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McChord Reserve loadmaster strives to be true ‘Ironman’

No challenge too intimidating for the 46-year-old Airman

Senior Master Sgt. Derek Bryant, 728th Airlift Squadron senior loadmaster, has been training for and competing in extreme fitness events, such as Ironman competitions and triathlons, for the last three years. /2nd Lt. Denise Hauser

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(446th AW PA) - It wasn't until 17 years after joining the 446th Airlift Wing that Derek Bryant started training for triathlons and Ironman competitions after seeing an advertisement for one listed on the calendar of a running magazine back in 2009.

Since then, the 46-year-old standard evaluation loadmaster with the 728th Airlift Squadron at McChord Field has competed in several events. That list includes Ironman competitions, triathlons, marathons, ultra marathons and traverse races (races that include, running, mountain bike, road bike, running, and kayaking).

"With Derek, you never know what you're gonna get," said Lt. Col. Rob Sawyer, 728th AS instructor pilot, who's flown with Bryant on several missions. "You never know what you're going to do during your crew rest when you're around the world. You could end up going on a six-mile run with him. You may end up tearing off on a bike ride with him. He always keeps things entertaining."

Bryant says these sports help with maintaining his discipline during his day job, working on C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at McChord.

"It takes a certain discipline in being a military member and being an extreme sports athlete," Bryant said. "An Ironman can take 17 hours to complete. That's like a 24-hour augmented crew day on a C-17 mission. Swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, running 26 miles ... it's like flying all day and night, loading up equipment in the heat of the desert, flying off to another location, and safely offloading all cargo and troops to put them in theater to do their assigned mission."

According to Bryant, a Gig Harbor resident, participating in these individual sports can still be applied to his military duty.

"Ironman is not a team sport, but it introduces such a mental and spiritual toughness that you can automatically apply with your Airmen," he said. "Swimming 2.4 miles without any help is just what you've trained yourself to do and your own will to succeed correlates to taking on different challenges and positions in the Air Force Reserve. You have to try. You have to want to succeed. And you have to respect the discipline."

One factor that helps with Bryant's will to succeed is his descendant and protégé.

"My son, Colby, fuels me to do it all," he said. "I have to set the example for him. I even have him doing triathlons. He's done three and qualified for the Ironkids Championship in Florida."

Bryant applies hard work and dedication to his Air Force career and devotion to extreme sports.

"I like being active and tested to the limits," said Bryant, an air reserve technician. "The military was like a calling - a calling of commitment, leadership and work. Ironman is a test of physical endurance, mental stamina, discipline, and most of all, how to handle adversity, pain and suffering during the race. I have never won a race and not being first all the time is a humbling experience that I use in my military job."

Even though he hasn't won any competitions at this point, Bryant uses that fact to train harder and set high goals.

"I have a goal to run three marathons this year: the marathon portion of Ironman Canada, an Ultra Marathon in October and the Marine Corp Marathon in late October," he said.

He proves his commitment to this goal even as he balances work and play.

"Balancing the time is difficult, but you find time to run, bike and swim - even on missions at different locations, including 10-km races at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, two 70.3-mile Ironman distance races in Wanaka, New Zealand, and running Diamond Head (Oahu, Hawaii)," Bryant said. "I've also ridden and ran in Germany, Al Udeid (Air Base, Qatar), Turkey, and stateside - wherever I can get it in."

As for Bryant's extreme sports future, the end isn't in sight.

"I plan on training and doing Ironman until I decide not to - so till 60 years old maybe," he said.

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