MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
There's a chill in the water of the pool contrasting the dry heat outside. Above the surface there is chaos, the sounds of screams and splashing echo off the walls of the old hangar. Beneath the water there is a sense of solitude leaving her alone with only her thoughts. Swimming laps requires constant focus - keeping the body streamlined, pushing muscles further as fatigue sets in, even breathing requires thought. Each stroke brings her closer to the wall of the pool - it's a chance to stop, catch her breath - but she does a flip turn, pushing away and starting another lap. She doesn't stop.
Not stopping is a theme for Senior Airman Megan Stanton and it's an underlying factor in her passion for triathlon and dedication to living healthy.
In June, Stanton competed in her first half-distance Ironman finishing eighth in her division at the Boise event requiring athletes to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles. It took Stanton 5:50:58 to complete the course after training for close to a year.
During that year Stanton typically completed four 3,000-meter swims, five hours of run training and 10 hours of cycling each week. She also incorporated yoga into her training to improve her core strength.
The biggest challenge for Stanton was finding the time to train more than 20 hours a week while serving as an aeromedical technician working overnight shifts in the 366th Medical Group's urgent care center.
"The schedules I have encountered in my job so far have been varied and sometimes erratic," Stanton said. "It's hard to have a consistent training plan, so I've found that flexibility is key. The big challenge is finding that balance where you can be really good at your job, because you have a drive and genuine desire to excel, and you can still be successful in your training. I think all it takes is a little motivation and a lot of perseverance."
Stanton finds time during the quiet moments of her shifts to stay active. She created a gym in a small office at work - practicing push-ups and pull-ups between patients, and using a foam roller to relax tight muscles.
While many people may think this much training is excessive, Stanton says, "It's my favorite thing to do."
To stay fueled during the stress of training and working long hours, Stanton chooses to eat a plant-based diet to provide the nutrients her body requires.
"I have tons of energy eating this way." Stanton said, "I sleep great and am really alert at work, even after starting the day with a two- to three-hour workout, sometimes before a 12-hour shift. I also notice that I recover from workouts quickly."
Stanton said she would like to complete a full-distance Ironman - an event with a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run, perhaps one day racing in triathlon's marquee event, the world championships in Hawaii.
Watching coverage of this event is what introduced Stanton to the sport, as she watched pro triathlete Chrissie Wellington win the event.
"I remember thinking, 'What is this?' because it was some grueling super-long endurance thing - people looked like they were dying and [Wellington] came across that finish line with the biggest smile on her face like it was the best thing ever."
Stanton's admiration of Wellington is understandable - Wellington is known for her mental fortitude and grit. She won her fourth Ironman title in 2011 after sustaining serious injuries - including a torn pectoral muscle - during a bike accident two weeks before the race.
Wellington's ability to overcome challenges has inspired Stanton, whose own drive is furthering not only her athletic endeavors but her career as well. This fall, Stanton will begin an intensive training program to become a military physicians assistant - a goal that drove her to join the Air Force in 2009.
Enlisting in the military isn't the most direct or common way into a PA program, but after completing her degree in biochemistry she knew she needed practical experience to get accepted.
"Looking at PA school, you have to have a competitive background for that, like patient care, which I had no experience with," she said. "Military medics are one thing people do to get into those programs, so I thought...I'll join the military."
Stanton says she has enjoyed her time in the Air Force and finds it rewarding working with military patients who often have positive outlooks despite experiencing severe trauma. It's these experiences that motivate her to make the Air Force a career that she hopes to continue to serve.
Stanton may be several months away from achieving her goals, but she isn't worried about losing focus.
"Perseverance makes me unique," Stanton said. "I can take something that is way off in the future and stay focused on it for a long period of time and that's helped me be successful in a lot of things - knowing that everyday is working towards that goal."