Vandenberg officer takes physical training to the next level

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Since January, every Airman's physical training test score across the world's greatest air and space force now carries weight in their performance report. 

Some strive to barely pass where others challenge their bodies and minds in search of excellence in all they do. 

Capt. Lassena Von Hacker, 14th Air Force surveillance and reconnaissance plans and programs officer, put herself into the latter category years ago but went a step further on May 24 when she entered the 2008 National Physique Committee California State Bodybuilding and Figure competition in Culver City, Calif., and placed 5th in her height category. 

This was Captain Von Hacker's first competition but not her first time hitting the weight room. 

"In high school I read and watched various exercise programs, used them and have enjoyed the benefits over the years," Captain Von Hacker said. "I was never a thin, waiflike person, so my goal has always been well-rounded fitness and health." 

Keeping in tempo with the Air Force mentality of "doing more with less," many Airmen are stretched thin with long hours and this fitness competitor finds exercise stress relieving and motivating. 

"Once you start working out you can't stand not being able to exercise for a few days," Captain Von Hacker said. "You feel sluggish and sick. Fitness has helped me in my deployments, working long hours, productivity at work, and just generally being able to focus and be prepared for anything that comes my way." 

Not only does a steady exercise routine help her productivity at work but it also has improved her confidence. 

"I am just an average person, of average weight, but I make the most of what my body has and it feels wonderful," Captain Von Hacker said. "I feel, look and am in better shape than I've ever been in my life." 

The mental part of a person's journey can make or break them, said Brenda Kelly, actor, model, writer and avid traveler to health and fitness contest and trade shows, in a recent article written on the web site Bodybuilding.com. 

The recent competition was a testament to this, when the determined fitness buff went on a strict diet to place in the top five.

"I think the hardest thing about figure competition was the carbohydrate cutting," Captain Von Hacker said. "It's not a healthy lifestyle, so again, it's only something you can do with a smart trainer and good guidance, and only a few times a year for a very short period. I was cranky, mean and physically weak on low carbohydrates, but it was about maintaining the muscle I'd built and cutting fat." 

At the end of the day, Captain Von Hacker respects her journey taken though her competition and appreciates what it's done for her career, as well as her mental and physical health. 

"I did learn a lot about my discipline and it [the competition] was a worthwhile journey," she said. "It feels great to get a 100 percent on my physical training test, be able to do pull-ups, run fast and just generally do whatever you want without extreme fatigue or effort." 

This fitness journey is not over. Next year the Air Force captain plans to compete against fellow military members in an Armed Forces Natural Bodybuilding Championship.