Support from wingmen helps defy once-impossible goals

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Since I can remember, I have always had an aspiration to join the Air Force, but joining meant an ample amount of physical activity, even after basic training, with yearly, if not twice yearly, physical fitness tests.

A timed, mile-and-a-half run is the standard distance ran on the cardiovascular portion of the Air Force fitness test. I've always had a fascination of going beyond that to maybe two, three, even six miles, so I made a deal one day with myself to take it a step further and to run 911 miles in 100 days.

While planning this endeavor, I contemplated running more than 900 miles in such a short time period. It was a triple digit number and I would do anything to see what it felt like to run that distance. To most avid runners, it must seem like a reasonable task. But for me, this was the hardest thing I ever had to do aside from joining the Air Force.

I was born as a native of Cameroon. Through my father, I declared to him at 4 years old that I was going to join the U.S. Air Force, despite not having U.S. citizenship and being a citizen in a country hundreds of miles away. Naturally, my father was initially staggered by the news, but yet, more than 25 years later, I'm a Force Support Squadron Airman.

I never had an innate ability to run long, despite being raised in a country known for breeding runners to become Olympic distance runners and marathon champions. In the same way my father was stunned by this news, my fellow Airmen and superintendent were surprised at first, but they supported me to pursue these goals in any way they could.

My fellow Airmen would encourage me every day to run the needed distances in the initial days of my challenge. The miles were agonizing. There were many times I wanted to quit, but my wingmen and more importantly, my mind, wouldn't let me as I felt the pounding of the road and the endless miles.

Eventually, I was able to run the prescrived distance of the day. For myself, I thought this would be as good enough, but my superintendent knew otherwise, and he continued to push me further outside my comfort zone. He would use incentives to entice me to work a little longer and walk a little farther with passion and drive.

I remember saying to my superintendent on many occasions that all this work was pointless, not attainable, and I would never be able to go the distance no matter what I did. It was at that point, I realized the once-impossible goal of becoming an Airman in the Air Force that gave me motivation to run each step with passion and drive.

With this former goal in mind, I ran faster and with better efficiency in my pace to achieve this. There were many moments of frustration and thoughts of surrender but my peers and superintendent motivated me for every mile of the way.

Many miles and 100 days later, I finally did it. I was very proud of this accomplishment but as I looked into the eyes of everyone who was there, I realized that I was feeling a whole range of emotions I didn't fully understand at the time.

I spent most of the day following my last running day with my legs propped up and lying in bed, but could not narrow down the specifics of what I did or who I spoke to. What I can tell you is how great it felt completing that final mile, the encouragement of my wingmen and thinking to myself, "I can run 911 miles."

At the end of the day, it's up to us to succeed at our goals, no matter how daunting or how impossible it may seem, whether it is running hundreds of miles or joining the U.S. Air Force. However, it is the people around us helping along the way that can make all the difference.