detentions NCO, Zayas was responsible for many of the inmates at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks on Leavenworth.

The USDB is a maximum-security facility for male service members convicted of crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"I would work eight- to 12-hour shifts, to include physical training, and NCO [tasks]," he said. "It was stressful. You have to deal with different personalities and expected the worst."

Fitness quickly became an outlet for Zayas to relieve stress, he said. During the worst of days, he would return home, change his clothes, and immediately go into his garage gym to unwind. 

"I don't like lifting angry," he said. "Once I started training, I forgot what I was mad about."

All of the long days and nights paid off, making him a better Soldier, NCO, and competitive athlete.

For instance, Zayas put on three ranks in five years, and continuously was recognized for his exemplary PT performance. He served as the post-partum PT coordinator for his unit and helped Soldiers get back into shape after childbirth. Lastly, Zayas went on to compete in several individual and team competitions throughout Kansas and Missouri.

More importantly, Zayas was selected to join the Army Warrior Fitness Program and PCS to Fort Knox, he added. 

ARMY WARRIOR FITNESS PROGRAMThe Army Warrior Fitness Program is an Army Recruiting Command engagement and outreach initiative. Through this initiative, the Army has an opportunity to connect the Soldier community to the "fittest people in the American population,” said Master Sgt. Glenn Grabs, first sergeant of the Outreach and Recruiting Company.   

"The Warrior Fitness Team started in the fall of 2018," Grabs said. "The decision was made to organize a competitive team that could display the strength of the American Soldier to the public."

In February, Zayas and 14 others were selected for the program. The team is a combination of strongman and woman competitors and functional fitness athletes who can participate in a wide range of competitions.

In general, functional fitness focuses on the body's ability to do basic fundamental movements, such as squatting, bending, moving, jumping, and lifting, Grabs said.

"That's the great thing about functional fitness," he said. "These Soldiers have the skills to compete at a high level. They can use some [fitness] components to pursue powerlifting, obstacle course races, and other competitions."

Thus far, the feedback the team has received has been "overwhelmingly positive," Grabs said.

During many of the competitions, former and current Soldiers have asked how they can support the program. Several athletes have also commented on the team’s professional demeanor and overall humble attitude. 

Moving forward, Zayas is determined to make the CrossFit Games, a national-level competition showcasing the most elite functional-fitness athletes from around the world, he said. Capt. Chandler Smith and Lt. Col. Anthony Kurz, members of the Warrior Fitness Team, recently represented the Army at the 2019 CrossFit Games.

"I think every athlete would like to get there," Zayas said. "We are looking to go to the CrossFit Games as a team. I think we have a pretty good shot.

"I am grateful for the opportunity," Zayas said about joining the functional fitness team. "I never saw it coming. I am grateful to my leadership, which allowed me to participate. We are building something new in the Army [and] it's going to be here for a long time."