Staff Sgt. Rachel Loftis, a public affairs specialist with the 193rd Special Operations Wing, started her military career on active duty in 2013, and joined the 193rd in 2017 through the Palace Chase program.
She shares some insight on her unique fitness regimen of aerial acrobatics.
How did you get into the world of aerial acrobatics?
I really got into fitness in 2014. I was overweight, and I was so incredibly tired of feeling anxiety regarding my PT test and my body in general. I looked up some cookie cutter, eight-week bodybuilding programs and steadily transitioned from body building into powerlifting. I loved the challenge of powerlifting, I loved the competitive nature of the sport, but I came out of that time period with a skewed reality of how my body should be and how it should look. In hindsight, I was running a ridiculous program that was not sustainable, and I ended up injuring my back, ran into some shoulder issues and sort of lost my steam for the sport. I still love powerlifting and lifting heavy, but I don’t think I’ll ever get back to where I was.
That’s how I got into aerial arts. In 2017 I was trying to get back into the gym and find something that kept my attention, something that I could dedicate myself to like powerlifting. I also needed a sense of community, competition and originality. I was on active duty and stationed in Las Vegas, and it’s hard not to be influenced by the people in the area. Las Vegas has an enormous circus community, and it is apparent by the amount of gyms whose specialty is in aerial silks, lyra (aerial hoop), rope, trapeze, pole etc. I took an introductory pole fitness class in September 2017, and I quickly became obsessed and have now gotten into the competitive circuit.
As I got more comfortable with my strength, I began to branch out in other categories, like lyra and silks, just to see what I was capable of and I was hooked - I am obsessed with anything and everything about being 14 plus feet in the air doing cool tricks.
You recently completed training in Las Vegas, what drew you there?
There are so many Cirque Du Soleil and circus shows around Las Vegas, many of those who perform also teach classes at local gyms. Las Vegas has a brand-new facility called the Las Vegas Circus Center where you can train with professional performers and complete training camps. I went and trained on lyra, silks and pole. I think this is one of those sports where the skills you learn can be forgotten, so it is important to continue to train and learn. There aren’t too many opportunities in small cities like Harrisburg to really continue training. My goal was to go and learn new things and bring material back with me that I could use to continue to advance in my training.
You also recently completed training in Florida. What was the purpose of this training?
I traveled to Florida for a four-day training course to complete a pole instructing certification. The purpose of the training was to provide hands-on training that I can use to safely and effectively teach in any environment, whether that be in a one-on-one basis or inside a studio. I learned how to thoroughly explain safely getting in and out of moves, as well as their progressions and regressions.
The certification I completed has a very kinesthetic approach to it. We would get a small visual, like a photo, and a few bullet points about the move and then we each have to teach the material. There about 65 moves, plus their progressions and regressions, I had to learn to teach. I had to understand body awareness, what muscles were being activated, how to activate them, and then I had to translate that in a way that my students would understand.
Now that you’ve completed these trainings: What’s next?
My goal is to teach. I want to create a community where people feel welcome and unafraid to be whom they are. I think it is very important to be able to have a sort of escape from reality, even if it’s just an hour a day. I am currently enrolled in a flexibility certification course that I’ve completed about 70 percent.
Additionally, certifications are not “needed” as there’s no real governing body over aerial arts certifications like there are other areas of fitness. You can teach with a simple group fitness certification, but I firmly believe there is always more that you can learn, especially in these incredibly dangerous sports. I’m constantly trying to advance my knowledge base so that I can provide a safe and encouraging environment to students.
What is your current personal goal with your training?
My current goal is to just have fun and to love my body and the things that it can do. When I’ve established roots somewhere, I would love to open my own gym. However, I want to make sure I have as much knowledge as possible before I do that. Safety is key in sports like this, and I have so much to learn.
What is your current training/workout schedule like?
I am in the regular gym three times a week for legs and accessory work, while the other three to four days I’m doing some sort of aerial workout.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in trying this type of workout?
Just do it! Take an introductory class and feel out the environment. It is important to be cautious and do research on the facility and teachers you plan to do this type of workout with. It is an extremely dangerous sport and, to put it bluntly, if a facility is running an unsafe program, you could end up injured, paralyzed or worse.
Is there any way your aerial acrobatics training applies to your military job?
I feel like it aids me in talking and interacting with people, which is important for working in Public Affairs.
Any further insight you’d like to add?
Get out of your comfort zone and do something different! I never thought I would be suspended 14 plus feet in the air but here I am, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
ANYBODY, and I mean ANYBODY, can do this. This is one of the most accepting communities I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.