by Master Sgt. Andy Stephens
Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs
11/20/2013 - RICHMOND, Va. -- Her feet pressed firmly into the mat, Staff Sgt. Stephanie Marin looks to her coach. He gives her a knowing nod - "You're ready." She then looks down at the bar, shiny and metallic. The 200 pounds of weight outweigh the Air Force recruiter by 55 pounds. She takes a deep breath, gets a tight grip, closes her eyes ... and lifts.
One! Two! Three!
Others in the gym stop and stare and count along with her, silently at first, but their voices growing higher with each successive lift. At the number 15, their voices become a roar.
This scene unfolds six days a week at The Weight Room in Richmond, Va., just down the road from where Marin works as an Air Force recruiter for the 317th Recruiting Squadron's F-Flight. While the Air Force encourages its Airmen to develop their physical prowess to a "fighting standard," the 24-year-old Chicago native said she goes to extra measures as a means of becoming the very best person - Airman, recruiter, student - she can be.
"Being an Air Force recruiter means that America's flying legion has entrusted you with the responsibility to make yourself the best advocate for the force," Marin said. "What we learn in our tech school is the parameters of being a recruiter - what you can and cannot do and what tools are available to you. A great recruiter adds their own initiative and discipline to make him or herself a success. For me, weightlifting is a big part of both initiative and discipline."
Marin credits her two coaches with keeping her motivated for a demanding regimen: Chris Lawyer, the owner of The Weight Room, and Daniel Clingenpeel. It was Lawyer who approached Marin one Saturday while she was deadlifting and asked if she had ever competed before. Clingenpeel, a competitive weight-lifter and physical education teacher at an area middle school, echoed Lawyer's appeal.
"When she told me she hadn't competed, Danny and I were floored," Lawyer said. "She had incredible strength. Being an owner, you can tell when someone is working out just to keep fit versus someone who is sincere in self-improvement. I told her about an upcoming strongman contest in Richmond, the RVA Alpha Strongman, and that she should really consider competing. What's wild is that, even though she only had a few weekends to get ready for the contest, she placed second in the competition. Some of those entrants had trained for years for that contest and she just jumped right in and outperformed some of the best in the area. She is all work ethic - no ego."
Strongman training is more intense than any CrossFit Challenge, Marin said. For that reason, training can only be accomplished on Saturdays. The competitions include a log press for maximum weight (Marin could do 120 pounds), a yoke/farmers carry (Marin finished in 15:43 seconds), a maximum repetition axle dead lift (for Marin, 15 reps in one minute), and a maximum weight stone load (Marin can do 200 pounds). Her second place win at the Alpha Strongman qualified Marin for the Northern American Strongman Championships, a rare feat for a first-timer.
"When I entered the Air Force, I was trained as a 2T151, Vehicle Operations," Marin said. "I was blessed to have commanders and supervisors who had faith in me and encouraged me to focus on my self-improvement goals. I love going to school and working out, but the Air Force is my passion. Where else can one find an environment where a boss helps you to realize your full potential?"
Marin's current boss is Tech. Sgt. Vincent Green, the F-Flight chief for the 317th RCS. He said he was not surprised by Marin's initiative, describing her as a "super-focused Airman." He described her as "building bridges of lasting influence" with members of the Delayed Enlistment Program and the next generation of Airmen.
"Our Air Force recruiters are out there getting involved with the American public because they represent the best of the Air Force," Green said. "Marin is one of our best recruiters. When she meets with the families of future Airmen, you can see in their eyes that Marin understands. They are placing great faith in our recruiters to guide them into the force, helping their sons and daughters navigate the enlistment process and demonstrating by personal example the full potential that the Air Force can unlock in a motivated Airman."
Adding to Marin's credibility is her academic success as a student in computer engineering, giving her fluency in the cyberspace aspects of today's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiatives.
"Because computer science is a very demanding academic program, I do have to work hard to balance my weightlifting training with my coursework," Marin said. "I couldn't afford to travel to the Northern American Strongman Championships this year because most of my salary goes to cover my school books and I really didn't want to be away from my job on such short notice. I'm pretty excited to be a Strongman competitor - to be a Strongwoman - but my current mission is to become a certified recruiter and wrap up my computer engineering degree. But I'm going to work even harder now that I know I'm on the right track."
"Marin is a winner," Green said. "And she proves easily to others what it takes to win through willpower and fair play. The Air Force Recruiting Service is very lucky to have recruiters like her to communicate the Air Force message to tomorrow's Airmen."