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Niagara awakens the warrior, virtually

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --

It started with an idea to encourage Airmen to keep fit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Airmen from Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, N.Y. were met with a challenge to compete in a virtual race by June 6, 2020. 914th Air Refueling Wing Exercise Physiologist Paul Hackett designed the Niagara Falls Warrior Virtual 5k Challenge to help 914th Air Refueling Wing and 107th Attack Wing Airmen remember their fitness.

"Virtual races have been gaining popularity and went into hyperdrive since the pandemic," says Hackett. "Bringing the concept to the virtual UTA seemed like a good way to keep exercise in the mind of the Airmen."

And not a moment too soon since Air Force officials announced May 22 that all official fitness testing was suspended until Oct. 1 to help slow the spread of Covid-19. A virtual race allows runners to compete individually. Participants pick a favorite trail, race while using a running app on their smart device, record a final time and send in their proof. Hackett says NFARS had a better turnout than he expected.

"We ended up with 96 signups with 78 finished and uploading times and quite a few finish line pics," says Hackett. "I saw a couple of people that didn't join but did say it made them realize they need to get back to exercise. Peer pressure can be a powerful tool!"

There were several categories available to runners.

  • Master Sgt. Robert Brown-Griffin of the 914th ARW finished first place male overall at 19:47.
  • Staff Sgt. Sammy Post of the 107th ATKW finished first place female overall at 24:13.
  • Tech. Sgt. Joel Nowatchik finished 914th ARW first place male at 19:54.
  • Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Canfield finished 914th ARW first place female at 26:05.
  • Senior Master Sgt. Donald Trzepacz finished 107th ATKW first place male at 25:46.
  • Master Sgt. Suzanne Kingsbury finished 107th first place female at 26:03.
  • The 107th ATKW Medical Group won for most creative group.
  • Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Tim from the 914th ARW Civil Engineering Squadron won the most creative individual.

Hackett says he designed the most creative categories to motivate people who didn't want to compete for speed.

"I wish we had promoted it more because what we received was truly outstanding. The 107th MDG did a virtual relay with a roll of toilet paper as a baton," says Hackett. "They even incorporated some of their deployed Airman and made a YouTube video out of it. I was wowed!"

Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Tim, who is currently deployed, completed the race in full firefighting gear with a 125 pound training victim on his shoulders.

Hackett says the virtual run was a complete success and would like to try introducing this idea to other AFRC units.

"I would like to thank everyone for their participation and motivation! It would be fun to compete with other Reserve bases using the same format. We would crush it," says Hackett. "I would also like to thank Mike Williams and Alexa Gigliotti for their support with prizes, marketing and game planning. It takes a team to make something a success!"