Iowa Air National Guard member goes the distance

  • Published
  • By A1C Olivia Monk
  • 185th ARW

Running remains one of the most used forms of exercise to stay fit. Not everybody loves to run, but the benefits are undeniable for U.S. Air National Guard member, Lt. Col. Jennifer Carlson.  

VIDEO | 04:24 | Iowa Air Guard member serves as coach mentor for hometown track team

Carlson works as the 185th Air Refueling Wing Deputy Support Group Commander at her Air Guard unit in Sioux City, Iowa. She is an avid runner who runs to meet her military fitness requirements, but also runs for her own personal well-being. 

“If you look at the health benefits of running, there are so many,” said Carlson, “It improves your sleep and your energy level.”  

Carlson has taken her enthusiasm for running far beyond the gravel roads of her rural Lawton, Iowa residence. She said she often takes time out of her schedule to run races around the nation and is frequently joined by her husband, U.S. Air National Guard Col. Adam Carlson.  

“We’ve got three young kids, so I've always said that’s how we date,” Carlson added with only a tinge of sarcasm.  

Carlson said she and her husband will plan meetings at different events around the nation like the Army 10 Miler and the Marine Corps half marathon as well as half Ironman Triathlon’s and other events.

Over the years Carlson has earned a collection of metals, plaques, and awards highlighting her achievements. She has even qualified for the 2023 U.S. Triathlon Nationals for finishing in the top percent of her age group. 

Carlson says she uses these races and her love for running to build resilience and stay in good health but has also extended her love of running into community involvement. Carlson said she is volunteering this spring as the long-distance track coach with the Lawton-Bronson high school track team.   

“It’s a great group of athletes who are motivated, and they’ve just got this zest for life and they're fun and welcoming”, said Carlson. 

Along with the high school students, she said she also helps with the elementary track program. According to Carlson, the focus of the program is to get the kids interested in the idea of fitness and get kids moving. 

“We use the track program as an avenue to interact with the kids and be positive mentors for them,” said Carlson. 

Carlson explained that the elementary program is purely based on volunteers. Parents and teachers who have extra time help with approximately 150 kids per year from traditional kindergarten through sixth grade. 

Not only does Carlson coach students, but she has also put together a neighborhood walking club. In the summer, the group meets three mornings each week where they typically walk two miles together.

Carlson emphasized that running is a great way to get to know your neighbor and interact with the community.  

According to Carlson, encouraging running at her work helps service members stay in shape for physical fitness requirements but as a triathlete, running is only part of her fitness routine.

Carlson said she recently created a bike club as a way to encourage her fellow Air Guard members stay in good health and help with fitness accountability. When the weather is warm, members take off from the base and ride together. She explained spending hours riding bikes together allows people to make a connection with each other from around the base. 

Carlson explained that much of her inspiration for fitness comes from combat veterans who have been injured but continue to stay active.  

“It is so inspirational to see them being active. Every time I go for a run, and I think it’s tough, I think about all the people that can’t run, not because they don’t want to, but because they can't,” said Carlson. 

Carlson said she has been given an amazing gift to be able to go out and run, and continuously encourages others to do the same.

“For me personally, running has always been a positive thing,” said Carlson. “It has always been a way to relax, to take a mental break and kind of recharge, and truly just be in the beauty that surrounds us.”

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