The Air Force recently announced a Nationally Ranked Winter Olympian and Jiu-Jitsu Champion as the 2021 Female and Male Athletes of the Year – Airman 1st Class Kelly Curtis and Staff Sgt. Staff. Justin Southichack, respectively.


Female Athlete of the Year


“I am honored to be selected as the Air Force Female Athlete of the Year,” said Curtis, a knowledge management technician with the 31st Communications Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “I’ve joined a roster of amazing women and I’m honored to be in such good company.”




















“Her list of accolades during the award period included being ranked as the best Air Force and military skeleton athlete in the world and the best military Olympic Hope for the 2022 Winter Games“said Major Aaron Tissot, Head of DAF Fitness and Sports with the Air Force Service Center.


As an “expert in her craft,” Curtis was also named by name to perform track testing and research and development at the Beijing site ahead of the Olympics, according to her nomination file.


Prior to the Olympics, Curtis put in more than 500 hours of training, competed in 12 international events averaging 11th place among his peers around the world and represented the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, at the skeleton team trials in Lake Placid, New York, earning a third team placing for Team USA.


Curtis got what many consider a late start in the Air Force at age 31, after learning she could serve her country and still play a sport she loves.


“I first learned of the opportunity to merge the two when I joined USA Bobsled and Skeleton and saw the number of sliders actively serving in the military,” Curtis said. “Once I got good enough to compete for our national team, I started my application to enlist in the Air Force and join WCAP.”



















As the first WCAP Airman to undergo basic military training, she led an elite athlete recruitment initiative that attracted the interest of more than 20 elite athletes, her appointment noted, and Curtis shone as an Air Force ambassador and WCAP athlete in global competitions.


“I feel privileged any time I can compete for the country and act as an ambassador for not only Team USA, but also the USAF. I still have a lot to learn and I’m looking forward to learning from my teammates,” said Curtis.


Curtis attributes his success and selection as Athlete of the Year to his strong support network.


“My village is made up of the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, 31st CS, teammates and coaches from USA Bobsled and Skeleton, and friends and family who have supported me in this endeavour. over eight years,” she said. “I am also blessed to have a husband, Jeff Milliron, who has also agreed to join me in this unexpected chapter of our lives. His support has been unwavering and his strength and conditioning programming has proven worthy enough. of this title.


Male Athlete of the Year


Winning Air Force Male Athlete of the Year “is truly surreal” for Staff Sgt. Justin Southichack, a production supervisor with the 649th Ordnance Squadron at Hill Air Force BaseUtah.


“I’m sure the Air Force has many athletes who are truly inspiring and motivating in their craft,” Southichack said, “and I’m grateful for my leadership for my nomination and honored to represent the best Air Force in the world. ”


He also thanked his coach, Eduardo Mori, and training partner, Amy Campo, as he said, “I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without them…those two really pushed me to excel in the sport. of Jiu-Jitsu.


During the awards period, Southichack’s record in multiple competitions helped him edge out other nominated male athletes, Tissot said.


Southichack took first place in its eight-competitor division at the 2021 Winter Impact Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or BJJ, Open Gi Tournament in Salt Lake City; first of 12 in the No-Gi division of the North American Grappling Association’s Vegas Grappling Championship in Las Vegas; first of 32 fighters in his weight class at the International BJJ Federation No-Gi BJJ World Championship in Dallas; and first place out of 334 rivals in his weight class in the IBJJF Masters I Blue Belt, placing in the top six in his division for the 2021 calendar year.


“Throughout my career in the Air Force, athletics has played a vital role in my personal well-being and elasticitysaid Southichack, who has participated in numerous intramural sports as well as boxing, bodybuilding and weightlifting.


In addition to being an ordnance troop, Southichack served as a physical training officer, head of the unit fitness program, and a member of a unit fitness cell at each duty station to which he was affected.


Even with his athletic background, he said it wasn’t until 2019 that he found purpose in the sport when Jiu-Jitsu found it as a way to bond with his young son and teach him self-defense.



















The martial art of Jiu-Jitsu, a sport that has been gaining popularity in recent years, is a discipline “without prejudice to gender, age, size or physical ability that focuses on bringing your opponent on the ground to neutralize any force or size”. advantage that the opponent can impose,” Southichack said.


“It has been shown to help individuals physically, mentally, spiritually, socially and psychologically throughout their lives,” he said, “with the culture fostering a sense of acceptance and camaraderie.”


Department of the Air Force fitness and sports programs, such as the Athlete of the Year program, emphasize the importance of mission success through sustained dedication and hard work, and the importance of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, Tissot said.



















“Our sports and fitness programs are designed to enable Airmen and Guardians to achieve their sporting goals, remain resilient personally and professionally, and ultimately it increases our mission readiness,” Tissot said.


Regarding the importance of athletics in building better, stronger, more resilient Airmen, Curtis said, “I learned to build a process that I love, and then do my best to let that process unfold. It’s not a great training day, but the daily monotony of working towards a sporting goal that builds resilience.


“I can’t speak for all Airmen, but I know I feel better after getting endorphins in my body,” she said.


Throughout his life, Southichack said athletics helped ensure he wasn’t complacent.


“I’ve always pushed for the status quo and made sure I’m ‘fit to fight,'” Southichack said. “As supervisors, we have to lead by example and lead by example. I continually preach to my Airmen that we should never settle for mediocrity but strive for excellence.