JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
She steps up to the bar, her back braced and supported; her head band catches any trace of sweat.
Her team is cheering, while her coach powerfully slaps her back, yelling:
"LEAD FROM THE FRONT! SHOW ME WHAT YOU'RE ALL ABOUT APRIL!"
At 165 pounds, she grips the metal barbell with her callused, chalked hands and prepares to deadlift a personal record.
"It was single handedly the most intense moment of my life. I didn't hold back for one second and the weight came up. I just pulled 340 pounds."
For Staff Sgt. April Spilde, United States Air Force Honor Guard formal training instructor, lifting 340 pounds was a testament to her physical and mental journey. Competing at the women's largest exclusive powerlifting event, the 2015 Cincinnati Women's Professional and Amateur Powerlifting Meet, April 11, 2015, was no easy accomplishment.
"I had been competing for eight hours and my body was shot," Spilde said as she reflects on the weekend's meet. "When I finally got to my last attempt, I knew everything had to be perfect for me to pull this weight. I zoned out all the noise and only listened to my coach, Gracie Vanasse. She knew exactly what to say. It was almost like she needed to pull this weight as much as I needed to."
Spilde has been powerlifting for two years and has placed in all three competitions prior.
The then 181-pound Spilde captured first in both the 2014 100% RAW Powerlifting Federation Potomac Open and the Eastern Open, in addition to the 2015 JBA Andrews Push/Pull Meet Women Champion.
Before transitioning to powerlifting in 2012, Spilde also broke two Alaska state records in Olympic weight lifting while stationed at Eielson AFB.
Powerlifting came naturally said the motivated sergeant, since all the main movements in pall-bearing were consistent with the sport.
"I was hooked on the sport of strength," Spilde said.
"Every time I approach the bar there can't be a single shred of doubt. I have to mentally gear myself up and tell myself this is going to happen, come hell or high water. Even though the set up for each lift was different, my mental state was the same - fearless."
The 29-year-old Minnesota native powerlifts to continually improve physically and mentally.
"It's a great tool that I use not only in the gym but at my job," Spilde said.
As a formal training instructor, Spilde travels with the USAF Honor Guard mobile training team 8-15 times a year to various bases to facilitate base honor guard programs.
Spilde was originally recruited in the honor guard as a pall-bearer three years ago. Upon hearing she was selected, she hired a coach and began practicing deadlifts, squats and bench press in order to meet the physical requirements of the job.
Some of the requirements include a 70-pound barbell carry for 40 yards, six pull-ups; three sets of 275-pound deadlifts and squats.
"I wanted to do something bigger than myself," she said, eyes narrowing. "I had other opportunities, but the Honor Guard just captivated me; I realized I could actually give back here. I get to carry the people that I saw leaving Afghanistan during fallen comrade ceremonies. Instead of saluting and watching them leave, I get to carry them home."
USAF Honor Guard Pall-bearers carry a significant role by transporting deceased service members, their dependents and senior leaders to their gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery. The casket's weight varies from 400-800 pounds.
"Being accepted into the pall bearing element was one of the happiest moments of my career," Spilde said.
Spilde is only the fifth female USAF Honor Guard pall-bearer in history.
"She surpassed a monumental task in the Honor Guard," Master Sgt. Sherwin Severin, USAF Honor Guard Pall-bearer Flight Superintendent said. "I hate to highlight the fact that she is a female because it doesn't matter what gender you are. However, for a female pall-bearer it is tough, because they are expected to carry the same weight as a male on the casket. Some airmen may have doubted her, but I saw Spilde take that head on. She worked hard to be able to complete the body bearers' physical fitness test; putting in the extra work at the gym and proving herself. I think it stems from sheer determination as a competitor and being an athlete."
Spilde intends on making the Air Force a career and pursuing her dream of making the Air Force powerlifting team.
Yet, Spilde remains humble in her endeavors and lets her results speak for themselves.
"You can't have self-doubt, or it will manifest. Whether it is missing a lift or executing a drill movement incorrectly," Spilde explained, "Lifting helps build my confidence and focus."
To Spilde the physical part is just an added bonus.
"It's something unique God's blessed me with the ability to do. The only limitation was the physical limitation, and I overcame it."