NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — “Everything in moderation,” is a saying that Master Sgt. Luke McCarthy, 99th Security Forces Squadron flight chief, lives by. That phrase applies to all decisions he makes in his life… except running.
Some Airman can view running as a requirement given by the Air Force as part of their fitness assessment, but McCarthy has turned his cardio fitness into a way he can better himself in the physical, mental, spiritual and social areas of his life.
The mindset was not always the case for him however.
“I actually used to hate running,” McCarthy said. “I was a fast runner but I didn’t like doing it. It hurt. Once I figured out how to run correctly with lower impact and using a natural running form, I started to enjoy it. I started to look for different challenges.”
The first challenge could have been as simple as running longer trails or committing to a fitness plan. McCarthy instead dove straight into something that some other people may consider reaching a peak.
“The first challenge that I looked for was a half marathon, and I just wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “I didn’t put any preparation or training into it. I just went out and ran. That became my baseline time, and the next time a half marathon came around, I trained for it to see how my time would improve.”
Once completing a half marathon, McCarthy, while stationed at Tyndall AFB, Fla., ran with some friends in a 50 mile beach run.
“I kept doing that same race even after my original team left,” McCarthy said. “It was held right around my birthday. I wanted to prove that I wasn’t getting older, but I was just getting better.”
Age isn’t an excuse to slow down for McCarthy, and he strives to continuously raise his fitness goals.
“I haven’t actually participated in a marathon that wasn’t a part of a longer race,” McCarthy said. “I look forward to the challenge of it. What can I do to prove that I can do this? I am still capable.”
The capability to complete long distance running isn’t only physical strength but even more so mental strength.
“When I cannot go another step, I will go that extra mile,” he said. “I just keep that mind set and stay mentally strong. I was taught many years ago that the body will go anywhere the mind takes it. Your muscles aren’t the strongest thing, your mind is. When you get that mental strength, it will carry your body through those aches of being tired. You can rest when you’re done.”
McCarthy says that running may seem daunting for some because they aren’t educated in the proper way of running or may be doing it for the wrong reasons.
“[Attitude] has a big part in doing this,” he said. “Long distance running isn’t just physical but [even more so mental]. You get tired, you start imagining your muscles ache. It’s getting your mind to carry you through that finish line.
“Look at the reasons why you do it, and then look at how you do it as well,” McCarthy added. “Does it hurt when you run? Why does it hurt? Are you over striding? Are you leaning back when you run? Are you not breathing correctly? How can you make this an activity you enjoy?”
McCarthy describes running as a way for him to clear his head.
“What I figured out once I started running long distances is that it’s a great time to get inside your own head, you’re out by yourself,” he said. “It’s relaxing, and it’s just a time to sort things out. It’s almost like meditation for me.”
The running regime he has tailored and adopted has also propelled his social connectedness.
“A big payoff for me is the mentorship aspect of [running],” McCarthy said. “I’m working on getting my guys involved and try to emphasize how important it is to stay fit, not just for their career or for their below the zone package. It’s about what [Airmen] are doing to take care of them?”
Maj. Richard Martin, 99th Security Forces Squadron commander, describes McCarthy’s performance as an Airman and warrior to be a great asset to the squadron.
“Master Sgt. McCarthy is a warrior because he understands the need to stay physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually fit,” Martin said. “He leads from the front. The Airmen eagerly follow his lead because his actions are louder than his words. Luke preaches and practices mutual respect; by doing so, he quickly gains the trust of the Airmen he works side-by-side with while passing-on almost two decades of experiences and wisdom.”
McCarthy’s enthusiasm for running is equaled with quality of work performance.
“He brings an enthusiasm for the job that can’t be matched; his priority [is focused on] the Airmen he leads,” Martin said. “He is constantly striving to help them achieve their max potential — a win for the Airmen, and a win for the Air Force.”
Running for himself and his dedication to his Airmen defines McCarthy as a warrior, but even though he has reached a level others might view as a plateau, McCarthy keeps climbing.
“Don’t compare what you’re doing to the guy that’s standing next to you,” McCarthy said. “The only challenge is the one you see in the mirror, so challenge yourself.”