LANDSTUHL, Germany — As a junior in high school, 6-foot-3-inch Timothy Burnell struggled to bench press just over half his own body weight, today he finds himself in a weight room nearly every day, heaving a combined weight over five times his own with the standard “big” three compound lifts.
The future Soldier found his calling through determination and with the help of a high school coach.
“We had an introduction to weightlifting class for basketball and I struggled with the bench press at 135 pounds,” said Burnell, now a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army. “My coach at the time told me to improve my bench by at least 50 pounds over the summer, and from that day forward I've been in the weight room.”
In a recent powerlifting competition on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Burnell demonstrated how far he’s come from his high school days, after placing first, with a three exercise — bench press, squat, deadlift — combined weight of 1,529 pounds.
A pharmacy specialist by trade, Burnell currently works at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Troop Command as the battalion operations noncommissioned officer. There he coordinates training evolution and battalion events for approximately 700 Soldiers at the hospital.
“As a Soldier, physical fitness has a huge part in what we do, whether in the hospital or out in a field environment,” explains Burnell, a native of Roseburg, Oregon. “You always need to be ready for whatever challenges are thrown at you, and I think by weightlifting and increasing your strength, you increase your ability to take on those additional challenges.”
Aside from other powerlifting accolades, Burnell, who has deployed twice to the Middle East, also proved himself equally capable in the pharmacy where he was previously recognized as the Army’s top junior enlisted pharmacy technician in 2013.
Although exercising for two hours a day or more does take time away from family, Burnell explains it’s more than just about getting pumped. Weightlifting is therapeutic and self-care for the husband and father of one.
“Thankfully, my wife is very supportive and knows lifting is my go-to, or stress reliever, so she understands every morning, Monday through Friday and sometimes Sundays, I go to the gym,” said Burnell. “Everybody has their own their own ways to deal with stress or cope with stressful situations. For me [weightlifting] was just my outlet. I put in my headphones, listen to my music and just kind of go into my own little zone. It's a healthier alternative than what some people use for stress, and definitely works for me it.”
Although the recent implementation of the Army Combat Fitness Test has multiple physical components to it, Burnell hopes to be an inspiration to Soldiers who aren’t the fastest in formation.
“I often like to show Soldiers that you don't have to be the fastest runner, you don't have to be the quickest at push-ups, you can excel in other things,” said Burnell. “You can be bigger, or you might not run as fast, but you'll be stronger and that makes up the difference.”