VIP: Female Veteran Shares Her Passion for Fitness

Featured Article, Fitness, Motivation, News and Advice
on March 19, 2013
Interview with Jeanette Skowron, one of the first female cadets at West Point Academy.

Female veteran Janette Skowron, 47, of Cary, N.C., is the very definition of toughness. The certified personal trainer, mother-of-three and West Point graduate has always approached life—and her health—with true discipline and dedication.

For years, Janette has been breaking down barriers. In 1982, at the age of 16, she decided to enroll in the United States Military Academy at West Point during a time when women were largely marginalized at service academies. “I thought it was a great opportunity,” Janette says. “I was a high academic achiever in high school and thought I would enjoy the discipline and leadership of the Army.”

When Janette entered West Point, women were still a new presence at the prestigious military academy, which did not open its doors to females until 1976. As a result, female cadets often faced chauvinism and animosity from their male classmates. “Back then, a lot of the men didn’t welcome women,” says Janette. “They made us feel out of place and incompetent. It was very challenging to be there as a woman.”

Not only was her gender an issue, but Janette also entered the program with zero athletic ability. “When I arrived at West Point, I was an out-of-shape teenager,” Janette says. “I had never done a push up or run a mile before.”

Merely passing the academy’s Candidate Fitness Assessment—a vigorous fitness exam that is one of the requirements for admission—was one of the biggest challenges Janette encountered. “At first, I failed the entrance fitness exam twice!” she says. “But I pushed hard, whipped myself into shape and eventually was able to pass it.”

“It was very tough on me,” she adds. “As a woman at West Point, you didn’t want to get noticed, especially not physically.”

Ultimately, Janette’s experience at West Point taught her invaluable lessons about perseverance, strength and resilience. During her four years there, she conquered insurmountable obstacles, battled failure and defeat, and shattered the glass ceiling. “I learned a lot about self-discipline. I learned how to handle a lot emotionally. I learned how to be tough-minded,” she says.

It also sparked a lifelong commitment to physical fitness. After graduating West Point in 1987, Janette served as a Logistics Officer at Fort Bragg for five years before pursuing a career in management. Even when she wasn’t in the Army, however, Janette still maintained a rigorous fitness regimen. “For the past 25 years since I’ve graduated, I don’t think I’ve taken off more than a week from exercise,” Janette says. “It has become a part of my life.”

At age 47, Janette keeps herself in fighting shape. She stays fit through a combination of high-intensity interval training and weight lifting circuits. Always looking to push herself to new limits, the female veteran’s current fitness goal is to beat her personal-best 11:03 plank hold time. “I’m a very competitive person. That’s how I stay motivated,” she says.

In addition to physical fitness, Janette has also made healthy eating a top priority. Although she grew up in a household where fresh fruits and vegetables were a rarity, Janette was inspired to completely revamp her diet after watching her father struggle with health problems.

“My father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 59 while I was in college,” Janette says. “Watching him eat so unhealthy and die so young made me paranoid about my own health.”

Today, Janette enforces healthy eating habits on her family with military-like strictness. “I don’t tolerate unhealthy eating. We eat a lot of vegetables,” Janette says, who has three children ages 18, 17 and 14. “Even when I was dating my husband-to-be, I threw out his deep fryer.”

Three years ago, Janette transformed her passion for fitness into a full-time career when she decided to pursue a personal training certification through the National Personal Training Institute. As a personal trainer at the Cary, N.C. Lifetime Fitness Center, she hopes to empower her clients to take control of their health.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that she’s a female veteran with an extensive military background, Janette’s approach to training is not all drill-sergeant tactics. She may make clients “drop and give her 20,” but she also brings a softer, more compassionate side to the gym.

“I think the most effective way to train is to be a good listener—to coach each person in the way they need to be coached,” Janette says. “There isn’t a lot of sympathy at West Point for personal injuries and physical challenges. When I train clients, I look at every individual differently and assess his or her personal needs. So yes, I can kick anyone’s butt. But my clients need listening and compassion, too.”

Throughout her life, Janette has tackled all challenges—from fitness-related goals to major life setbacks—with Army-level strength and tremendous perseverance. But, Janette says, you don’t have to go through the military to attain mental toughness.

“If you are not living a great life, then it’s time to make some behavior changes,” she says. “Take responsibility and ownership for yourself and seek a health coach. Live a great life!”