U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Todd F. Michalek

On the morning of Memorial Day, I found myself soaked in sweat, laying flat on my stomach, head-pounding, arms shaking as I closed in on finishing the prescribed 200 push-ups. I was not alone. Surrounding me in the austere and sweltering warehouse-like gym were a few dozen people, all battling the heat to labor through hundreds of push-ups, pull-ups and air squats, bookended by mile-long runs.

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U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Gerald Dudley Reynolds

On the surface, the veterans I exercise with in the gym or on the running trail appear to be doing great. But in quiet moments, sometimes between breaths on a treadmill, or unloading a barbell, core truths are revealed: It isn’t always easy. Memories are painful, and emotions are raw. They have stories to tell that require an audience.

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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tyler Vernaza

As much as we may love or hate our time in the military, eventually our time ends. And for many of us, losing the military means gaining too many pounds. That’s not just perception or stereotyping — it’s a documented fact. A U.S. Army article released last year reported, “Approximately half of the Army retirees whose height and weight were measured at medical appointments in military treatment facilities last year had a body mass index that classified them as obese. Obesity rates for these retirees are significantly higher than the general population of the same age.”

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