Part-time bodybuilder, full-time Airman

Staff Sgt. Eric Schmidt (center), 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, stands among other winners after winning first place in his division and first place overall during the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Arizona Natural Bodybuilding and Figure Pro Qualifier Competition August 28. By winning first place Sergeant Schmidt was awarded a Pro-card allowing him to go and compete in International Fitness and Physique Association professional competitions. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Eric Schmidt (center), 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, stands among other winners after winning first place in his division and first place overall during the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Arizona Natural Bodybuilding and Figure Pro Qualifier Competition August 28. By winning first place Sergeant Schmidt was awarded a Pro-card allowing him to go and compete in International Fitness and Physique Association professional competitions. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Eric Schmidt, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, stands behind his trophies after being awarded first place in the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Arizona Natural Bodybuilding and Figure Pro Qualifier Competition. Sergeant Schmidt won first place in his division and first overall to win a Pro-card allowing him to compete in International Fitness and Physique Association professional competitions. (Courtesy photo)

Staff Sgt. Eric Schmidt, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, stands behind his trophies after being awarded first place in the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Arizona Natural Bodybuilding and Figure Pro Qualifier Competition. Sergeant Schmidt won first place in his division and first overall to win a Pro-card allowing him to compete in International Fitness and Physique Association professional competitions. (Courtesy photo)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Bodybuilding: the developing of the body through exercise and diet; the developing of the physique for competitive exhibition.

Staff Sgt. Eric Schmidt: 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron; Airman, father, husband and competitive bodybuilding professional.

"I was sold after my first competition," said Sergeant Schmidt.

In September 2008, Sergeant Schmidt was fulfilling his deployment obligation in Iraq and was told by a fellow NCO that he should be in the bodybuilding competition held there.

Though he hadn't formally trained specifically for bodybuilding competitions, he still placed first in his weight class and third overall in the September event. He practiced more for the December 2008 competition where he again won first in his weight class and second overall.

But it wouldn't be until a year later when he would begin to take competitive bodybuilding seriously enough to eventually be awarded a pro ticket.

"I've been a ceremonial guardsman (Honor Guard), an Air Force track team member and performed in front of large crowds before, but none of those things prepared me for competing in front of a bodybuilding crowd," said Sergeant Schmidt.

As nervous as he was, his shop's support in Iraq led him to the stage where, despite no coach, very little information, and the swarms of butterflies in his stomach, he still placed third overall.

He credits the crowd with helping him overcome his nervousness because of their support to everyone on stage. After reviewing the video of the competition, a fellow squadron member, who was also an amateur bodybuilder offered to coach Sergeant Schmidt.

Staying fit and preparing to train posed no problem for Sergeant Schmidt since prior to focusing on bodybuilding he had spent the previous 23 years competing in track and field events.

From 2003 to 2006 he ran for the Air Force track team and competed in the USA Track and Field Masters as well as with the Council of International Sports Military team.

However, after training for a year (he was 1.5 seconds off the Olympic trials qualifying time) and making the CISM team, he was pulled for deployments.

"It was frustrating at first. When I have the opportunity to represent the Air Force and the U.S. in friendly competition against our friendly foreign forces I train to win. That was my mission," he said.

Though disappointed after being pulled from the team, he said that although being an ambassador of goodwill through sports is one of many missions, supporting and defending the U.S. is his primary mission, which he fills first.

By switching to bodybuilding he allowed himself to both support the primary Air Force mission and his new hobby, though he does plan on returning to track and field events following his retirement.

Focusing on his new avocation involved changing his workout routine often to prevent him from hitting a plateau, practice proper nutrition and diet - he eats five to eight times per day and drinks two and a half gallons of water per day - as well as learning more about the sport.

"Most people think I live in the gym," he said. "I'm constantly learning new methods and achieving equal or better results."

After researching muscle development, Sergeant Schmidt has been able to drop his workouts from up to four hours to no longer than an hour and a half four times a week.

During his "growing phase" he eats foods that are high in carbohydrates, very high in protein but moderate in fats.

His wife, Angela, prepares most of his meals and gives him plenty of support while his four year old poses with him when he's practicing routines although he admits that, when dieting, he does "get a little cranky."

By learning more about the sport and his body, Sergeant Schmidt has found himself with limitless energy and a healthy body where people think he's 10 years younger than he actually is as well as "learning how to eat chicken breasts prepared in 100 different ways."

After getting heavily involved with bodybuilding in various competitions that included one at Luke AFB, Ariz., he competed August 28 in the Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders Arizona Natural Bodybuilding and Figure Pro Qualifier Competition.

With more than 115 contestants and a chance at a pro card, the stakes were high. Novices and other open competitors attempted to win the International Fitness and Physique Association Pro-card. Sergeant Schmidt won against the 12 other competitors in his division where he advanced to, and won the overall round, to earn his Pro-card.

With the Pro-card in hand, Sergeant Schmidt debuted in his first professional competition September 18 at the 10th Annual Kansas City Natural Classic and IFPA Pro International in Overland Park, Kan. Of 156 athletes, Sergeant Schmidt still placed third in his division.

"In this sport, everybody wins," he said. "I'm motivated to look my best and I see people as old as 75 competing and looking great, 10 to 15 years younger than their age. It reinforces me to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle."

Because of his positive attitude toward bodybuilding Sergeant Schmidt is willing to extend his support to anyone interested in bodybuilding as others have done for him.

He plans on competing in the IFPA Nationals in the future as well as continuing to reap the rewards of his healthy lifestyle.