JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
As the burn sets in after each rep and the hunger from losing weight attempts to occupy his mind, the legendary words of Muhamad Ali echoed in his head “impossible is nothing.”
That mantra is what U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. James LaCoste, 633rd Force Support Squadron career development chief, used to stay level-headed during the Organization of Competition Bodies' Colonial Open bodybuilding competition at the Williamsburg Crosswalk Church, July 1, 2017. This was the first ever body building competition for LaCoste, who placed third with no professional trainer or coach.
The competition offered three different categories for both male and female entrees which included bodybuilding, classic bodybuilding and physique. LaCoste was critiqued by six judges, against approximately 90 other competitors.
Although LaCoste's interest in competitions were new, his determination and commitment to his fitness goals weren’t. Football was his passion, and as an adolescent, he started training with his father to build his body’s size, strength and functional speed. LaCoste wanted a scholarship to play football—his hard-work in the gym and on the field garnered the attention of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I’ve been training since I was 13 years old, but most of the training was about strength and weight gain because I was a football player,” said LaCoste. “I knew I wanted to play college football, so I needed to be big. It was a huge priority and it was two hours every single day with the team in the gym doing our lifting thing, so I had to go.”
During his time on the Air Force Academy’s team, coach Matt “Getty” McGettigan was the dedicated strength and condition coach for the players. Coach Getty preached functional strength as it related to each team member’s position, explosion, quality repetitions and proper form. He also focused on proper nutrition and hydration.
According to LaCoste, Getty would kick players out of the gym if they weren't focused, because their time in the gym was short, so each minute was allotted to a workout—this instilled in him greater discipline.
“I learned a lot from coach Getty,” said LaCoste. “The techniques that he taught me has stayed with me throughout the years, helping me create work-out plans for myself and for the people I work out with.”
Upon graduating from the Academy, fitness continued to follow LaCoste as he became an officer within the 633rd FSS. During his first job at the Shellbank Fitness center, LaCoste was in charge of purchasing equipment and determining the needs of the gym patrons. He also helped hire personal trainers and conducted research on specialized events like powerlifting, warrior challenges, obstacle courses and other events different fitness organizations would run.
As a leader within the squadron, LaCoste understood that he had to uphold the standards, which in turn meant he had to as well, because of this, LaCoste has never scored anything lower than an excellent on his physical training test.
“If I'm going be out there telling my Airman to meet the standards, I better be, if not upholding them, then exceeding them,” said LaCoste. “I think you should be exceeding them if you're in a leadership position.”
Though weight training is a major factor in preparation for body building competitions such as the Colonial Open, proper eating and dieting are equally as important.
According to LaCoste, he began preparation for the competition while deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed, he felt as though he had more time to focus on his training and it was easier to meal prep.
“This prep was completely different for me, it’s about being cut and lean, so for me that meant losing a lot of weight, so it was a very different experience,” said Lacoste. “My caloric intake is normally 4000 calories, but I would reevaluate it every two weeks, depending upon how much weight I lost I would adjust it again. It dropped to 2000 calories five weeks out, and then I increased my cardio so my intake wouldn't drop any lower.”
For LaCoste, having a dining facility prepare his food for him was an advantage, but it was also the biggest challenge he faced when he returned home.
“Being deployed, you know you don't have all the luxuries of dining out, and I wanted to dine out,” said LaCoste. “More of the challenges were when we traveled to see family, everyone wants to have big parties and barbecues and I'm sitting there with my salad and chicken.”
Temptation of breaking his diet wasn't the only challenge LaCoste faced. Since returning from his deployment, he wanted to spend as much time with his wife and daughter as possible. This required him to cut-back his sleep in order to spend more time with family. Waking up at early hours in the morning to train, so by the time his wife and daughter woke up, he was already done working out for the day.
“I believe in doing things that make you uncomfortable,” said LaCoste. “(The competition) was so uncomfortable, but it was a good experience. I think that those uncomfortable experiences and challenges are what help you grow and improves your ability to lead.”
Thanks to rigorous training, perseverance and practices from the competition and life experiences, LaCoste feels his is now sharper as an Airman, commissioned officer, husband, father and athlete.