SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
The courtroom is abuzz with Airmen, unsettled in their seats, waiting for proceedings to begin. Capt. Leslie Newton walks into the room commanding their attention. Her presence in the courtroom mirrors the commanding poise she holds in the gym.
A force to be reckoned with, Newton, the 4th Fighter Wing special victim’s counselor, works with her clients, both in and out of the gym, to help build their confidence. Newton is motivated and inspired by competition to constantly improve all facets of her life and pass on that determination to the Airmen in her care.
The need for constant challenge has morphed her into a “CrossFit Junkie” and a recent ranking of 19th out of all military females in the world in the 2016 CrossFit Open. Staying competitive keeps Newton fit-to-fight and gives other Airmen someone to admire both personally and professionally in the gym.
Immersed in the fitness world since 2001, she competed professionally for three years in the International Federation of Body Builders, the same organization Arnold Schwarzenegger once competed in. While completing her undergraduate degree at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, Newton was aware of the time limitations on her bodybuilding career, but never took her eyes off law school.
“I wanted to go to law school ever since I watched the O.J. Simpson trial,” Newton said. “But then I decided I wanted to be competitive in fitness and the fitness side of [life] has a biological clock. I needed to do that while I was young. So, I started training and I loved being the strong girl in the gym.”
Over the next decade, Newton started her own fitness company where she trained and mentored men and women with their fitness goals while continuing to increase her own fitness levels. She also published a monthly newsletter called “Move the Chains.”
“The purpose of the newsletter was to remind people that you don’t have to get a touchdown on every play, all you have to do is move the chains in your life,” said Newton. “I used the newsletter to empower women that were told they shouldn’t do something. To give them a voice and encouragement to reach their goals.”
Women and men told Newton that her newsletter and story gave them a voice, that her story and the way she presented information and broke down goals changed their lives.
“When I got to the legal office and started working I thought, ‘I miss that.’ I missed being able to empower and change people’s lives,” said Newton.
She wanted to give people a voice again. Newton said she’s experienced some horrible events in her life and knows what it’s like to wonder how long someone will be a victim and what it takes to finally “move the chains” and push forward in their life. She thought she was the perfect fit to give Airmen, especially young females, a bit of empowerment and an opportunity to change their lives.
One of Newton’s own struggles was pushing past the pain of four blown knees she incurred during her competitive bodybuilding days.
“When I blew out my knees [the first time] it was tough because that was how I identified myself,” said Newton. “I went through some pretty low times because I was a fitness competitor and if I blew out my knees and had surgery, I wasn’t a competitor. I was nobody. Swallowing that was wickedly hard.”
Newton persevered to compete again, only to suffer the same injuries once more.
After her third reconstructive surgery and with her fourth scheduled, Newton knew she wasn’t going to get any better in fitness. She then took the Law School Admission Test and was admitted into her number one pick of schools, Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida.
“I heard about the [Judge Advocate General] program and was told it had a five percent acceptance rate and not to even bother,” said Newton. “It was kind of like the whole fitness thing all over again, I was like ‘Man, those odds sound really, really good to me,’ and I can still work out and train and make a difference in law because the military needs both. They need physically fit, smart people that are able to do a mission no matter what [or] where it is.”
In May 2013, she received her commission into the JAG program. The first case Newton handled was prosecuting an Airman charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, child endangerment, obstruction of justice and making a false statement while her civilian counterparts from law school were handling cases from traffic court.
Over the last two years at Seymour Johnson AFB, Newton has handled a diverse case load. Wanting to empower and change people’s lives, Newton gravitated toward, and currently fills the role of special victim’s counselor.
“I worked really well with victims, I was able to be empathic without being too emotionally sympathetic,” said Newton. “Being able to explain something in a manner that’s appropriate can change a victim’s mind and give them more empowerment.”
In between seeing clients and traveling, Newton still finds time to go to the gym and stay competitive in fitness. Newton is a CrossFit lover and began competing again in 2014.
Last year, Newton placed 140th out of more than 10,000 competitors in the Mid-Atlantic region, and her team qualified and competed at Regionals. This year she jumped up 47 spots placing 93rd out of more than 10,000 competitors in the Mid-Atlantic region, while recovering from a shoulder surgery and competing against women 10 years her junior.
This was the first year that CrossFit had a military division. Newton said competing against other military women was an amazing feeling because they have a different mission to focus on compared to the typical CrossFit competitor.
“It was cool being racked and stacked against the women in the military, because we’re not just working out at a CrossFit gym that we own or operate,” said Newton. “A lot of the girls [who] place in the top [during regular competitions], their job is CrossFit and my job is completing a mission for the United States Air Force. In my spare time I’m able to work for goals that I have in CrossFit. So, to be racked and stacked against other military women … I was like ‘You know, it makes a difference. It matters, and it’s awesome.’”
Newton’s standings in the competition were also a huge accomplishment as she’d had shoulder surgery several months prior. Newton was concerned about how well she’d do coming back from the injury while also managing her new position as the special victim’s counselor.
“You see people in the military and you see people in the gym, you see young women and young men and older women and older men that are pushing themselves in the midst of such pain,” said Newton. “Whether it’s emotional, physical, spiritual or what have you, and I just knew that I could make it. So I trained as hard as I could during all my spare time.”
Joe Gonzalez, 4th Aerospace Medical Squadron health promotions coordinator, who has seen Newton grow in the world of CrossFit, has taken inspiration from her story and her competiveness both on and off the gym floor.
“[Newton] isn’t defined by her past injuries and doesn’t let them stop her from being one of the best athletes I know,” said Gonzalez. “She is always progressing any way she can, whether it’s in nutrition, mobility, recovery, endurance, strength or speed. Everything she does prepares her to be better every single day. That’s what we should all be working toward; an endless pursuit for excellence.”
Following this year’s competition, Newton will continue to compete throughout the year to ready herself for next year’s CrossFit Open. She will also compete in four Spartan Races this year in an effort to join the elite ranks and compete as a master’s athlete at the CrossFit games.
“The beauty of CrossFit, and the law, is that you can never really master it. It’s forever changing and challenging you to keep up,” said Newton. “Complacency has no place in either the courtroom or the gym. The ability to know that I can accomplish anything that is thrown at me in either environment is empowering. When I stand on the podium or an Airman sends me a thank you card or a bad guy goes to jail, I know that all the hours I have invested have paid off, and I can wake up the next morning and put in the same time and energy because there will be another person who needs help and another podium to climb.”