MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – Twelve hours of patrolling on the graveyard shift drained his energy, but not his drive. The job was done, but the work wasn't.
The airman steps through the fitness club doors with only one goal in mind: to achieve powerlifting superiority. He sees an empty bench press. He feels the grip of the iron bar covered with chalk powder, and the only sound he hears is the music through his headphones. In that moment, his new environment separates him from the rest of the world.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Benny Le, 22nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, powerlifts to stay fit, but the sport is more than just lifting heavy weights, he said.
"Powerlifting is mostly mental," Le explained. "I try to clear everything in my mind, and I imagine myself as the Hulk, being able to lift whatever weight is in front of me."
Le was first introduced to the sport that would improve his fitness, both physically and spiritually, by his first supervisor at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming.
"The first time I powerlifted, I loved it," Le said. "There were a lot of friendly people, and even those who didn't know me showed support. That really motivated and hyped me up for the meet."
Bench pressing, deadlifting, and squatting soon became routine for Le. Although his first powerlifting competition was easy for him to do, he said, fitness was not always his thing.
"As a chubby, dorky kid in middle school, I stuck with video games from an early age," he said. "After seeing [an exercise machine] commercial one night, I decided to get in shape. I lost 35 pounds in two months."
Le said his new physique motivated him to keep working out, and eventually to start powerlifting. "I want to inspire others to be fit just like me," he added. "I just want to help them succeed."
Le's drive to succeed and to help others is something anyone who knows him can see.
"Benny is a super nice guy, and he's really, really humble," said Daniel Tennison, a workout partner of Le. "He's not arrogant, [and] he doesn't have a big head. He just keeps his nose to the grindstone and he trains hard. He's a humble competitor."
Le said he wants to use himself as an example to help others get out of their stagnant fitness routines and get more involved in managing their health.
"A lot of people don't go out there and strive for their goals," said Le, who at 5 feet 2 inches tall wanted to prove that people can achieve their goals if they make an effort.
"You need to have a strong mentality to get started," he said.
Le may spend up to three hours in the gym just to complete three different sets of exercises. His workout partner sees his mental preparation and believes Le can achieve anything.
"He's got potential to be one of the best in the nation at his weight class, and I know he's got the mentality and work ethic to do it," Tennison said. "I see him work, I feel how much he loves it, and his head is in the right place. You guys are going to see some really big things out of Benny."