Ironman Tri-athlete Kicks Off Westover Strong Campaign

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- A local Ironman competitor and mother of three children told reservists on the January A UTA about her successful style of athleticism and time management.

Michelle Fitzell is a physical therapist at Bay State Hospital in Springfield. This past August, she completed her first Ironman competition in Louisville, Ky. The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run -- all done in succession.

SMSgt. Shane Robitaille, 439th Force Support Squadron Superintendent and Westover Human Resources Development Council member, invited Fitzell to speak to Westover Airmen about her experience as part of the HRDC's Westover Strong campaign.

The campaign is a series of quarterly learning opportunities intended to inform, enlighten and inspire Airmen to develop and grow in their Air Force careers.

"What inspired me to select Michelle as our first presenter is that from all appearances, she's like everyone else, busy with her career and her kids. But somehow she manages to do pretty amazing things," SMSgt. Robitaille said.

Fitzell lives in South Hadley with her boyfriend and children. She said she feels like a very average person, even though she completed one of the most difficult sporting events in the world.

Now, she wants to inspire and educate other normal, busy people on how to achieve their fitness goals, as modest or as lofty as they may be.

"What I'm trying to encourage is for people to find time in their schedules to exercise regularly because it is something that's important for longevity, health and wellness," Fitzell said. "We all have an inner athlete. You don't have to be competing to do something physical. Our bodies are the most priceless thing we have. We can't destroy them and try to pick up the pieces later on."

Fitzell started her path to the Ironman eight years ago when she had a stroke. She underwent open heart surgery to patch a small hole in her heart that allowed a blood clot to pass to her brain. After getting the OK from her doctor to start exercising again, she went at it with a renewed conviction.

Prior to her Ironman, Fitzell participated in many smaller tri-athlete events around the state. In October of 2012, while participating in a walk to benefit tuberous sclerosis, a chronic condition her niece suffers from, she decided to sign up for the Ironman.

To prepare for the Ironman, Fitzell began training six hours weekly and eventually worked her way up to 18 hours per week over the course of a 30-week training program, starting in January 2013. The hardest part of the training, Fitzell said, was finding the time to train between her job and family life. Not wanting to abandon her family, she overcame that problem with creative solutions that combined fitness and family time.

"I would go for long runs with my son riding his bike for 8,9, 10 miles," Fitzell said. "One time I ran around a track for an entire junior varsity football game while my son played. My youngest plays youth lacrosse and I would send him to games with his grandparents and ride my bike there."

Fitzell said finding time is often the biggest challenge for aspiring athletes and those looking to improve their fitness. She offered three tips to help find time.

"I think the number one is early morning workouts, because if you plan to work out later in the day something might change or come up," Fitzell said. "It's not a fun time to exercise and it's not an easy thing to do, but it's much less likely for something to happen at five in the morning. You may go to bed earlier because you know you're getting up,  but I don't think you're going to miss muchduring those hours.

"My second tip is that TV is not that important," Fitzell said. "I don't watch a lot of television. If there's something I really want to see, I'll record it and watch it later sitting on my stationary bike.

"Third, finding ways to incorporate your family into your exercise is important too," Fitzell said. "Go sledding with your kids and run up a hill and tell me that's not exercise. You can do a lot of things that are physically active without having to leave everyone and spend an hour at the gym. There are lots of ways to incorporate your family into your activities. That way it becomes more of a family event than your event."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The next edition of Westover Strong is scheduled for noon Feb. 8 (Saturday of the A UTA) and is entitled Nutrition Matters: Eating Healthy in a Fast-Paced World.