By Pvt. Daniel AlkanaJune 23, 2019
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The feeling of uncertainty rarely consumes me. For the most part, I am fairly composed and come into new scenarios with an open mind. As a Soldier, I welcome challenges and learn to live with them or through them.
Not long after arriving to my unit in Fall 2018, I was faced with the worst injury I had acquired in my short military career.
As I was finishing a run, a sharp pain began to cast a curse on my lower back. I was imagining getting repeatedly poked with needles as I pushed through the pain.
Unsure if it was soreness, a sprain or injury-I convinced myself that I needed to get it checked out.
Being a "sick call Ranger" was the last way I envisioned any part of my Army career. I internally forbade it.
I had only been with my unit for a month. There hadn't been enough time for my team to really see what type of physical capabilities I possessed as a Soldier.
But the pain felt paralyzing. I couldn't get myself to stand straight without struggling or using leverage of sorts.
After completing therapy dates over a four-week period, I was ready to rock and roll right?
The uncertainty of the recovery process struck me down like Thor's hammer.
Part of my recovery process included a program of which I had never heard: SPARTA
I was unsure of what I was about to delve myself into. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on a SPARTA Coaches Manual to try and familiarize myself with the program.
As I read, I discovered that The Soldier Performance and Readiness Training Agoge, also known as SPARTA, was "a measured program designed to teach the fundamentals of strength and conditioning to Soldiers."
I began to ask myself if I would ever bounce back to the shape I was in before. Could I return to form after this new recovery mission? What will my unit think of me now? Is this going to disrupt my future assignments?
Day one, I showed up to Frederick Performance Enhancement Center on Fort Bragg. I began to look around in awe of how massive the grounds were and how modern the equipment was. The facility was unlike any other I had seen on base. It resembled Olympic-style training.
Copious squat and bench press racks lined up to the end of the building. There were kettle bells of every weight, and medicine balls bigger than I'd ever seen.
I walked past the training area with a false sense of confidence. I told myself I had seen similar regimens and equipment, and I assured myself I would be just fine. Yet I used fraudulent courage to mask my real fear of failure. To show any weaknesses and deficiencies in my physical capabilities would have haunted me.
The time had come for me to put aside all my uneasiness. I felt like I put so much pressure on myself, as if SPARTA was going to be a make-or-break for my Army career.
I exhaled and mustered up the courage and walked into the SPARTA office to report in. I was ready to face my physical uncertainties head on.
I felt immediately comforted when I saw about five other Soldiers waiting patiently for the session to commence. We were going to be in this recovery process together.
Each morning started off with a lesson in a classroom environment. The lessons focused on the importance of mental resiliency. We worked on aligning our minds with our bodies in order to maximize our potential and achieve the outcomes we desire.
We were educated on how mental distractions prevent physical capabilities along with how not sleeping enough prevents functionality for day-to-day activates.
My focus was to strengthen my back muscles. Most of the exercises assigned for my recovery were foreign to me. Going into SPARTA, I was only familiar with standard movements. Most of my familiarity was with lunges, deadlifts and kettle bell swings, yet I had no idea how many variations could be added to each one.
To my surprise and exhaustion, I was introduced to challenging exercises like Bulgarian lunges, lunges with medicine ball tosses and lunges with kettle bells. I must have done so many lunges throughout my recovery I felt like I resembled a statue of Atlas the Titan.
Adding to all the lunges were cycles of deadlifts, weighted hip thrusts, high interval training and farmer carries that spanned across an area that I could have sworn felt like crossing an entire football field.
At times, I would start to think I couldn't get through the pain and fatigue. Those moments were when the lessons on resiliency and focus really helped me persevere through moments of self-doubt.
Steadily, each SPARTA session began to pay dividends to my state of mind. I came in with the desire to push myself while also maintaining control of my form and mind. I was beginning to understand why the program was designed.
In a short period of time, I felt more confident in my physical abilities. My insecurities and self-doubt dwindled as my strength and conditioning regiment navigated me through the road to recovery.
SPARTA, the XVIII Airborne Corps program designed to guide Soldiers through personal recovery hurdles in a calculated, systemic manner, made a true and healthier believer out of me.
It is a blessing that we, Soldiers in the world's most powerful Army, have the privilege to reach out to programs like SPARTA when we need help.