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NEWS | Oct. 21, 2021

Undaunted by Pandemic, JBLM SRU Overhauls Gym to Help Soldiers

ARLINGTON, Va. — When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you a pandemic that prevents you from playing team sports, you transform your gym — or at least that's what the Soldier Recovery Unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state did this summer.

The SRU took a tough situation and turned it into an opportunity to upgrade Keeler Gym on the base, rolling out carpets of turf on the basketball court to create lanes that could be used for training for the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), as well as other types of workouts. The renovation cost tens of thousands of dollars, and it took 15 Soldiers, cadre, and staff the better part of a day to roll it all out, but it was worth it in the end for Soldiers who were deprived of team sports because of COVID-19.

"The gym has a full-court basketball court, and because of COVID, we can't play wheelchair basketball," said David Iuli, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the SRU. "The decision was made to see what we could do to help the guys who were returning to duty to train for the ACFT. So we purchased three of these turf lanes to cover up the whole gym."

The rolls of turf are massive, weighing hundreds of pounds, so it was an exhausting but rewarding job for everyone involved. Eventually, the staff removed two of the lanes but decided to keep one of them long term.

"There's not many places where you can go to train on that, unless you have access to a turf field," Iuli said. "They decided to leave it here permanently so people can come in. We also cater to a hospital, and doctors and nurses come in to do their testing and can train on it."

The main exercise done on the turf is what is known as “sprint, drag, carry,” which is part of the ACFT test. It's important to train for this specific event because even if you're in shape, it challenges several muscle groups you may not often use. The workout involves sprinting 25 meters down the turf, dragging 90 pounds on a sled down and back, and carrying 40-pound kettle bells down and back. Participants then complete a side shuffle down and back, and then one last sprint, and they must do all of this in three minutes or less.

"The body is not used to it," Iuli said. "If it's the first time you do it, most people trip and fall or over-pace it."

That's not all they've been up to, Iuli added, noting that they also created a state-of-the-art yoga room with the latest technology and a private space for people who like to work out alone.

"It used to be an office," he said. "It took months to make. It's legit."

Having facilities like this available to Soldiers is vital to their recovery, Iuli said, noting that he'd been through the program himself.

He said that it's a good way to keep Soldiers from just sitting in their rooms when they are not in treatment or in physical therapy, and as a result it's good for mental as well as physical health.

"A lot of them grew up in the gym or just like to work out," he said. "It helps them get back to a sense of normal. This is their place of zen."

The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.