Captain pushes physical limits to aid wounded Warriors
July 20, 2009
FORT POLK, La. -- PT - physical training - is a way of life in the Army. Each morning on Fort Polk, Soldiers can be seen running, jumping and doing various exercises from the front of company areas to the track around Warrior Hills Golf Course to Alabama and Georgia avenues.
Yet even though all healthy Soldiers participate in unit PT programs, some push their bodies a little - or a lot - further than others. One such Soldier is Capt. Erica Chabalko, commander, Charlie Company, 162nd Infantry Brigade. The slightly built athlete is not content to put her body through the normal two- or four-mile run and two minutes worth of pushups and sit-ups, the events in the Army's semi-annual PT test. No, for Chabalko, who is a triathlete, the events are a run (anywhere from 10K to 26.2 miles), a bike ride (from 40K to 112 miles) and a swim (from 1,500 meters to 2.4 miles, in open water).
When asked why she pushes her body to its physical limits, Chabalko said it's because it's a lifetime sport.
"It is not unusual to see all ages from teenagers to older athletes in their 60s participating in triathlons," she said. "I also like the fact that triathlons teach you that you can't judge a book by its cover."
Chabalko said that in some sports, you can size people up.
"Not in a triathlon," she said. "You may find yourself being passed by a white-haired female who hardly looks like her heart rate is about 100 beats per minute. It can be humbling, but that's why the sport is so great."
The sport also allows an athlete to focus on different areas, Chabalko said.
"I used to be just a runner and did mile after mile after mile," she said. "Now I can hit the pool, or jump on my bike and still run. It allows me a lot of flexibility and there is no way you get bored."
Maybe not bored, but physically drained is a possibility. But Chabalko has found a way to help her push pass the physical pain while at the same time helping out fellow Soldiers. She's running, biking and swimming with a purpose - to support the Army's Wounded Warrior Program.
"I talked to a friend of mine who is a triathlete," she said. "He told me he was raising money for the Wounded Warrior Program. I researched it and thought it was a great idea."
According to the Army Wounded Warrior Program web site (www.aw2.army.mil) AW2 assists and advocates for severely wounded, injured, and ill Soldiers and their Families. It provides individualized support to Soldiers who were injured or became ill during their service in the Global War on Terrorism. Those who meet AW2 eligibility are assigned to the AW2 and receive a local AW2 advocate to assist them long-term.
Chabalko will compete in two triathlon events - the New York City Triathlon July 26 and the Florida Ironman Triathlon Nov. 6. She hopes to raise $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Program with her efforts - $4,000 at New York and $6,000 in Florida. She said the money will be used by AW2 to provide backpacks with basic needs for wounded, injured or ill Soldiers to help them and their Family members get back on their feet. "Anything from clothing to things of convenience to assistance to those who are leaving the service," she said.
Chabalko said the Wounded Warrior Program has given her its blessing and set up a link to a web page (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) for those who want to keep up with her activities and make contributions.
"I'm also on Facebook," the two-time All-Army triathlon member said. "I constantly update my status reminding people I'm still raising money for the Wounded Warrior Program."
Having a specific goal to shoot for has helped motivate Chabalko to continue her triathlete training.
"It's not only renewed my love for the sport, it's also reminded me of how important it is to support those Soldiers who made physical sacrifices in Afghanistan and Iraq," she said. "It's become almost an addiction - I check my web site all of the time. My captain's career course is considering a lump sum contribution and so many fellow Soldiers and friends are chipping in."
To date, Chabalko has raised $1,560, but she is optimistic she'll reach her goals.
"This is such a worthy cause and I know the Soldiers of Fort Polk will come through," she said.
And give this Warrior another mark to run, swim and bike toward next year.