By Gail ParsonsJanuary 7, 2019
When Spc. Destiny Kendall, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 1st Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, entered the Fit Nation program, she was nursing chronic tendonitis in her left knee and was not certain if she had a future in the military.
In May 2018, she was told she would be put on a permanent profile because of the injury.
It wasn't the answer she wanted to hear. She tried to fight it, but her command team held firm.
She began going to Fit Nation. When she first started, her physical therapist told her she could only do arm day.
"But no leg anything, no squats, no nothing," she said.
She would go into the gym and see her peers using heavy weights and there she was with "a little vest on with a few weights in it," she said. "I'm kind of doing squats, but not really."
Then one day an officer comes in and watches her. After a while he told her to try a few different stretches and exercises. At first, she was skeptical, he was contradicting what she was previously told.
"He said, 'I'm going to clear you to start doing squats and deadlifts,'" she said. "I was a little scared. I started with 10 pounds on either side; very little and slowly."
That officer was physical therapist 1st Lt. Ryan Lynch, Irwin Army Community Hospital.
"She was hurting," Lynch said. "I remember the first time I saw her, she was in a lot of pain. That kind of pain takes a while to recover from."
But Lynch saw something else in Kendall -- drive.
"I knew that she wanted to get better," he said. "That is the first thing I want to see in my patients -- that they want to get better. She had a lot of challenges, but I could tell she was driven."
Her drive was spurred by the idea that she could get better. When she was given hope, she took it and ran with it.
She started doing the stretches Lynch directed her to and she started adding a little more weight to the bar. Within a few months she had reached 185 pounds on the deadlift and her squats.
She still has days when the chronic tendonitis flares up but through Fit Nation she said she has learned how to handle it.
"I just take it day-by-day," she said "If my knee is not agreeing with me, I just say 'fine' and I take it easy. When it does feel better, I'm right back at it."
It turned out while her diagnosis was right, the initial treatment plan was not.
"When they say don't do anything that eliminates a whole part of my body that I need for running, for everything in the military, that was devastating," she said. "When I got to Fit Nation, I was so excited. I do this in place of PT. It felt really good to get back into it and feel strong again."
It also felt good to be surrounded by other Soldiers who she could relate to. They were all trying to get their fitness back.
"When I was losing fitness, I felt like I couldn't do anything," she said. "I felt like there wasn't anything I could do for myself. I gave up at that point. I thought, 'I guess I'm a walker now. This is what I do now; and I am only 20.'"
The feeling of being a "broken 20-year-old" was crushing to her. She would see people many years her senior on the track running the way she had just a few months earlier.
"Now, every other day I run at least two miles," she said.
Her success in Fit Nation spilled over to more than just being able to pass her physical fitness test. She is no longer intimidated when she goes to the gym -- quite the opposite. She now loves it and goes because she wants to.
"I had always felt like 'I am a Soldier so I have to work out'," she said. "Now, I want to be here. I like the feeling it gives me. I feel powerful. I am in my zone and when I am in my zone nothing can bother me."
Her attitude is what Lynch said contributed heavily to her recovery. Similarly, for other Soldiers who are injured it is a matter of stepping back and seeing how something can be fixed.
"A lot of what we do in physical therapy is behavioral health," he said. "That's not saying there is something mentally wrong with someone -- it's getting them to buy into what you want them to do, which is get them better."
At the end of the day, the physical therapists can only do so much. They can give a person the resources. They can give instruction. But it is up to the individual to make the commitment, the way Kendall did, to do the work.