By Steve Warns
AFCEC Public Affairs
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — 1st Lt. Cale Simmons and Capt. Paige Blackburn were recently named the U.S. Air Force Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Simmons, a contracting officer with Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, was a pole vaulter in the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, and competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro after clearing 18 feet 6 1/2 inches in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on July 4 in Eugene, Oregon. In Rio, Simmons moved to the second round of qualifying, but failed to clear 17 feet 10.6 inches to proceed further.
On being named Air Force Male Athlete of the Year, Simmons said, “It is very humbling … we have a ton of great athletes in the Air Force across a multitude of sports. Some of these athletes inspire me, doing things I could never do. I was pretty surprised to receive the award. I had no idea who my competition was.”
Blackburn, a civil engineer with the 8th Civil Engineer Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, was a WCAP member from March 2015-August 2016. The captain competed in the discus and javelin throws.
“It’s a wonderful honor to be named Air Force Athlete of the Year,” Blackburn said. “I’m proud to represent the U.S. Air Force in sports, my No. 1 passion.”
Simmons was a four-time All-American at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating in 2013. He served as a contracting officer with the 700th Contracting Squadron at Kapaun Air Station, Germany, before joining WCAP from August 2015-October 2016.
“Going to the trials and making the team is one of the most memorable moments of my life. It’s one of those moments I’ll never forget, ever,” said Simmons, whose personal best in the pole vault is 18-9. “Going through that competition and then getting just a ton of outreach and support and ‘good jobs’ and high-fives, it’s just been so fun to go through the whole process, especially with the Air Force having my back.
“I was happy and proud to represent the service, as I couldn’t have done it without the resiliency instilled within me throughout the years,” the lieutenant added.
Blackburn, who holds U.S. Air Force Academy records in the weight throw and standing long jump, was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduating in 2012. At the Academy, she was a three-time Academic All-American and was the 2012 Mountain West Conference Field Athlete of the Year.
Before joining WCAP, she earned a master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Florida. She also was a construction manager and engineering flight chief with the 647th CES at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
“To become an elite athlete, your mental game will make or break you,” said Blackburn, who is considering applying for WCAP again for a chance to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. “Being in control of your mental state no matter what is thrown at you is absolutely crucial. In an individual sport and in an event that takes only a few seconds to execute, the importance of your mental game is even more escalated. This mental hardness is a valuable skill not only on the field, but in the boardroom, in front of your Airmen and in life.”
Airmen interested in participating in Air Force sports can visit the MyAirForceLife website and download an Air Force Form 303.