Lt. Col. Laura Cross orders you to get fit.
By Gretchen M. Sanders, Photo courtesy of Laura Cross
Laura Cross knew she could lose her ROTC scholarship at Boston College when she failed the running portion of the Army’s physical-fitness test in the early 2000s. The determined cadet spent the next three months shredding the soles of her sneakers and eventually conquered the 2-mile timed run— and the threat to her military career. Cross vowed never to fail a fitness test again.
In May 2004, she accepted a commission to serve as an Army officer, and two years later, Cross deployed to Iraq for 12 months.
Today, the lieutenant colonel leads a battalion of 300 Texas Army National Guard military intelligence soldiers, who drill together in San Antonio at intervals throughout the year. Half the men and women under her command are deployed to Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Cross is also the communications director at the Texas Military Department, which is based at Camp Mabry. She divides her time among two jobs in two cities and her duties as a wife and mother of three boys. (Her husband is also a veteran.)
Running remains a priority in Cross’ packed schedule. Soon, the Army will change its physical standards to emphasize functional fitness, which mimics real-life movements, such as reaching, pulling and lifting, and better predicts whether soldiers can hoist heavy rucksacks, endure long marches and haul wounded troops. Cross has added the fireman’s carry, pullups, kettlebells and burpees to her exercise regimen to meet the new requirements.
“I’m actually more fit now at 37 than I was when I joined the military at age 22,” she says.
Here’s how this battalion commander keeps soldiering on.
“I wake up at 5 a.m. Two days a week, I do CrossFit Camp Mabry in the morning for an hour. Then I rush home, pack lunches and get the kids out the door for school. I’m back at work at Campy Mabry by 8 a.m.”
“My goal is to exercise four times during the workweek and a fifth time over the weekend with my kids. At CrossFit, I do strength-training exercises first, then deadlifts, thrusters, calorie rows, hang power cleans, kettlebell swings and squats. I run in my neighborhood on the other two week days. I listen to an audiobook or podcast while I’m running and space out for 4 to 5 miles. On weekends, my family will do CrossFit together or run. I go to San Antonio one weekend a month to train with my battalion. We work on functional fitness, run fartleks, drill and build team cohesion. In the military, we say that when things suck the most is when your bond gets really close.”
“I’ve followed the paleo diet since 2012. I’m first-generation Cuban American and I grew up eating rice, beans, bread and lots of other carbs. When I had children, I decided I wanted to eat healthier. Now I don’t eat processed foods, and we don’t keep bread in the house. I stick to protein, vegetables, fruit and plenty of water. I’ve been trying the keto diet for the last six months, which involves intermittent fasting and less fruit. I only eat between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., but I do drink butter coffee in the morning. I use grass-fed or cocoa butter, which satiates my stomach. I cook for my family at home, usually large quantities of food on Sundays and every other day during the week, and I bring my lunch to work.”
“I wear my military uniform to work every day. It’s called the operational camouflage pattern uniform, and I have four of them. It’s my favorite thing in my closet. When I put on this uniform, it means something to me. For CrossFit, I wear civilian workout clothes like every other girl: Lululemon and Under Armour. When I train with my unit, I wear the Army physical-fitness uniform, a black shirt and black shorts that say ‘Army.’ ”
“My motivation to be fit is for my family. We have an active lifestyle. My kids bike to school, swim, play lacrosse and run. I also want to be fit because my soldiers and my country deserve the best from me. Exercise helps me relieve stress and clear my mind so I can be a better leader.”
“Nothing is given to you. You have to earn your tomorrow.”
“I get home from a stressful job around 6 p.m. Then I cook, clean, helps kids with homework, shuttle them to extracurricular activities and try to connect with them. I think about my goals, plan for the following day and go to bed by 10 p.m.”