JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas – As Air Force Recruiting Service embarked on a Total Force Recruiting enterprise, a handful of Air Force Reserve Airmen began to matriculate here in early 2019, working side by side with their active-duty counterparts.
While the combination of these individuals has been powerful, it is highlighted by a pair of recruiters who take power to record-setting numbers in the gym and competing to improve themselves while breaking records along the way.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Lear, AFRS Strategic Marketing Division superintendent, and Master Sgt. Daniel Bedford, AFRS National Events program manager, began working together in 2019. Both were accomplished power lifters, although they had never met. They immediately began talking and checking each other’s knowledge.
“I was first introduced to ‘Coach Dan’ (Bedford) through Chief Master Sgt. Michael Johnson (AFRS Chief Strategic Marketing Division superintendent). Naturally, our first introduction was a sizing each other up type interaction with some Q and As to test our knowledge of physical training and methodologies,” Lear said. “Within minutes we instantly clicked as our personalities and goals were very much the same, in and out of uniform.”
“Our power of the force was strong right from the get go,” Bedford said. “We both have competitive spirit and at the time I needed a big or maybe little brother. I was currently retired from powerlifting and still recovering from a traumatic automobile accident. I was told that I would never be able to compete in bench press, squat or even do deadlifts again.”
Bedford and his entire family were involved in a serious car wreck while he was still recruiting in Richmond, Virginia. For a fired-up athlete, this really took a toll on him mentally. He was unsure if he would ever train again, much less have a normal life due to his injuries.
“I worked out with and trained some well-known athletes in professional and college level sports, but never any who equaled my work ethic and mental attitude in the weight room,” Bedford said. “I can honestly say that without Mike and my Air Force teammates pushing me, I’m not sure where I would be mentally and physically. Mike Lear really picked me up at a time of me struggling mentally from the motor vehicle accident that nearly killed myself and my family.”
Bedford served in the U.S Marine Corps before joining the Air Force Reserve and has a master’s degree in sports psychology, but it was Lear who used his instincts to help Bedford get back in the gym.
“Dan is a Marine at heart but sometimes forgets that warfighter lives in him. Sure, he has physical injuries, as we all do, but doing nothing produces nothing.” Lear said. “While I may not have the education he has, I certainly have the ‘never quit, never fail’ motivation he requires to push himself.”
Bedford has also been a personal trainer for years helping various people, including several professional and college sports players.
“Simply stated, we are accountable to each other. And while he might be the motivator for hundreds of athletes I say this ‘who motivates the motivator?’ Lear said. “It’s powerful as even the strongest need or rely on someone to pick them up. Dan trusts me and through that he has been able to rehabilitate and step back on the platform.”
While Lear is not classically trained on helping rehab a person, he does have a system that apparently has worked for him and Bedford.
“I interpret physical pain differently than most and see it as a form of progress while others see it as injury or something wrong because they fail to work through it,” Lear said. “But through my experience and using myself as the test subject I have discovered rehabilitative methods that work for me allowing me to continue training while shortening my recovery. I say this because few understand it but Coach Dan teaches it. The truth is, we all struggle and we all need someone who understands us on a psychological level.”
Through Lear’s persistence and can-do attitude, he convinced Bedford he could continue to train carefully.
“We started training together and I loved Mike’s energy and motivation to push me to compete safely and possibly win another gold medal,” Bedford said. “He had mentioned to only do movements that don’t hurt me at all. Even if I didn’t compete in squats or deadlifts anymore due to my injuries from the accident, I could still do bench press as an exercise that I’m good at and doesn’t affect me physically at all.”
Their training relationship wasn’t a one-way street. Once Bedford got back into the swing of things he was able to tap into his training repertoire and help Lear reach new heights.
“Master Sgt. Bedford’s background in sports psychology is exactly what I needed as I age and require a different training perspective,” Lear said. “Powerlifting is 70% mental and 30% physical, although that is not scientifically proven. This ratio can be applied to many aspects of life, but I can attest that an individual’s mindset directly influences the outcome … positive thoughts, positive outcome.”
While working on getting Bedford back to competing, the two became close friends and pushed each other. While they both are accomplished power lifters, they actually were able to coach one another in competitions.
“Our camaraderie grew from when we first met and we brought together our friendship through our Total Force relationship. He knew he could count on me in his corner with my background in sports psychology during his competitions and I knew he had my back for my competitions,” Bedford said. “We both had areas we both respected about each other with me having over 25 years of powerlifting experience and coaching with my personal training business. And I saw Mike Lear’s powerlifting profile that ranks with the best nationally. We both feed off each other’s energy and experience and that has helped us win more gold on the platform.”
For Lear, his path to become a powerlifter started in the Air Force. He began competing in 2014.
