U.S. Army Japan's Ten-Miler team primed to race
CAMP ZAMA – The soldiers who will represent U.S. Army Japan in the Army Ten-Miler race have all the dedication, morale and physical and mental preparation necessary to stand atop the winner's podium this year, according to their coach.
With a little more than a month to go before the Oct. 21 event in Washington, D.C., the seven runners – four soldiers from Camp Zama and three from Okinawa – display a passion to succeed unlike anything Jane Kupkowski said she has seen since she began coaching the team in 2010.
"We have a well-rounded and gifted group. They exhibit a lot of character right now, and their attitude overall is fantastic," said Kupkowski, who is also the fitness coordinator at Yano Fitness Center here. "They all have different training regimens, but they are all very dedicated."
Comprising the U.S. Army Japan team this year are Cpl. Gregory Mooney, Sgt. Cisco Blanco, Sgt. Penny Buzzella, Sgt. Josh Vazquez, 2nd Lt. Kristen Harrison, Capt. Paul Deming and Capt. Christopher Renoll.
Aside from returning member Renoll, assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery, in Okinawa, the rest are newcomers to the team – some of whom are even competing in the Ten-Miler for the first time this year. That lack of experience, they said, has done nothing to hinder their desire to train and prepare for the race, which draws 30,000 competitors annually.
"I decided to do this after having my baby, so it was a personal goal for me," said Buzzella, who is assigned to the USARJ Band. "Jane has been very informative and very helpful. Her training style is a little bit more intense than regular (physical training), but I like it. Her motivation and support have been the biggest help."
The training regimen began seven months ago, even before qualifier tryouts were held in the summer. Kupkowski took a comprehensive approach to preparing her athletes, from teaching them proper stretching techniques and having them perform calisthenics, to laying out dietary guidelines and sleeping patterns.
"It has been a slow and methodical training process, but they are really engaged and realize this isn't just about them as individual runners; this is about the person to the left and right of them," said Kupkowski. "I emphasize that integrity, loyalty and commitment – knowing they're sacrificing their time and efforts for something a little bit bigger than themselves."
The fact that the seven runners are not located in the same area and cannot train together has done nothing to weaken the team's dynamic. Buzzella said she is confident that when the team meets in D.C., their personalities "will mesh very well and bring the team together."
Last year, the USARJ team finished seventh in the active-duty mixed division. The obvious goal this year is to win – an outcome Kupkowski said is well within the grasp of her motivated and capable team.
"As a coach, I step aside when the race happens," said Kupkowski. "When that day comes, the last seven months will come down to those 10 miles. We are just going to stay healthy and stay focused, and we'll see what happens in D.C."