MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
"One sport wasn’t enough" is a common joke told by triathletes around the globe. Their craft is not something an individual could attempt with hopes to have flawless natural talent because it takes hard work and dedication to swim, bike and run for extended distances.
Staff Sgt. Kenneth Bell, an Atlanta native, is one of few Marines to challenge himself to become a triathlete.
On Dec. 19, 2015, Bell participated in the Mission Trails Regional Park Five-Peak Challenge. The challenge is to hike at one’s own pace the summit of Cowles Mountain, Pyles Peak, Kwaay Paay, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna – all five peaks throughout the park. Triathletes and other participants wanted to make it more of a challenge and asked if they could run the 21-mile course; the total vertical elevation surpasses 6,000 feet.
“I just saw the challenge and thought that it looked pretty difficult, but I wasn’t going to get a running opportunity like that on Camp Pendleton,” said Bell, a helicopter mechanic with Headquarters Co., I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group. “It took me five hours and ten minutes to cover the 20 miles and all five peaks. It’s still probably one of the most challenging runs that I’ve ever done.”
Originally, Bell said he wasn’t into participating in physically demanding challenges or the concept of fitness until he joined the Marine Corps in June 2000.
As a teen, he played basketball recreationally, but upon arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, he recognized that he was not as fit as he had hoped.
“I realized when I arrived at basic training that I had to run almost every other day, swim long distances, go on hikes and do a lot of pushups and pull ups,” said Bell, “That’s when the physical fitness aspect of my life ramped up. I needed to get in shape.”
Bell completed basic training and went to his first military occupational specialty school to train as a dynamic component mechanic.
Bell said he was not content with the job he had but wanted to stay in the same field and do more hands-on work. After four years, he switched his MOS to become a helicopter mechanic.
Around the same time, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program was introduced and Bell found the opportunity to challenge himself physically.
MCMAP is a combat system developed by the United States Marine Corps to combine existing and new hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat techniques with morale and team-building functions and instruction in the Warrior Ethos.
“My physical fitness peaked once MCMAP was introduced,” said Bell. “That was when I began to focus more on bettering myself and it became easier when I found friends that had the same goals in mind.”
Upon entering this stage of his life, Bell had to take a break from training because he was slated to deploy to Iraq in 2008. He worked out at the gym very rarely while in country and only to pass time.
Bell recognized the negative impact after coming back from a deployment with no training, and said he resolved to give his workouts precedence while in the Marine Corps, because he wanted to be a model Marine.
As the years passed, Bell said that fitness was no longer an obligation simply because he was a Marine – it became more of a lifestyle.
“Physical fitness is my hobby,” said Bell. “It’s something I take great enthusiasm in. It’s my equivalent to how some people like to play video games, or others who like going fishing or riding motorcycles, but physical training is what I like to do.”
Gunnery Sgt. Xavier Altamirano, a training chief with HQ Co., I MHG, from Deming, New Mexico, said despite knowing Bell for only eight months, he has set good examples for others to emulate.
“He cares a lot about the health and welfare of Marines,” said Altamirano. “Physical fitness plays a big part in his life and he tries to share that with everyone.”
Exercising regularly is a common day-to-day hobby for Bell, so on a whim, he bought a fixed-gear bicycle to commute to and from work. A bike messenger movie inspired him; plus he thought it would be an extra workout to contribute to his daily routine.
“One day I was zipping by on my bicycle and someone I know told me, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good on that bicycle, you should try participating in a duathlon. You just run, bike and run again,’” said Bell. “I obliged his idea and then, after that, I just got hooked.”
After participating in a duathlon, Bell was determined to try a triathlon, but he wasn’t a good swimmer so he practiced until he found a whole new level of fitness.
Bell participated in his first few events and was an average contestant who simply competed with himself. After the completion of the 2015 Ironman 70.3 SuperFrog, he was impressed with his results.
“My greatest accomplishment was at the SuperFrog Ironman,” Bell said in a prideful tone. “My completion time was five hours and 14 minutes. That race was truly a testament to hard work and consistent training because I had improved in all three disciplines of the sport, and completed each event at my personal best.”
Now, he has participated in over 25 endurance training events since he could combine all three sports and was recently awarded as a 2016 Bronze Ironman All World Athlete.
Bell plans on becoming more efficient and faster when competing in events and achieving a Silver or potentially Gold Ironman All World Athlete award. If possible, he would like to earn a professional card.
“I would like to apply as a professional, especially since I’m still considered an amateur. I don’t know if that route would turn into a career but, if I got to spend one year as a pro, that would be one of my top achievements,” said Bell.
To this day, he continues to train more outside of the Marine Corps’ training requisites to challenge himself in Ironmans, triathlons and other recreational events like the Mission Trails Regional Park Five-Peak Challenge.
Bell said his experience during the Five-Peak Challenge was great because of the interesting group of people that often attend those types of events. After completing the Five-Peak Challenge, he invited other Marines to participate and to enjoy their time while they’re out there.
“If you could make it, you could make it. If you can’t, well, you’ll live to climb another peak another day,” said Bell.