“I was introduced to the powerlifting movements (squat, bench press and deadlift) in 2005 while deployed overseas. A scrappy 120-pound kid was moving—what I thought was—a ton of weight for his size, and it caught my attention,” Lear said. “I quickly became his protégé weighing in at 163 pounds. Reflecting, I believe the reason I was drawn to powerlifting was due to my background in wrestling as a kid. I started wrestling when I was five years old and continued to wrestle through high school. I even wrestled for a few years after enlisting in the Air Force.”
When other obligations consumed too much of his time, he stopped wrestling, but has remained active assisting others. He currently helps train his son in wrestling.
“I believe the individuality of wrestling while representing yourself on the mat speaks volumes of what you are capable of without the direct support of team members to bail you out if you’re underperforming,” Lear said. “The outcome depends on you and you alone. I feel powerlifting embodies the same concept with the only difference being that my opponent is not a human being — it’s gravity. The capstone of my preparation off the platform is a 27-second defiance of gravity.”
Bedford competed in wrestling, football and baseball while in high school and began competing in powerlifting in 1994.
“My old football and wrestling coach always saw me lifting with the bigger position players and heavier wrestlers and said maybe I should pick up a new hobby of powerlifting. He stated that pound for pound I’m one of his strongest players in the school,” Bedford said. “Powerlifting and sports made me mentally tough, well-disciplined and internally motivated. You either lift the weight or fail and I love adrenaline of type-A personality contact sports.”
In his 25 years competing, Bedford is a five-time national bench press champion. In 1995 he was crowned the “Teenage National Bench Press Champion” in the 123-pound weight class, in 1998 he was the “Junior National Bench Press Champion.” He won the 2003 “Colligate National Bench Press” title in the 148-pound weight class and in 2016 he was the “Masters Military Bench Press Champion” in the 165-pound weight class. He also won the AAU National and World Strict Curl Champion 2017 in the 165-pound weight class and has a top bench press of 364 pounds at 165 pounds at the Camp Pendleton Bulldog Bench Press Championships in 2006.
Since recovering from his car wreck with the help of Lear as his training partner, Bedford has won the USPA (United State Powerlifting Association) Texas State Bench Press Champion 2020 and the USPA Military National Bench Press Championship.
Over Lear’s seven-year powerlifting career he has won three state championships. He also won two USAPL (USA Powerlifting) Military National Championships in two different weight classes while taking home the “Best Lifter” award in 2016. He has dozens of individual state records in the deadlift and squat, and broke the IPL (International Powerlifting League) deadlift world record in the 82.5kg weight class in 2016.
This past December Lear broke the Texas Deadlift state record previously set at 705 pounds by pulling 733 pounds in the 93kg weight class. This lift ranks him No. 3 in Texas for 2020, No. 5 All-Time in Texas and nationally ranked No. 5 for 2020 and No. 14 All-Time all while being the oldest competitor in the top 25 for USAPL.
“I continue to stay motivated and pursue powerlifting for so many reasons, but the chief reason is my physical and mental health,” Lear said. “I train at four in the morning, and my ability to control the outcome of something in my life first thing in the morning motivates me before my day even starts, thus creating a positive attitude for the rest of the day, as I feel accomplished before 7 a.m. every day.”
While Bedford and Lear met due to the Total Force recruiting enterprise, it has proven to be a successful combination bringing in Airmen from various backgrounds.
“Our blended marketing family (Active Duty/Guard/Reserve) is the perfect recipe for success,” Lear said. “Our discipline and diverse backgrounds make one hell of a cocktail that delivers innovation and results for the enterprise. From strategic marketing initiatives that impact the total force, to building individual relationships at the tactical level, each has a place and are equally important.”
While Bedford and Lear have supported and motivated each other, their time together in San Antonio is coming to an end as Lear is retiring soon.
“I’m really going to miss Senior Master Sgt. Mike Lear, but our time in the weight room will never be forgotten and with our competitive juices we have, we will probably see each either on the big stage again in the future,” Bedford said.
Lear will be heading back to his home state when he finishes his active-duty career at AFRS.
“As I transition to retirement this year and head back to New York, I will certainly miss working out with Coach Dan,” Lear said. “However, our paths will undoubtedly cross again on the platform as we are competitors at heart and lifting is more than just an activity but our therapy.”
While Bedford will lose his coach, he is still scheduled to compete next month in the Lonestar Lifting “Texas Drug Free” USPA Powerlifting Championships.
“I’m going for the master’s age 40-44 division, 165-pound national record in the bench press,” Bedford said. “I want to finish up my 25-year career with another gold medal and national bench press championship for my age and weight class.”
Lear is not scheduled to compete this year but he has a loftier goal in mind.
“You can expect to see me still chasing my goal of making the USA Powerlifting Team,” Lear said. “They say you need to write your goals down to make them real, so here is mine … USAPL Team 2024!”