Septuagenarian powerlifter inspires Ohio Army National Guard general to maintain high level of fitness
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Chad Menegay, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (07/15/19)
The U.S. Army is asking its Soldiers to be more dedicated to physical fitness. As the Army prepares itself for potential sustained land combat against near peer adversaries, it also prepares itself for the Army Combat Fitness Test, the new physical fitness assessment that will be the test of record Army-wide beginning in October 2020.
This may not be happenstance. Sustained land combat takes greater strength and endurance than day-to-day life on and off a forward operating base in a deployed location overseas.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Rhoades, the incoming commander of the Ohio Army National Guard’s Special Troops Brigade (Provisional), has found an example of the kind of dedication to fitness the Army is looking for from its Soldiers. Seventy-four year old Jim McNeill, a powerlifter and bodybuilder with 23 world records, still works out every day with goals to set more world records for his age and weight class. McNeill, a native of Mount Vernon, works out at the same local YMCA as Rhoades. The two have developed a rapport and a mutual respect for each other.
Rhoades said he aspires to be as dedicated to fitness as McNeill.
“When you look at somebody like Jim McNeill, who can walk in and bench 225 (pounds) a great number of times right in front of me at that age, I was like, ‘I need to work harder,’” Rhoades said.
McNeill, a Vietnam-era veteran, approached Rhoades at the YMCA one day, after he found out Rhoades had been in the Army.
“Here’s this man who came up to me and was so proud of his service,” Rhoades said. “He shows dedication; he’s (at the gym) every day. With the amount of weight that he can push around, I thought, well here’s a guy who already has adopted the lifelong fitness philosophy and how important total body cardiovascular training is, and he’s been doing it for years. That’s an inspiration to me.”
McNeill said he loved the Army because of the physical training.
“After pushing yourself to the limit, you just felt satisfied,” McNeill said. “Before I went active in the Army, I was a weightlifter. I had fairly good discipline, but the Army pushed my discipline even further. I have to say that the Army gave me that extra push to be a champion competitor.”
McNeill is a serious athlete. He has 150 trophies to prove it.
Rhoades said Soldiers need to treat themselves as if they’re serious athletes too, both in how they approach working out and how they diet.
“They need to feed themselves as athletes do,” Rhoades said. “Nutrition is a big part of this. I changed my diet two years ago and completely changed my numbers, my triglycerides, my cholesterol, all those things that someone in their upper 40s needs to look at.”
Rhoades has been on a low carbohydrate diet and has dropped 20 pounds.
“I’ve been reading about (the Army Combat Fitness Test) for some time,” Rhoades said, “and I think we have to push healthy food at the chow hall. I am so tired of seeing how we feed cookies to everybody, and we feed carbs to everybody. It’s no wonder our Soldiers are not meeting height and weight. We don’t teach them right.”
McNeill agreed that Soldiers have to eat right alongside weightlifting.
Rhoades, for the past five or six years, has been essentially preparing for the ACFT, doing more total body exercises: cleans, deadlifts, squats and bench presses. He said the workouts have eliminated his back pain and last year he maxed his Army Physical Fitness Test (the Army’s current test, which has been in place since the early 1980s), an improvement by 10 points.
Rhoades is a big proponent of the ACFT. “The new ACFT will make us more lethal because the current test doesn’t measure the right things,” Rhoades said.
Although the old test is easy to administer, Rhoades said, it’s behind the times in sports science. “We need an attitude of ‘let’s do it,’” he said, “and not hide behind excuses that it’s too hard to administer.”
Rhoades said that part of the reason why he wants to get out ahead of the ACFT is that he thinks it’s important for leaders to embrace the change.
“I’m happy to be a role model,” Rhoades said. “I’m happy to be pointed out as a person who changed his diet. I wasn’t taped regularly or those kinds of things, but I had room to improve. When I did make that improvement, it was so motivating, and we have to get that mindset. I made these changes. I embrace these changes. I think in looking at the environment we’re going into, we all need to do this.”
The environment might look more like large-scale combat in the field for greater periods of time than the past nearly 20 years of fighting insurgent groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Soldiers might be in MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear for long periods of time or otherwise moving on foot more than in recent combat situations.
“Think about a scenario where we’re living in an environment like you live in at NTC (National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California) or JRTC (Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana), where it’s hard,” Rhoades said. “It’s extremely exhausting, and that environment wears you out mentally and physically. You need people to have long-term endurance to win. These scenarios where you’re going to have to dig your own fighting position, you’re going to have to hump your own equipment. Sustained land combat, that’s what I’m describing in that JRTC scenario. It’s rigorous.”
The scenario Rhoades describes takes a high-level of fitness to carry out day after day. To get to that level of fitness, a Soldier must be dedicated.
“Soldiers who want to improve their fitness levels and weightlift must be disciplined,” McNeill said. “That’s the biggest word I could use when it comes to lifting weights: discipline.”
Sage advice from a world champion powerlifter.