The Great Detachments Begin

Like a boat leaving a ship for an unknown shore, life is a series of moments of transition into the unexplored.

I ran my final Physical Readiness Test (PRT) in the Navy today.

I ran my first official PRT back in boot camp in November 1997.  We ran two during boot camp; the first was to sort of gauge where we were in meeting Navy standards.  The second was the official PRT.  I passed it with the best time I ever held for the 1.5 mile run—9:30.  I never ran that fast again (or nearly made myself throw up doing it either!).

I stopped running the cardio portion of the PRT in 2008 while teaching at the Defense Information School.  I was still in shape, but two things were combining to reduce my run time dramatically.

First, I’m not a natural runner; I’m built to hike long distances, not run.  As I aged, I was just getting slower.  Second, that motorcycle wreck in 1999 caused significant permanent injury to my knees, particularly my left knee.  I have little to no cartilage left in that knee.  By 2008 even the best, most padded running shoes were not preventing chronic knee pain.  That pain meant my bones were grinding, eroding, and slowly deteriorating.

In 2008 I finally opted to start using the alternate cardio options the Navy offers.  First it was the stationary bike.  By 2013 I had learned enough to know the elliptical machine gives a far better workout, so I switched to that.   This switch has prevented me from having knee surgery.  In fact I’ve been careful to keep my knees as intact as possible so, for a 45-year-old man with significant joint damage dating back to 1999, my knees are actually in remarkably good shape.

I digress.  You’re probably not that interested in my knees.  I’m quite attached to them, but you are probably more interested in the larger picture this column is trying to paint.

Another milestone to retirement has been reached, and with it the inevitable change in mindset that comes with altering one’s sense of identity.

In high school physical fitness was a terror because I’m not a natural athlete.  I was always picked last, and usually guaranteed my team to lose.  In college the gym was “cool” to go to because, well, that’s what college kids do at odd hours.  We work out and try to be buff and sexy and all.

After college…well, physical fitness was an afterthought, usually no more than a run to relieve the stress of always losing my jobs to a lousy economy.

Finally, I joined the Navy.  Over the past two decades the Navy has taken a serious round turn on the idea of making physical fitness as much a part of the culture as basic seamanship knowledge is.  When I joined the PRT was held twice a year, but was often a joke.  Over the past 20 years that joke has become deadly serious.  Fail enough PRTs within a four-year period and you are out.  You will be discharged.

For 20 years physical fitness has been a significant part of identifying myself as a United States Sailor.  I may hate command PT (I do better working out on my own), but it was one of the traits that sets us apart from the civilian world.  Not only did we make fitness part of the culture, we tested it, strove to meet high standards, and gave incentives to Sailors to continually improve their scores.

That ended today at 8:00 a.m. when I completed my final PRT.

From now on, for the rest of my life, physical fitness will not be part of defining who I am as a member of military culture.  For the rest of my life, I will not strive to meet and exceed a minimum number of sit-ups, push-ups, and calorie count on the cardio part of the test.  I won’t stress every six months (funny fact: I’ve passed every PRT for 20 years, yet prior to every test I always had an anxiety attack that this time I’d fail!).

No.  From now own when I do push-ups, they are only for me because I know how I want to live.  When I hit the elliptical machine it is only for my own personal health and desired physical appearance.

This was the First of the Great Detachments that will define my retirement and departure from the naval service.  More will follow, of course.  But this, my final PRT…this was the first.

Now, of course, Friday morning I’ll be with my Sailors at command PT.  I may never have to be tested to a Navy standard again, but I still have six months of Navy routine left to conform to!

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