VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE -- Some would say it takes a unique form of resilience for military members who make a permanent change of station (PCS) every few years to adapt and rebuild their social networks in new locations. For a local group of CrossFit enthusiasts on Vandenberg Air Force Base, their shared passion for fitness and achieving their personal best propelled them to create their own close-knit exercise group, which also paved the way for each to place in the top 10 percent of a recent CrossFit competition.

The group of four athletes, each of whom work at very different jobs and locations on base, trained regularly together for the last nine months to compete in the 2021 CrossFit Open, which took place from Mar. 11-29.

Anthony Golembeck, a geodetic surveyor with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, is the most experienced at CrossFit of the group and acts as the de facto leader and mentor. He placed 135th of 14,655 participants in the Master’s Division of the 2021 CrossFit Open, after taking part in four challenging 15-20 minute weekly CrossFit routines, consisting of exercises like wall walks, burpee box jump-overs, weighted front squats, and toes-to-bars gymnastics movements.

“The gym should be fun but if you work out every day by yourself you may lose your motivation,” said Golembeck, who started CrossFit training about six years ago while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. “With other people, you tend to stay motivated.”

Golembeck and the group conduct their fitness routines in what used to be a racquetball court at the gym annex.

“This is probably one of the smallest areas I’ve ever worked out in,” he added. “But the gym manager Pamela Coffee and gym staff have always been understanding and helpful with trying to make it a better space for us.”

Another member of the group, Airman 1st Class Alexander DeCastro, a munitions systems technician at the 576th Flight Test Squadron, specifically credits Golembeck for motivating him to try CrossFit and improve his form. DeCastro placed 4,484th of 73,591 participants in the Men’s Division (18-34) of the 2021 CrossFit Open.

“I met Mr. Golembeck at the gym annex after PCSing here in 2018,” said DeCastro. “He invited me to do a qualifier workout with him for another competition after seeing me do a poorly programmed workout routine. After that, I knew only good things would come out of training with him and the others.”

A third member of the group, 1st Lt. Katrina Hartman, flight commander for standardization and evaluations at the 614th Combat Training Squadron under Space Delta 5, joined in CrossFit training with the group in May of 2020. She placed 1,197th of 65,524 participants in the Women’s Division (18-34) of the 2021 CrossFit Open.

Hartman used to focus her fitness regimen primarily on weightlifting and bodybuilding-type of workouts, and she found it especially difficult to find alternatives as the pandemic caused gyms to close.

“I knew Mr. Golembeck and Airman 1st Class DeCastro from working out at the gym annex on base,” said Hartman. “Once COVID-19 shut all the gyms down, I didn’t have any place to work out so I reached out to Mr. Golembeck because he had a home gym set up. I started working out there while he did his CrossFit workouts and I asked him one day if he could show me a few movements.”

When the gym annex began allowing patrons again, it was Hartman who then spotted another athlete who eventually became the fourth member of the current CrossFit group, 2nd Lt. Gabrielle McClelland, an Officer Undergraduate Space Training student at the 533rd Training Squadron. McClelland placed 704th of 65,524 participants in the Women’s Division (18-34) of the 2021 CrossFit Open.

“I had just moved to Vandenberg in July of 2020, and was doing workouts in the main gym by myself when Lieutenant Hartman saw me one day and offered for me to come meet some other CrossFitters,” said McClelland.

Already very familiar with CrossFit, McClelland had begun this variety of exercise as a freshman at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the fall of 2016, later earning a place on the USAFA Falcon CrossFit team.

“One of my favorite aspects of CrossFit is the community, meeting new people, cheering others on, and finding others that complement your weaknesses, so of course I was excited to interact with and workout with some new athletes at Vandenberg,” McClelland said. “The biggest benefit is having a group that continues to motivate me to get up and work hard every day. It can be easy to find excuses to skip a day at the gym, skip the conditioning piece, or skip that extra skill work, but having others to push you and support you can help make the experience not only bearable, but something to look forward to day in and day out.”

All four group members are eager to continue their CrossFit training routines, and plan on competing in the upcoming CrossFit Games Quarterfinals this April and May. With their comradery and shared work ethic, there is no doubt the team will continue to do very well.

After the quarterfinals competition, the group will change again as both Hartman and McClelland PCS to new assignments. However, it is obvious that the Vandenberg CrossFit group will endure, and the current members will remain life-long friends.

“I’ve made so many more friends and connections than I ever have in the weight room by doing CrossFit,” said Hartman. “I see them [DeCastro, Golembeck, and McClelland] all as close friends now...I hope to maintain these friendships for whenever I see them on the competition floor next.”

“The group is always changing and evolving,” added Golembeck. “So long as there are people interested in CrossFit on VAFB there will always be a group for us. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”

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