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DAF announces 2022 athletes of the year

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The Department of the Air Force recently announced a body building and fitness competitor and a three-sport adaptive athlete as the 2022 Female and Male Athletes of the Year – Tech. Sgt. Evon Pennington and Master Sgt. Kenneth Guinn, respectively.

“Competition in individual and team sports promotes healthy and active lifestyles and esprit de corps,” said Randy Behr, Air Force Services Center DAF Fitness and Sports Branch chief. 

“DAF fitness and sports programs support ready, resilient Airmen and Guardians, which not only contributes to achieving mission success but also helps them achieve their personal goals.  Our 2022 athletes of the year excelled in bodybuilding and adaptive sports, respectively, and have set the bar high for excellence in their competitive fields,” he said.

Pennington, a public health specialist in the 6th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron at MacDill AFB, Florida, is powered by motivation, said Col. Alvi Azad, her commander. 

“She’s a certified wellness coach who specializes in nutrition, strength training and cardiovascular endurance training and she inspires other Airmen in their physical aptitude Air Force wide,” Azad said. 

As an Air Force medic, Pennington said physical fitness is very important to her.

“Fitness helps with stress management, encourages healthier eating habits, builds muscle and strength, lifts your mood, and discourages unhealthy lifestyle choices,” Pennington said. 

“Being a medic sometimes requires long work hours and responding on non-duty days so it can be difficult to develop and adhere to a fitness regime when your schedule is unpredictable,” she said. “Fitness has been a part of my life for the past eight to nine years because I train in the morning before reporting to work.”

During the award period, Pennington won the Women’s Physique Bodybuilding competition and was crowned as the champion of the “Legion’s Sport Festival.” She also qualified as a 2022 Olympian and competed in the televised world championships in December placing 12th in the world for women’s physique.

At her installation, she developed a weight loss program for two Airmen, saving their careers as they increased their physical fitness test by more than 15 points and lost more than 80 pounds. She also provided 75 fitness workshops to help more than 160 Airmen and new nursing moms who were struggling with weight loss. 

While attending the noncommissioned officer academy, she led 76 of her peers in class projects, physical fitness and virtual learning, and piloted a human performance program, ensuring safety, and proper form and technique, according to her award nomination.

Her efforts at the NCOA earned her class the “Fit Flight” achievement and her the John L. Levitow award as top graduate. 

“When I found out I was nominated for this award, I felt honored beyond words. Bodybuilding is an art and has a beauty that is not always understood by many. When it was announced that I won I felt seen, appreciated and understood by everyone involved,” she said.

As this year’s female athlete of the year, Pennington said she hopes to continue to inspire and educate other Airmen on convenient, realistic ways to better themselves through healthier eating and activities to help them improve physically and emotionally. 

“My resiliency is high because my fitness activity drives my energy, strength, mood and response when I'm on duty. As a fitness mentor, I enjoy teaching others healthier fitness and nutrition habits they can use in their own fitness journey,” she said.

Pennington, who was previously selected as the 2022 Air Mobility Command Female Athlete of the Year, thanked her public health team and leaders at MacDill. 

“Without setting realistic goals, working on time management and encouraging growth, it would not be impossible for me to have made it this far in bodybuilding in the military. Anything is possible when you have a good support system,” she said.

Guinn is the 30th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight’s quality assurance section chief at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

He represented the Air Force and Team USA at multiple national and international events in 2022, competing on three adaptive sports teams for the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program – wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. 

“He was selected to be the overall Air Force team captain for the 2022 Air Force Wounded Warrior Program for the adaptive sports season,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas Van Elsacker, Guinn’s commander at the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron. “He’s also an active mentor and coach for the program where he transforms newly wounded, ill or injured members into athletes and was hand-selected to help mentor the Ukrainian military’s newly formed wheelchair basketball team. 

“His combat injuries, recovery and athletic results even got the attention of the ESPN network and he was featured in a video article that was seen around the world,” Van Elsacker added.

“From an early age, I was always into sports and fitness, but once I joined the EOD community, I learned that physical fitness could literally be the difference between life and death,” Guinn said. “During all of my combat deployments, fitness has been a driving factor toward our success and ability to help others while not being a liability on the battlefield.”

Although his job as an EOD technician is very physically demanding, Guinn said, “you don't have to be on the frontlines to have that mentality. Fitness plays a key role in our overall wellness and only strengthens the other pillars of resilience. Our job in the profession of arms could put any of us in those situations at any given moment, so it is important to be fit and ready at all times.

During the award period, he was selected as the wheelchair rugby team captain for Team USA at the international Invictus Games in The Hague, Netherlands. While at the games, he played in the main ball handler position and led the tournament in scoring to help his team advance to the gold medal round against the United Kingdom. At the end of the round, Team USA won the gold and Invictus Games Patron Prince Harry referred to the competition as “the greatest match in Invictus history,” according to his award nomination. 

His Invictus Games wheelchair basketball team also went undefeated during pool play and won gold as the defending champions. His sitting volleyball team won a bronze medal. It was the first time in four years that Team USA’s sitting volleyball team won a medal at the games.

Guinn was also one of four legacy members on the 40-person roster for the 2022 Department of Defense Warrior Games where he helped his rugby team advance through the tournament undefeated and win the gold against the U.S. Navy. 

Similar to the Invictus Games, his DOD Warrior Games Basketball Team played for the gold against the Army and won to continue their three-year undefeated streak. After a three-set win over Ukraine, his sitting volleyball team also won gold. 

This was the first time in DOD Warrior Games history that a team has won in all three team sports. 

Finally, Guinn was selected to play in the North American Wheelchair Basketball League Championships where his team played multiple professional, club and paralympic teams. They went on to defeat the Division II champions and left as a nationally ranked team. 

When Guinn received the call from his commander to congratulate him on winning athlete of the year, he said it was very surreal.  

“I never thought that I would be named the best athlete in the Air Force,” he said. “As a team sport athlete, we don't win alone, so much like this award, I didn't win it on my own. If it weren't for them, I never would have had the opportunity to represent the Air Force and Team USA. I chalk this up as a win for my Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps teammates I've played with for years, and I genuinely wish I could share it with them too.”

The master sergeant also expressed his thanks to “flight members for picking up the workload while I was away for training and competitions, and my leadership for allowing me to represent the DAF and DOD. 

“I'd also like to give a special shoutout to my brothers, the Sinister Six, who took me under their wing years ago in the Air Force Wounded Warrior program and mentored me. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be the player, teammate and friend that I am today,” Guinn said.