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Master sergeant's journey to healthier lifestyle, more fit body
Master Sgt. Shawn Leach, 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Emergency Management flight chief, wins the individual male category of the Biggest Loser weight loss competition at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, Oct. 10, 2013. Leach was deployed from Royal Air Force Alconbury, U.K., and is a native of Arcadia, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
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Master sergeant's journey to healthier lifestyle, body

Posted 12/6/2013   Updated 12/6/2013 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Krystie Martinez
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

12/6/2013 - TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- At 5 feet 5 inches and 232 pounds, he looked in the mirror and wasn't proud of what he saw. "If I can't look at myself, how can my kids and everyone else look at me and think I look okay?"

He decided enough was enough; it was time for a change.

"The last 17 years I fought to keep my weight off, it's been a non-stop rollercoaster and I was tired of battling," said Master Sgt. Shawn Leach, 376th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, Emergency Management flight chief. "I've always been battling between about 200-215 pounds, but my weight really spiked last year due to injuries."

The battle with his weight began towards the beginning of his career after he experienced a severe shoulder injury.

"It wrecked me, it completely wrecked me," said the Arcadia, Neb. native. "I noticed I was gaining weight but I didn't know how to control it. After that, it was just a rollercoaster of starvation diets."

Deployed from Royal Air Force Alconbury, U.K., Leach came to Transit Center at Manas six months ago with the goal of improving his physical ability. Sticking to a strict diet and exercise routine led to Leach losing 65 pounds and shrinking his waist by eight inches.

His journey to a fitter body and healthier lifestyle began with the help of fellow 376th ECES Airmen.

"I started eating Paleo when I first got here," he said. "What's funny is an Airman here was eating Paleo and I laughed at her. I apologized the next day and to show encouragement, started eating Paleo with her."

The Paleolithic diet also referred to as Paleo is based on eating food that prehistoric man ate, which primarily includes fruits, vegetables and lean meats.

Along with a new diet came a new exercise routine. With the help of one of his Airmen, Leach was able to start a new workout routine.

"I found someone who was into working out and was willing to volunteer his time," Leach said. "Otherwise this would have cost me a fortune. There are a lot of people in the military who are into physical training and all it takes is asking."

The workout plan consisted of calisthenics and strength training six days a week.

"He hit me with my first workout and I thought I was going to die," Leach said. "He had me nearly puking, and told me after that work out to show up the next day at the gym at 5:30 a.m. I showed up and he said 'Okay now we can train'."

Although Leach had a full schedule of work and school, he still maintained his exercise routine.

"It got a little rough because I was going to school while I was here, so I couldn't hit the gym right after work," he said. "I was going to the gym around nine at night for about a month and a half and I was going to bed really late. But I had to stay dedicated because I knew me, I wasn't going to get up in the morning to workout so night time was the best."

Leach said setting goals was a major factor in the weight loss.

"I set small goals for myself," he said. "I set the goal of losing 10 pounds per month for six months. By the time I made it to July I dropped close to 25 pounds."

Among motivating factors was the Transit Center's weight loss competition called Biggest Loser.

"When the Biggest Loser started I decided that it was a really nifty way to maintain my weight and make myself accountable," he said. "I signed up for the individual competition and then I signed up as a team with three other people. We were accountable to each other and I ended up dropping 43 pounds. So 43 of my 65 pounds lost were just from the Biggest Loser between July and September."

Leach won the biggest loser competition but that wasn't the only goal he had in mind. He also completed part of the Air Force Marathon.

"My goal was to finish and not walk," Leach said. "I did that and I was able to run the entire 13.1 miles of the Air Force [half] Marathon."

During the course of his fitness transformation, Leach was surprised by the benefits of losing the extra weight.

"I noticed the lighter I got, the less my joints hurt, and recovery from exercise didn't take as long as it used to when I first started," Leach said. "For the first two weeks everyday was painful, every day hurt and it was more then joint pain my entire body hurt. I just made myself continue to push through the pain. Then after working out for about two and half weeks, six days a week, my body just stopped aching."

Passing his physical fitness test with a 94 was another benefit of the lifestyle change. Leach completed the 1.5-mile run in 11:14 minutes, the quickest time he's ever had. He also maxed out the pushup, sit-up and waist measurement portion of the test.

Leach said once he stopped making excuses he started taking care of himself. Among those excuses was lack of time because he was busy completing the Air Force mission.

"If I have any advice, it is to take care of yourself," he said. "Yes, it's about the mission, but you are what makes the mission happen. Now I'm energetic all the time and my focus has improved as well as my self-confidence."

Although he's made large strides in his fitness journey Leach continues to create new goals for himself. He said next he would like to complete a full marathon 26.2 miles. He's already started training and doesn't plan on slowing down.

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