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Physically and mentally resilient: 911 FSS operations officer competes as bodybuilder

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, focuses on her form as she exercises to prevent injuries at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021.

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, focuses on her form as she exercises to prevent injuries at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021. As a competitive bodybuilder, Daley knows how important it is to train safely in order to be fit to fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Diana E. Ferree)

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, performs a lat pulldown exercise at the gym on Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021.

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, performs a lat pulldown exercise at the gym on Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021. Daley enjoys bodybuilding because it’s all about the effort that individuals put in that determines their results. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Diana E. Ferree)

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, performs an incline bench press on a Smith machine at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021.

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, performs an incline bench press on a Smith machine at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021. Weightlifting is Daley’s go-to outlet for relieving stress and building resilience. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Diana E. Ferree)

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Travis A. Hayton, customer support supervisor with the 911th FSS, review a personnel data system at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021.

Capt. Danielle L. Daley, operations officer with the 911th Force Support Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Travis A. Hayton, customer support supervisor with the 911th FSS, review a personnel data system at Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, May 11, 2021. The military personnel flight is one of the many sections that Daley oversees. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Diana E. Ferree)

PITTSBURGH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIR RESERVE STATION, Pa. --

Once Capt. Danielle L. Daley enters the gym, she’s left behind the worries of her day as the operations officer for the 911th Force Support Squadron and focuses on the cool metal that holds the weights. She takes a deep breath as she gets ready for the first set of her work-out.

“Bodybuilding is my outlet. There's so much in our day-to-day that we cannot control. You can't control how somebody is going to react. You can't control the conversations that you're going to have with people. But I can control what happens when I go into the gym.”

Daley not only leads a unit as the acting commander on the weekdays, but she is also a competitive figure bodybuilder. In 2017, she placed second in her Figure class and first in the Figure Novice category at the National Gym Association Monster Mash Natural Bodybuilding Competition. The following year she placed second in the Figure category at the National Physique Committee Ohio State Championship. After a pause in shows due to career changes and COVID-19, she is ready to step back on the stage later this year.

Her passion for fitness started when she was in Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. Daley found herself in the quiet Midwest with some time on her hands and in need of stress relief as the sustainment services flight commander. A colleague at the time introduced her to weightlifting and she became hooked. Daley said, “I started seeing [progress] just being in the gym an hour for three times a week…that was encouraging.”

It wasn’t until her personal trainer suggested she try to compete that she was formally introduced to the sport of bodybuilding. This sport requires you to maintain your physique year-round. “There really is no ‘offseason’ in the bodybuilding world,” explained Daley. To achieve contending results, competitors need to sustain a clean diet and hit the gym consistently.

“On Sundays I do meal prep for the week. I’ll prep my breakfast and my lunch, bring it into work, and make sure I’ve got enough water.” As Daley gets closer to a show the routine ramps up. “Twelve weeks out from the competition I’ll start two-a-days. So I’ll hit the gym early in the morning before work. I’ll do some form of cardio and maybe some abdominal exercises. In the afternoon, I’ll do my weight training.”

Senior Master Sgt. Ian G. Felts, 911th FSS superintendent, was unfamiliar with the sport of bodybuilding before meeting Daley. “I’ve seen what she goes through with the dieting and the conditioning. That is an immense amount of motivation and I envy her for that,” expressed Felts.

In addition to diet and exercise, competitors also need to be able to pose on stage. Daley had to practice presenting her physique on stage in heels while being judged by a panel. Daley laughed as she recalled her lessons with her prior Marine posing coach, “The first time I started posing he said ‘Danielle stop marching! Is that how you march in the Air Force?’ It was definitely a learning curve.”

As demanding as the sport of bodybuilding is, Daley says the sport is inspiring. “It's all about you and your effort. You can't blame anybody for how you look on the stage, but yourself. That's what makes it so rewarding.”

She remembers the inspiring stories of other competitors she has shared the stage with. “There will be women who have just got done battling cancer and they just want to be on the stage because they've been working on their bodies since chemo or radiation and they just want to show that off. Or with women who've lost 50 or 75 pounds. They're not on the stage looking to win, they're just wanting to say, ‘hey, you can do it too’.”

The drive that Daley has in her fitness goals is translated to her leadership in the office. She explains that the discipline and focus used in her training has helped her be successful. Such as completing her Master’s degree and advancing in her military career. Felts has seen this first-hand. “She’s not one to just sit back and wait or be lazy. She attacks any problem that comes up.”

Daley explains that working out in general is a stress reliever for her. “My mental health is important because if I’m not mentally healthy, I can’t lead the Airmen who fall under me.” Daley continued, “As a leader, letting your people see you leaving for [the gym] at 3:30…that’s not a bad thing. In order for me to be the leader that you need me to be, I need to be able to have that as my outlet.”

Felts has seen how Daley has set the bar high for the 911th FSS. He has witnessed personnel enjoy friendly physical competitions like push-ups and plank challenges in the office. For Airmen who are looking for advice to start their fitness journey, Daley says, “Just start. Starting is the hardest thing. Start a regimen and keep it up for about 30 minutes to an hour a few days a week and just see how your body changes.”

As the Air Force begins to focus once again on fitness, Daley understands how important it is to evaluate one’s health. “The choices that we make, especially from what we eat, can literally kill you. That's the harsh reality. I just want people to be healthy. Healthy for you is different than healthy for me. The fact of the matter is, it just needs to be a lifestyle choice.”