For Tech. Sgt. Kate Barone, competitive weightlifting became more than just a way to break the monotony of a desk job as an Air Force information analyst. Instead, the Ohio native turned her after-work hobby into a new lifestyle that changed her life forever.
"For any type of competition – powerlifting, CrossFit, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding – the thing is to be focused on only that," Barone told WATM. "If you want to do really well, it's got to be on the same level as breathing, eating, sleeping. … That is your goal and you have to change your life around that."
As an NCO in the Ohio Air National Guard, an Olympic lifter, and bodybuilding competitor, life in the service can be difficult for someone who's trying to be competitive in a sport.
"For me, sitting in front of a computer a lot, it is hard to not snack," the 25-year-old says. "I know that as long as you are able to pack your food, bring it to work, still get to the gym, you can maintain your fitness and even compete."
She joined the Ohio ANG at 17, right out of high school. The Cincinnati native comes from a military family — her grandfathers are Air Force and Army veterans and her uncles serve in the Army and Navy. She joined to challenge herself and get a nursing degree. She loves the Air Force lifestyle but wanted to stay around her family.
Barone worked as a full-time Air National Guardsman for two years, even deploying to Korea for the annual joint training exercises there. It was on that deployment Barone realized she had to make a change. She loved the Air Force lifestyle, but went back to Guard service.
When she returned to Ohio, she finished nursing school and got into CrossFit. While Barone recalls CrossFit was rough at first, she eventually began competing in the sport, which led her to Olympic weightlifting competition, and later, bodybuilding.
In her first Olympic competition, the Strongest Unicorn, she competed in the 64-kilogram weight class against the likes of Holly Mangold of the U.S. Olympic Lifting Team. The next year, she dropped her weight class and finished second.
"When you sign up for an Olympic lifting competition, you are supposed to put in your estimated total that you will lift," Barone says. "You look at that and wonder how you are going to do against other people."
"It's not just the Olympic movements," she adds. "You've got to do front squats all the time, back squats, jerks — a lot of that just to build up your muscle strength so you can lift a lot of weight."
Bodybuilding is an entirely different kind of lifestyle change.
"You have to be in the right state of mind to do the bodybuilding part," she says. "There are so many aspects. Unlike CrossFit or Olympic lifting, I can eat what I want, as long as I make my weight class the day of."
But that doesn't mean she can just go out and scarf down an entire pizza with the crew.
"It literally took up my life," Barone recalls. "I can't have drinks with friends because alcohol is cut out. I can't go out to eat with my friends because I will be eating raw vegetables, egg whites, tilapia … it's really hard to have that mindset and be focused on something without people supporting you."
A lot of her support comes from the people in her squadron. Even so, it's tough to eat fish and veggies while the rest of the unit is downing food from the local barbecue joint.
"They call me Bro-rone because I like to lift with them and I'm like a gym bro," she says. "But then they bring that [food] in and I'm like oh my god I love barbecue, why are you all doing this to me?"
Barone says her sister proved pivotal to her success.
"She helped me pick out my suit, I wanted to know which one is going to look the best on me," Barone says. "She picked the skimpiest red one with all the bling on it. You have to be prepared to show your ass in competitive bodybuilding."
Barone says the trick is to make your training preparation a habit. Once you achieve that, missing a day at the gym becomes abnormal.
"Anyone can do it, as long as you are able to get to the gym at least once a day," says Kate Barone.
In Barone's part-time civilian life, she's a nurse at a local hospital and is excited to be taking a new position helping veterans at the local VA hospital. But fitness remains her biggest escape.
"When I'm sad, I'm depressed, I just don't feel like things are right, I go to the gym," she says. "It doesn't matter if I've had a shitty day or something is going on in my life. ... If I go to the gym, I lift some weight with my music blaring in my ears … it's therapy to me, it feels so good."