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No monkey business: ‘The Gorilla’ strikes fear, respect in 3rd HBCT football players

FORT BENNING, Ga. — The 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team is using a strength, conditioning and agility coach to help get ready for its Oct. 28 tackle football game against Columbus State University’s club team.And the players say she can be a real beast.Known affectionately as “the Gorilla,” Joanne Cain is the fitness program manager at Audie Murphy Athletic Center on Main Post. The 29-year-old native of Ontario, Canada, spent eight years in Hawaii, where she owned a personal training business and worked at Pearl Harbor Naval Base before coming to Fort Benning in April 2009.

She was given the nickname by Mr. Ken Wetherill, the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sports director. Shortly after joining the staff here, she went on a 60-mile bike ride during one of her first lunch breaks.

When she came back to the athletic office at Doughboy Stadium, Mr. Wetherill called her a “gorilla.” The name stuck.

“It’s a very appropriate name. She is a beast,” he said. “It takes people off-guard for a minute. But it’s basically a girl breaking into the boys club Anybody who’s trained with her will vouch for that. And those who have yet to train with her and are thinking about signing up will find that out.”

Ms. Cain said she’s not bothered by the reference.

“People just like to call me ‘the Gorilla,’ I don’t refer to myself as ‘the Gorilla,’” she said. “I guess I’m secretly flattered. It’s just you have to tell the story all the time.

“My workouts are not for everybody. You can tailor them to all physical abilities and levels. It’s just some people are in better shape than others.”

The 3rd HBCT football team is practicing five days a week right now. Prior to that, Ms. Cain led the 40-player roster through a two-week preseason conditioning camp at Essebagger Field.

Once practices started, the squad also held daily afternoon workouts with her but then scaled them back to Monday, Wednesday and Friday only at Audie Murphy.

“I got demoted,” she said half-jokingly. “Apparently, they’re too tired to actually conduct their real training on the field.”

The team’s two-hour sessions with her include weightlifting, speed and agility drills, and tire-flipping. The Audie Murphy facility features equipment built around movements — artificial turf allows players to simulate cutting, while ladders, pulling sleds and power gauges are among other training devices.

“It’s a functional training center,” she said. “This is stuff that applies to the athlete on the field.”

Players said she runs an intense program — there’s certainly no monkey business when they report after lunch. Nobody messes with the conditioning coach.

“She knows what she’s doing,” said SGT Eddie Smigelski, who plays halfback. “It was odd at first to have a female trainer, but she definitely knows what kind of shape we need to be in. She doesn’t let us slack at all but makes sure we’re doing our workouts correctly and not hurting ourselves.

“On a scale of one to 10 as a trainer, I’d give her a 10.”

SGT Matthew Nix, an offensive and defensive lineman, said she pushes the players hard.

“She is legit — she’s tough,” he said. “It’s helping us out. You can tell a big difference from where we started and where we are now.”

Away from the team, Ms. Cain serves a variety of units and individuals at Fort Benning. A nationally certified CrossFit trainer and strength and conditioning coach, she can focus regimens to meet specific goals.

For instance, she’ll design workouts for Soldiers attempting to get into the Special Forces, or craft a program for someone rehabilitating at the Warrior Transition Battalion.

CrossFit, a trademark strength and conditioning brand, combines weightlifting, sprinting and gymnastics. It requires proficiency in each of 10 fitness domains.

“It’s functional training,” she said. “It will make you better in all aspects of life and all aspects of athletics.”

Outside work, triathlons are Ms. Cain’s game. She’s competed for more than a decade and has appeared in at least 100 events around the country. She’s entered nine so far this year, medaling seven times.

“I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe triathlon,” she said. “That’s what I do. That’s what keeps me busy and off the streets, because endorphins feel good.

“It’s a huge head game — that’s all a triathlon is Control your mind, control your body. You just find your switch and take a big suck-it-up pill.”

In October, the fitness program manager will race in the XTERRA World Championship on Maui in Hawaii.

She stays sharp by competing in local marathons and cycling events. She hopes to someday qualify for the annual Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii, an endurance race that’s considered the sport’s biggest stage, with tens of thousands of triathletes bidding for a spot in the field.

Throughout the year, Ms. Cain and Mr. Wetherill take part in adventure racing, a combination of two or more endurance disciplines, battling as the two-person “Hopping Gorilla” team.

When it comes to staying fit, she said most people go wrong with food. Her recipe is simple.

“It’s all about diet and exercise,” she said. “Make sure you’re burning the gas that you put in the tank. That’s all it is.”

The game between 3rd HBCT and CSU’s club team will be played at Doughboy Stadium. Kickoff is tentatively set for 6 p.m.

Mr. Wetherill said he hopes it can be a launching point for resurrecting the tackle football program at Fort Benning. It’s believed the post hasn’t had a team since the early 1980s.