By Sgt. Giancarlo Casem, 11th ACR Public AffairsOctober 16, 2009
FORT IRWIN, Calif.-When the words "military spouse" are used, they don't normally appear in the same sentence as "bodybuilder," unless of course, your name just happens to be Daron Lytle.
Daron Lytle is the husband of Sgt. 1st Class Heather Lytle, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. During the day, Daron works at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin as an electronics maintenance technician. During his free time, he works out diligently, getting ready for bodybuilding competitions.
The NTC utilizes hundreds of civilians to help facilitate the its mission to train rotational units for overseas contingency operations. During training days, Soldiers from the 11th ACR take on various roles in the training villages strewn about the NTC's training area, nicknamed "the box." On these training days, Soldiers and civilian role players live in these training villages for 14 days. The logistical and technical support provided by Daron and the hundreds like him ensure the rotational training units receive the best training possible.
Daron got into the sport of bodybuilding after a long and winding road that involved football, college and a stint in the U.S. Navy.
"I started working out when I was around 13 or 14 years old during my freshman year of highschool," Daron said. "I wanted to play football in high school, and they had a weight lifting program after school."
He said he got hooked into it even after that and continued working out.
"After I became involved in it, I just enjoyed working out," Daron said. "I just liked what it could do for my body."
After high school, Daron briefly attended college but decided his future lay elsewhere. In 1994, the native of St. Louis, Mo., joined the U.S. Navy as an electronic technician. Even during his early days at Navy boot camp all the way to his stint on the USS Reuben James, his Herculean physique garnered him attention.
"I was still working out, we had a little weight room, it was a small ship, so I was known as the 'big guy,'" Daron mused. "Even before that, I remember at boot camp, everybody thought I was the master at arms because I was the biggest guy in the group."
Even to this day, when someone wanders into his work area, one only needs to ask for "the big buff guy," and his coworkers automatically point in Daron's direction.
While stationed at Hawaii, he met his wife Heather and the two were married in 1996.
"When I first met Daron 13 years ago I never thought that he would be a professional bodybuilder someday," she said. "I could tell that he must work out but that was about the extent of it. The funny thing is that although he weighs the same now as when I met him, he looks completely different."
Those differences include biceps that measure 18.75 inches around and a chest that measures 45.5 inches.
Daron left the Navy in 2000 and a year later, Heather was stationed in the Washington D.C. area. It was there that Daron's journey into the world of body building took the next step.
While working at a local gym, a coworker of Daron's suggested that he should enter competitions.
"A coworker asked if I'd ever competed, he offered to help me and 'I said why not''" he said.
In 2002, he entered his first competition; he said it was a learning experience for him. He has been in a handful of competitions and he said he's been getting better each time and that he is also learning a great deal.
Behind him every step of the way is Heather who Daron considers his manager. Daron said his wife plans his trips among other things, and if mission permits, accompanies him to events.
"Most of the time she goes with me; she's like my manager really," Daron said. "She's taken care of my flight, my room, my shuttle from the airport; she even has her dad come and stay in the room. If I need anything he can get stuff for me. If I didn't have her, I wouldn't be able to do what I do; I couldn't do it without her."
As Daron's "manager," Heather herself has come a long way. She originally did not follow the sport; but she has grown to enjoy attending competitions by her husband's side.
"It works out well that she enjoys the sport too," Daron said with a laugh. "If she didn't like it, I don't think I can still do it, it takes up a lot of your time."
Being stationed at Fort Irwin presents certain challenges for military Families, the Lytles are no different. Between the two of them, they balance their professional careers, Family time with their two daughters and spending time at the gym.
"I so admire Daron for his commitment and discipline," Heather said. "I have never met anyone who is able to fit in all that he does in a day and does everything well."
During his training phase before a competition, Daron's schedule hits a fever pitch. He wakes up at 3:45 a.m. to do 45 minutes of cardio. He then spends the next two hours preparing for the day; he weighs and cooks his chicken, gets their daughters ready for daycare and drops them of at 7 a.m. Then he's off to work from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., or a second shift during rotations. After work, he goes to the gym for an hour and a half of weights lifting. He then comes home, eats his next meal spends some time with his Family. In the evenings, he manages to squeeze in time for school to work on his Bachelor degree in Exercise Health and Science. To finish off his day, Daron heads back to the gym for another 30 to 45 minutes of cardio. Then he does it all over again the next day.
"The amazing thing is that he'll do this for 16 weeks straight plus working three weekends in a row and odd hours to support the rotation," Heather said of her husband. "I have no earthly idea how he does it and keeps up with it all. In between all of that he has his blog, web site and several forums he has to update and support to meet the obligations of his sponsorship."
Daron's sponsorship with bodybuilding legend Flex Wheeler's All American EFX nutrition was a result of his manager's business skills. He admitted that he was a bit awestruck when he first met Wheeler, a long-time hero of his.
"We were at the Ironman Pro bodybuilding show in Los Angeles last year just to go to the expo and see the show. He's always told me how much he admires Flex and had recently read his book about his life. We saw Flex and I told Daron he should approach him and tell him that and ask some questions about obtaining a sponsor," Heather said. "Flex gave him some tips, they took a picture and off we went. Later we were getting ready to leave and I told him he should ask Flex some more specifics about sponsorship, so he went back over there."
Daron explained to Wheeler that his nickname, "The Natural Freak," went along with what Wheeler's company was about. Daron also explained that he was in a military Family. Wheeler was impressed and within a week, Daron signed a contract.
"The Natural Freak" makes it a big deal to stay natural he said, he takes pride in taking only supplements. Heather is proud of her husband's commitment to his sport and to staying healthy.
"I am so proud of him and really admire his commitment to stay natural, meaning he has never done steroids," Heather said. "In this sport, it is practically impossible to become an IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilders) pro bodybuilder without taking something. He's always pushed himself as far as he can to look his best because everyone has told him there is no way you can achieve success in this sport without taking an enhancement drug. He's set out to prove them wrong."
As professional sponsored athlete, Daron believes he can offer something to the others who are interested in bodybuilding or fitness in general.
"I want to get a club together where we can exchange tips as far as supplements and different things," he said. Daron explained that a club on Fort Irwin would be a great way for people like him to share ideas and tips such as working out different parts of the body.
Selfless service is an Army Value that is alive and well in the Lytle household. Not only does Heather support Daron's lifestyle, but Daron also gives back to his Family and to his community.
We sacrifice a lot as a family for him to pursue this dream but it's so much fun to watch and I want him to be happy, it's the least I can do since he moves every 2 or 3 years for my career and has to start over each time," Heather explained. "He's definitely not self centered about it and would drop it at any moment should his Family require more of his time. I also ask him to talk to groups of Soldiers or units about supplements, workouts, myths and facts around being fit so that he can share his knowledge and contribute to wherever we are."
From a uniformed-spouse's perspective, Heather has learned a lot about how to keep her Family strong and how to best support it.
"We do it as a Family, our girls have seen him compete, and they eat just as healthy as he does and they know he's in magazines," she said. "We do it as a team. If you don't support your spouse or significant other with something that they are passionate about, then someone is not going to be happy in the end."