For most U.S. Air Force Academy graduates, the beginning of their time in service is spent either in technical training for their Air Force specialty or getting to know the mission at their first duty station.
For one lieutenant, this time is spent training in preparation for the Olympic trials.
Second Lt. Michelle Spires graduated from the academy in 2018 and immediately transitioned into the World Class Athletes Program to pursue her passion- competing in high jump.
“I applied before I graduated from USAFA, which is awesome because I got accepted into the program to basically start as my first duty assignment,” said Spires. “It’s a two-year program leading up to the Olympics. As for me, I graduated in 2018 and the Olympics are in 2020, so the timing worked out perfectly.”
The U.S. Air Force WCAP is open to both officer and enlisted personnel and is managed by the Air Force Services Center. The program is designed to allow elite athletes the opportunity to train and compete nationally, with the intent to qualify for the Olympics. There are currently 27 U.S. Air Force members active in the program.
“First Lt. Cale Simmons was a student at USAFA, just a year ahead of me. He was enrolled in WCAP and actually went on to compete in the Olympics,” said Spires. “It was really through his success that I came to know about the program.”
Spires is officially assigned to USAFA in Colorado Springs, Colo. However, she is currently in Tucson full-time to train with her coach, Gwen Mikinski, former Olympic Games assistant coach and world-class high jumper.
“Gwen actually wrote a book on high jump and at the time that I received the book as a gift from a friend, I really needed the technical input,” said Spires. “So I actually e-mailed Gwen after reading her book and asked if I could meet with her. I flew out to Tucson that December and we worked out together for a week and we’ve been working together ever since.”
Gwen works with Spires at the University of Arizona Roy P. Drachman Track and Field Stadium where they spend six days a week implementing a workout plan that will prepare her for the Olympic trials.
“Shelley and I have been working together for two years,” said Mikinski. “This is by far our most important year because it’s the year of the Olympic trials. She recently had the opportunity to go to China and compete in the Military World Games. Those experiences are great preparation as we head toward the big track meets.”
Throughout her training, Spires has been provided a supportive foundation by her coach, as well as the Air Force.
“My fitness level has definitely improved since entering this program and training with Gwen,” said Spires. “The Air Force providing me with this opportunity to do something that I love is like a dream job. Along with the support of my coach and my family, WCAP has done so much for me, so I’m going to turn around and do my job to the best of my ability.”
From a two year journey preparing to compete at a world-class level in high jump to stepping into the role of an Intelligence officer, Spires has the drive to be an effective leader because the Air Force first invested in her.