Magazine Exclusive

Mind, body, and soul

Lieutenant Alex Senak is only 31, but he never wants to be seen as the “old guy.”

He and his wife, Lieutenant Kelsey Senak, who lead The Salvation Army’s Allegheny Valley Worship & Service Center outside Pittsburgh, are former high school athletes committed to staying physically fit. The officer couple works out together and holds each other accountable.

The Senaks met in high school in Sharon, Pa., and went on to Malone University, a Christian college in Canton, Ohio, where they worked out together and Kelsey earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” —1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

“We both just really enjoyed training and it’s been a part of our life for the last 12 years, almost every day,” Alex says.

Alex, the son of Salvation Army officers, played basketball and baseball in high school and baseball in college. Kelsey, a first-generation Salvationist, played basketball and volleyball in high school. Alex now runs the basketball leagues at the corps and while he is one of the older players in the league, his competitive juices are still flowing.

“I’m getting older,” he says. “I’m about to be 31 and I still try to play basketball at a high level. I like to be very physically active. I like to be outside. I like to play any sport and I want to be able to jump in and compete.

“I don’t ever want to be the ‘old guy.’ I don’t mind being the ‘old guy,’ but I don’t want to be seen as the ‘old guy.’’’


Getting in the reps

The couple has two young children and one on the way. Between parenthood and the pressures of being Salvation Army officers, finding time to work out can be a challenge. They have built a small gym in their quarters built around weights, which cuts down on travel and preparation.

“We have a home gym and that’s really the key to our success,” Alex said. “It’s right in our garage. We can just walk downstairs, go into our garage, and get 30 minutes or an hour in.”

The couple used to work out in the mornings, but since having kids they sometimes wait until the youngsters are in bed. They usually get in at least an hour a day Monday through Saturday.

“Our training revolves around the squat, the bench, and the deadlift—all barbell exercises,” Alex said.

The gym includes a stationary bike, kettlebells, adjustable dumbbells, and barbells.

Kelsey, 29, said the couple took advantage of the officer wellness program, which allows officers to acquire exercise equipment for their homes or use the money for a gym membership.

“We basically just accumulated equipment over time,” she said. “We’ve used that as our gym instead of going to a gym, especially because we have children. We figured that building up a home gym is the best way because you’re not burning your money.

“We basically started with a squat rack and a barbell and some weights and then we’ve just added more equipment over time. Every time we think we’re content and done, we find something else that we want to add to it. It’s just a fun journey.”


More than weights

The couple follows the training program Power Athlete, founded by former NFL star John Welbourn. Kelsey follows specific programs for pregnancy right now but prefers “Lean and Able” when she is not expecting. Alex’s favorites are “Field Strong,” “Jacked Street,” and “Bedrock.”

“I would recommend that type of programming to anybody who wants to do workouts from home and is serious about fitness,” Kelsey said. “They have an app and you don’t have to think about it. They program it for you. That’s what we’ve been doing for probably two years now consistently.”

The Senaks also engage in all sorts of other fitness activities, including pushups, pullups, lifting sandbags, throwing medicine balls, and sprints. They also jump on boxes, run on a treadmill, play basketball and volleyball, and run on a track in Brackenridge, Pa., where they live.

“With our training, we try to have a lot of different experiences,” Alex says. “I’m not doing the same thing every week. I’m constantly varying it and trying new things. We try to do everything. We always want to be doing a wide variety of things. That’s our philosophy.”

Kelsey said having the home gym has “kept us consistent.” Alex agreed and said there are a lot of spiritual lessons to be learned through physical training, such as the development of consistency and discipline.

“You think about the discipline of reading your Bible and the discipline of a vigorous prayer life,” Alex said. “You find time for it and you learn not to make excuses. People always ask me, ‘How do you do it being officers and having kids?’ It really has become such a part of our daily routine that it’s not hard for us to find time because we’ve made it a priority. I think that goes hand-in-hand with your spiritual life and your devotional life.

“It might be hard in the beginning, but after you do it for so many years, it really becomes a part of who you are.”


Learning the lessons

Kelsey said people often start out a new year with good intentions for their health, but it fizzles without discipline and the same thing can happen spiritually. Many people abandon a new daily devotional after just a few weeks.

I think just being consistent for several years, showing up every single day or however many days a week we’re working out, has just taught us endurance, perseverance, and consistency to live beyond your feelings and that transfers to reading the Word,” Kelsey said. “I’m not just going to read the Bible when I feel like it. I’m going to show up every single day whether I feel like it or not knowing that something good is happening.”

Alex said another lesson he has learned on his fitness journey is that we’re not as fragile as we think.

“That’s had a lot of carryover into how I handle ministry and how I handle tough things I may come across,” he said. “I think weight training teaches you the more stress, the more challenges you put on your body, the stronger you get. Being a Christian and a minister of the gospel, sometimes we’re afraid of stress or opposition, but weight training has taught me we’re not as fragile as we sometimes think we are. Our body adapts and becomes more rigid.”

Alex said physical training also has a cascading effect when it comes to things like nutrition and time management.

“If I know I have a tough training session the next morning, I’m going to make sure I’m eating right the day before,” he said. “I’m getting the sleep I need. If I know I’ve only got an hour to get a workout in, I’m going to be very diligent to make sure I protect that time.”


Helping others find wellness

Like their spiritual lives, Alex said he and his wife know they are in it for the long haul.

“The goal is to get slightly better year after year, day after day, and being consistent over a long period of time is what I’m after. I don’t have a goal other than getting better each day,” he said.

The Senaks started a physical fitness ministry at the corps called “Iron Sharpens Iron” that was going well until COVID-19 hit. Kelsey said the corps had bought some exercise equipment through a THQ grant and people worked out twice a week.

“Our intention is to start up ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’ consistently hopefully in the late spring,” she said. “It was just really basic fitness, teaching fundamentals, and how to move well. We would get probably six people for that twice a week, which was good starting out.”

Alex said he always has an “open door” if people want advice or to work out with him. He sometimes works out with guys from the corps basketball league.

“It’s opened a lot of doors on social media and I’m there to talk to people,” he said.

On a practical level, Kelsey said being physically fit actually makes ministry easier.

“In The Salvation Army, some days you’re just doing programs or you’re teaching or it’s Sunday morning, but there are times, especially during COVID, where we have tons of shipments and boxes of food,” she said. “We were able to just move things and stack things and clean and organize it pretty effortlessly because we have a fitness base.

“I think it ties into ministry to be physically fit and just honor God with our body and do well each day, showing up at the corps and being able to do whatever it is that needs to be done.”

by Robert Mitchell

Previous post

Restoring Dignity

Next post

Global Ecumenical Call to Prayer for Covid - 3/22/21