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Reserve C-17 pilot, family strengthen bond through fitness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Madelyn McCullough
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
What motivates someone to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and then run an entire marathon all in one day? For one 446th Airlift Wing Reservist, the answer is easy - his kids.

After signing up a year in advance, Lt. Col. Roger Zander, 728th Airlift Squadron instructor pilot, dedicated at least six months of preparation before participating in his fourth Ironman Triathlon, Ironman Canada, on Aug. 25.

"What motivated me was I wanted to keep up with my kids," said the father of three. "I wanted to be able to ski with them when they were teenagers and run and bike with them, so since then I started running and I've bounced from hobby to hobby and the latest is completing Ironmans."

Zander's brother and son were actually the ones who inspired him to participate in the triathlons.

"My brother did Ironmans 30 years ago," Zander said. "Right after college he did two, and went to Moscow for one. I said 'I'd like to do that,' so I made it a goal of mine, and my son when he was 17 he said, 'Let's do this.' When he turned 18, we did Ironman Canada in 2010."

As a pilot who flies for both Hawaiian Airlines and for the Air Force Reserve, staying committed to training is no easy task.

"The hardest thing about training for these events is that in the peak of your training plans, you're normally training somewhere in the area of 17 to 18 hours a week," he said. "That's just about six days a week where you're training two to three hours a day and it gets hard."

Even with the challenges he faces, he still makes living a healthy, fit lifestyle a top priority. In fact, his whole family shares this priority and could be nicknamed the Air Force's "fittest family."

His wife, Janice, is also a fitness enthusiast as she was once a body building fitness competitor and owned a gym. Now, she is a personal trainer, who teaches boot camp fitness classes throughout Maple Valley, Wash., helps people with nutrition planning, and has a black belt in karate. Zander's oldest son has a second degree black belt and has done a half Ironman. The middle son also completed triathlons and is now becoming a Navy SEAL. The youngest is following in their footsteps but has not yet competed. All three wrestled from the time they were little throughout high school.

"I've never seen anybody as fit as an entire family as the Roger Zander family," said Lt. Col. Kevin Welin, 446th Operations Support Flight director of operations.

According to Welin, Zander has always taught his kids discipline and that no matter what, if they put their minds to it, they can accomplish anything they want in life.

"His son would be completely ready for the SEALs just based upon attitude, mental stability, and fitness," Welin said. "As far as going to Navy SEAL school, it'd be more like a summer vacation for him than what you would typically think of SEAL training."

With three sons who love fitness, Zander's hard work to keep up with them and spend time with them has paid off.

"I was on a mission with Roger and I met up with him and his wife in Hawaii," Welin said. "There were a couple of us on the flight that went hiking in the mountains with them. I thought I was in okay shape, but when you reach your mid to late 40s, the fitness level that you think you're at is not like when you're in your 20s. So a couple of us tried to keep up with Roger and his wife and by the time I made it to the top of the mountain I thought I was going to have a heart attack. That was my awakening that I need to do some more with my fitness."

"You get one try at life," Zander said. "If you're not fit, then you miss out on so many opportunities."