Sharing Spouses’ Stories: Friendship through CrossFit

Leavenworth has been a different experience for our family, given the educational environment and rural military community. For the first time, there are hundreds of other families, a lot like ours, going through this one to two-year experience. We’re in it together—long study nights, 100-degree-summers, icy winters, holidays away from our families, and the anticipation of the many places around the globe to where we will be dispersed after graduation. I heard it at CGSC orientation and after 8 months in, I see it, “you can make friends to last a lifetime here.”

As a military spouse, I’m amazed by the courage, compassion, and resiliency that I observe in other military spouses. I wish more of their stories were shared, and more of their voices heard.  For years now, I’ve been curious about what helps other spouses, couples, and families thrive in this military life given the unique stressors and constant changes that affect our community. Lately, I’ve put the shy behind me and I’ve started to ask.

Among the amazing ladies I’ve crossed paths with here, I recently got to hang out with Marine spouses, Julia Petronzio and Sierra Dunaway.

I met Sierra during the CGSC spouse’s orientation, randomly crossed paths again at a Strong Bonds retreat, then spent Thanksgiving with her wonderful family.  Being away from family during the holidays can be hard on military families—it’s difficult for our family (who can relate?). When those doors are open, and a family we barely know invites us into their space, I’m quickly reminded that there are great people out there with truly generous hearts. I first met Julia in what’s known as “the bubble” — a CrossFit gym on base.3 During this visit, both Sierra and Julia volunteer to show me what CrossFit is and chat with me about how exercise has helped them cope and bond during their time in Kansas.

One of the first things I got to know about Sierra was her dedication to CrossFit and background in the fitness industry. Sierra began her fitness adventure nine years ago, after she and her husband decided they wanted to start their own gym. While he was deployed, her husband discovered CrossFit and shared his newfound passion with Sierra. They shared workouts and personal record (“PR”) achievements over Skype and months after he returned, they opened a CrossFit affiliate. 6.jpgAfter years of leading fitness boot camps and personal training sessions at more traditional gyms, she says CrossFit changed the way she approaches fitness. It’s no longer a chore for her, and she says “it helps me keep mental balance, especially with 3 kids. You feel so good afterwards.” I had to laugh when Sierra shared that she once ran 6 miles in Florence, Italy just to find a CrossFit “box” to exercise at. That’s what I call commitment!  Italy…I wouldn’t mind running 6 miles there either—I digress.

Something about this visit with Julia and Sierra stood out to me: Their support and encouragement of one another to push through the pain and sweat together. I asked Julia about her journey, and she tells me she is from Germany and started CrossFit 8 years ago in North Carolina and is also a Level 1 CrossFit Trainer (I’m thinking I should have brought my sneakers and gotten a good work out!). I clearly have never participated, but both Julia and Sierra tell me CrossFit is life changing. Julia explains that no matter where the military has moved her and her husband, she’s “always made friends through CrossFit.”  8She goes on to explain, “you sweat together, you laugh together, and you bond.” Julia shares that exercise has changed her perspective on health, stating “I grew up thinking skinny means healthy, but I’ve learned to love my muscles.”  She adds, “I like that I look and feel strong where I used to feel frail and couldn’t pick up something heavy because my knees hurt from barely working out. Personally, I love seeing people grow to love CrossFit. Many newcomers first think they will never be able to lift heavy weights or do strenuous workouts, until they see that all workouts can be scaled to their need.”

Both women explain that CrossFit can be intimidating to someone like me, who has never tried it, but they agree that it can be fun if you ease into it and take things at your own pace. Sierra explains that “CrossFit isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay.” I ask her what she might say to a new military spouse on post looking for a way to connect with others and she responds, “people have to find what works for THEM.” As they end their work out, Sierra reminds me to just, “come in. Find your groove, don’t be shy, and ask questions.” Julia adds, “nobody will judge, and we welcome newcomers!”

It’s inspiring to see two military spouses working to sharpen each other and support one another during these transitional times.4 It’s also interesting to see how we each find different ways to cope with change and create a sense of belonging and community wherever the military takes us.

What helps you thrive as a military spouse? How do you connect with others when you PCS? How do you get through the stress of moving, leaving friends behind, and starting over in each new “home?”

Please feel free to share in the comments, or continue the conversation on Facebook @rockyroadsandrainbows 😊


Thanks for visiting today!


Disclaimer: I am not a physical trainer. I am a military spouse and mom, learning what works for others and sharing their stories, while also being inspired by military spouses and veterans that I meet along this journey. Injuries of all types can occur when participating in exercise, physical fitness and training programs. Please obtain a physical examination by your physician prior to undertaking any exercise or training demonstrated on this website, and/or any photographs offered on this website. You fully assume the risk of any resulting injury. Capisce?


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