By Jeffrey Vaughn
19th Medical Group Health and Wellness Flight Chief
Retired U.S. Air Force Capt. Kristen Morris has truly overcome the odds. At age 25, she underwent a total hip replacement due to arthritis which destroyed her hip joint. However, she didn’t let that stop her. Once cleared to begin exercising again, Morris dove head first into Vital 90 and rebuilt her hip, body and health – but she didn’t stop there. Morris went a step further and started coaching Vital 90 classes.
What was the turning point that made you take control of your health?
The turning point that caused me to take charge of my own wellness was when I learned I would be having a full hip replacement at 25. The arthritis was due to several factors, including a previous hip reconstruction, a lifetime of playing high-impact sports, a lack of cartilage in my hip and minor hip dysplasia. My surgeon told me time and time again that if I wanted to be able to function without pain, I would need to take very good care of my new hip post replacement. At around three months post-surgery, I met some incredible people at the Little Rock Air Force Base Fitness Center who supported me. Even though I had a lot of mobility restrictions, I began attending Vital 90 classes and started getting back in shape. I committed myself to a healthy lifestyle and haven’t looked back.
Tell us about some of the physical obstacles you overcame before you could become a pilot?
I have been in good shape and healthy most of my life because I was always involved in sports. I’ve had several big challenges along the way, and things definitely haven’t always been easy. When I was in college playing Division I soccer, I had both hips reconstructed because my hip joints were slowly slipping out of their sockets. Dealing with that recovery was extremely difficult. I had to motivate myself to go to the gym and to eat healthy, even though I didn’t always feel like it. My goal was to be a pilot. In order to pass my physical, I needed to do some serious work to get my body into shape with my newly reconstructed hips. I didn’t let this significant setback prevent me from reaching my goal. Many people wrote me off, saying I would never be approved to be a pilot. Well, after a year and a half of hard work, I proved them wrong and received my pilot slot. Roughly six years later, one of my hips began giving out and I needed it completely replaced. The Vital 90 class – specifically the expertise of the coaches – really helped me come back after this tough surgery. Their knowledge, dedication and willingness to help me really made a big difference. Since I was no longer allowed to participate in high-impact activities the Vital 90 instructors modified all the workouts so I could still participate, even with my significant limitations.
As a result of your hip problems, what are some of the most significant changes you’ve made to your fitness routine?
The biggest change I made to my fitness routine was learning how to modify exercises. Since I needed to eliminate any high-impact activities, I had to find a way to stay in shape and get a workout without causing further pain and injury to my body. Every exercise has a modification, and once you learn what body part an exercise is supposed to work, you come up with alternatives that still work that particular body part.
What is the most important fitness lesson you’ve learned so far?
The most important fitness lesson is also an important life lesson. I’ve learned I can do anything I set my mind to. Getting in shape doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot of work, but don’t give up! Don’t let the distractions distract you.
Which is most important when tackling fitness, the physical or mental battle?
Personally, I think it’s all a mental battle. Our bodies are far more capable than we know. They are only limited by our minds. It’s that decision to go to the gym or not; to push yourself hard or to lackadaisically go through your workout; to make the healthy snack choice or pick the cupcake because it’s sitting there. It all boils down to mental fortitude. If you aren’t mentally strong today, keep working at it and you will get there!
Do you have a favorite training method?
My favorite training method is HIIT, or (High Intensity Interval Training. I like it for two primary reasons: 1. It’s constantly varied therefore always interesting. I never find myself getting bored.
2. Every workout is a competition against myself. I am always pushing myself to be better than I was before.
Do you have a diet strategy? Explain?
My diet strategy is very simple: if I can kill it or grow it, then I will eat it. I have a big sweet tooth so I keep that in check by letting myself occasionally have treats and in small portions.
What is the most significant thing you’ve changed about your diet?
The most significant change I have made to my diet is being mindful of what I’m eating. I make sure I am eating because I am hungry, not bored. When I eat, I focus on how good my food is rather than eating it so fast that I barely taste it.
What advice do you have for Airmen (or dependents) who are struggling with their fitness assessment and weight?
My advice is to start today. Don’t wait until tomorrow or next week. Decide to start making healthier choices right now. Take it one decision at a time, and when you make a few poor decisions – because you will – don’t let it start a downward spiral. Instead, make that next decision a healthy one. Nobody is perfect.
What is your favorite part about coaching Vital 90?
I enjoy coaching Vital 90 because I love making a difference in people’s lives. Through Vital 90 I can help people achieve their fitness goals. I love interacting with everyone that comes to class because it’s a very lively atmosphere with a bunch of fun individuals. Vital 90 is a fitness class designed to help people get into better shape regardless of where they are today. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that!
If you are interested in Vital 90, contact the HAWC at 501- 987-7288 or the Fitness Center at 501-987-3283.