WASHINGTON — (This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)
It’s noon on a Saturday, and Staff Sgt. April Spilde chalks up her hands in the gym at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia, as she waits for her chance to lift during a powerlifting competition.
Spilde isn’t thinking about how big the other competitors are or how much weight they can lift; she’s focused on the mission at hand — pushing her limits.
“I just like the feeling of knowing that I have a limit and I can push right past it,” she said with a smile.
On this day — like many others — Spilde pushes herself, putting up a new personal record for the bench press at 175 pounds and takes second place in her weight class.
Motivated to achieve
Spilde, the NCO in charge of the Air Force Honor Guard program at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington D.C., has set goals her entire life — pushing past them even when they seem unattainable at the time.
“I love having a goal, moving toward that goal, achieving it and then moving to another,” she said.
That’s the mindset that keeps her motivated.
During her first deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, she struggled to find her place in the Air Force as she tried to figure out where she wanted her career to go.
As a security forces member, part of her detail included ceremonies for Airmen killed in action.
“I just remember how somber and yet respectful (the ceremonies were) and just the feeling of pride that I was able to be a part of that,” she recalled.
Coming home from deployment, she had a renewed sense of purpose and a new goal in mind: to join the Air Force Honor Guard and become a pallbearer.
Her new chief with the 354th Security Forces Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, had just come from the honor guard. She went straight to see him.
“I said, ‘Chief, I want to join. Tell me how to join the Air Force Honor Guard. I want to do something awesome,’” she recalled.
After submitting paperwork and getting accepted, she came to Bolling in 2013.
The physical demands of becoming a pallbearer were hard and the honor guard had recently toughened the standards. No female had passed the new qualification yet.
Spilde, who had been working with a lifting coach in preparation, was undeterred. She put in long hours at the gym to increase her strength, and soon became the first female to qualify.
When graduation day finally arrived, she stood in formation as the assignments were displayed for the new graduates. When her name came up it read: Staff Sgt. April Spilde, pallbearer.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” she said. “I had tears running down my face, and the other guys ran up and congratulated me.”
Having successfully tested herself, Spilde set her sights on another goal — powerlifting. In January 2014, she took part in her first competition and was hooked.
“It was just a rush of adrenaline,” she said. “It’s funny to say, but it really was a power trip.”
That rush and sense of accomplishment has taken Spilde to competitions in Florida, Virginia and Cincinnati, where she set her personal record last year for the deadlift at 350 pounds at a body weight of 165 pounds.
After the 100 percent Raw American Challenge event in 2015, she was ranked as the No. 2 military female powerlifter in her weight class.
Spilde, who recently placed fourth in her weight class at the USA Powerlifting Military Nationals, has now set her sights on achieving a 200-pound bench press, 300-pound squat and 400-pound deadlift. These goals might seem unattainable now, but that’s what qualifying as a pallbearer and hoisting a 175-pound bench press seemed like before.
“It’s something that maybe two years ago I never thought I could do,” she said. “It makes me feel like the sky is the limit. I’m really excited about where I’ll be in 10 years.”