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VIEWPOINT: What makes a champion?

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Have you ever wondered what makes a person a champion?

Not just the obvious answer of a gold medal for an event or being ranked number one in a certain category. But really, what makes a person a champion?

For me, one definition was observed on a miserably hot and muggy September day in 2008 in San Antonio.

I was out on the old Kelly Field golf course for an afternoon run, slowly chugging up a hill toward the back of the Security Hill gym. Every step felt like my muscles were going to explode into pieces and melt into the two-foot tall grass lining the cart path. The air was unbelievably thick, and even more unbelievable was the incline I attempted to shuffle up. I was approaching the 4-mile mark - the end of my run. I'm pretty sure if my pace was any slower, I would have started moving backward in time.

I looked up, and over the crest of the hill comes what at first I thought was a gazelle/human mutant. After I cleared the burning sweat and sunblock out of my eyes, I positively identified the blur rapidly moving toward me as a fellow staff co-worker, Master Sgt Dennis LaRue.

LaRue and I knew each other casually, usually chatting in the halls at work or talking about running and fitness in the gym locker room. He was extremely fit and could, in fact, run like a gazelle/human mutant.

Back to the story: LaRue was bounding - maybe even skipping - over the top of the hill with no shirt on, sporting a physique fit for the cover of Men's Health Magazine and a headband reminiscent of the great Bruce Lee.

I looked up, greeted him with a muffled "Hey man," and he replied with a short, simple statement.

"This is where champions are made."

That very brief interaction on the trail that day is forever engrained in my brain. For me, personally, every time I think things are tough, difficult or extreme, I repeat that statement in my mind and push through.

I can think of a lot of scenarios where a simple statement like this is relevant and may make the difference between average and outstanding. How about the fifth lap of your fitness assessment? Or getting assigned an important mission or task at the end of long shift? Maybe responding to an alarm activation in freezing temperatures? Or possibly launching an aircraft immediately following a rocket attack in a combat zone?

These are the types of things you may be asked to do anytime, anywhere that require you to dig deep and give it everything you have left "in the tank."

As you consider our Core Value of "Excellence in All We Do," I ask you to think about those words.

Don't take the easy route with anything you do. Push yourself and become a champion.
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