Keep fit and sail on – a fitness instructor’s deployment

Photo by Leading Seaman Victoria Ioganov, MARPAC Imaging Services

Photo by Leading Seaman Victoria Ioganov, MARPAC Imaging Services

Captain Jenn Jackson, HMCS Ottawa PAO ~

When Tianna Smith applied for a job as a Personnel Support Programs (PSP) Fitness Instructor at CFB Esquimalt two years ago, she had no idea where that would take her.

“I had just finished my kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria and saw the job listing. I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with a different segment of the population and a diverse group of people,” says Smith. “It’s definitely been that, but so much more.”

Fast-forward two years, and “so much more” translates to her second deployment with the Royal Canadian Navy providing fitness programs to the crew. 

Her first deployment was in MV Asterix in support of HMCS Calgary during Operation Projection. Her second is with HMCS Ottawa’s current deployment for Operations Projection and Neon.

To deploy, she had to complete an intense one-week course in Halifax that included an introduction to life on ship, sea survival training, recreation ideas and activities, a tour of a Halifax-class frigate and chemical biological radiological and nuclear training. All of that was aimed at fitting the right instructor with the right deployment.

“Even though the course was only one week, it was one of the most intense weeks of my career,” she says. “Most days were 12-plus hours and there was a lot of information covered to make sure all of us were prepared for any Canadian Armed Forces deployment – whether in support of the navy, air force or army. Since I am employed in Esquimalt, deploying on ship made the most sense for me.”

Wanting to experience the Royal Canadian Navy firsthand and see for herself what sailors do played a big role in her decision to volunteer for deployments.

“When working ashore in Esquimalt, I would work with sailors every day, but my understanding of what they do was limited. On ship, I not only see what they do, but I can connect with them on a personal level to learn more about them. I also have to plan my classes within the watch rotations to help them achieve a balance while living where they work – the same place I live too.”

One challenge she faces is motivating tired sailors with limited time off and reminding them fitness is not only easily achievable, it also relieves stress and increases energy. It can be easy for sailors to adopt a mind-set of barriers such as fatigue, limited equipment and rocky seas.

“I work to vary the classes I run on board to keep the sailors engaged at sea. The days can start to feel monotonous, but having something different to look forward to that usually involves some time in fresh air on the flight deck helps break that up.”

As much as she enjoys the time at sea and working with sailors directly, she cannot deny deployments are more than professional development.

“Some of the most rewarding experiences I have while deployed are not directly related to fitness. The ship’s company does a lot of community relations and interacting with other navies. That has provided me with the opportunity to see how others live, while also giving and helping various organizations around the world. Seeing everyone come together regardless of language or background is one of the most amazing parts of deployments.”

When not at sea, Smith is a fitness instructor at the Naden Athletic Centre at CFB Esquimalt. She keeps busy by weightlifting, playing lacrosse, baking, and playing Dungeons & Dragons and board games with her friends.

“While any experience has its ups, downs, challenges and victories, the opportunity to learn so much while deployed makes every day at sea worth it. I never imagined that what started as a casual job opportunity could lead to seeing the world with so many amazing people.”

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