By Chief Mass Communication Specialist Scott Wichmann
After a heartbreaking second-place finish in a high profile international fitness competition in Miami last year, Lt. Cmdr. Lenaya Rotklein decided to go back to the drawing board, identify weaknesses, redouble her efforts and sharpen her focus in pursuit of victory.
Five months later, Rotklein stood in the champions circle and walked away with the top spot in her fitness category, winning not only the competition, but the deep satisfaction of having set a goal and seen it through to fulfillment — an accomplishment she sees as a parallel to the readiness demands of the Navy Reserve.
“I really feel that sometimes the toughest losses in life are the biggest motivation for you to get back up and push forward,” said Rotklein. “This competition was a culmination of years of training, sculpting and jumping hurdles.”
Inspired to military service as a young girl through the example set by her father, who served in the Israeli Defense Force, Rotklein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and spent nine years as an active duty Navy public affairs officer before transferring to the Reserve. She has lived in Naples, Italy since 2019 with her husband, an active duty surface warfare officer, and their two daughters.
Although fitness has always been a part of Rotklein’s life, she was introduced to bodybuilding in 2018 after working with Darwin Dezemo, a fitness trainer at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California. Rotklein credits Dezemo with not only changing her outlook on fitness, but also instilling her with the confidence to take her workouts one step further.
“He didn’t push me into bodybuilding, but he taught me the importance of weightlifting to increase lean body mass, which contributes positively to your daily life and longevity,” said Rotklein. “After working with Darwin, I felt an internal calling to compete.”
Rotklein said her competitive fitness preparation process includes meticulous planning and the creation of detailed workout schedules — mapped out months in advance — requiring organizational skills she credits the Navy with helping her develop.
“Motivation can only get you so far,” said Rotklein. “What the Navy has taught me is that you need to have discipline, especially during a global health pandemic. Working long hours, counting your calories and macronutrients and consistently working out while also making time for family and professional development takes a lot of discipline.”
Discipline and meticulous planning aren’t the only key qualities she relies on to get her through months of competition prep. Flexibility and problem-solving skills often come in handy when well-laid out plans suddenly change due to unforeseen factors.
“You have to think creatively,” said Rotklein. “Sometimes you need to wake up at 3:45 a.m. to get your workout in because of the next day’s workload. Sometimes you need to find a way to lift weights when the gym is closed due to COVID-19 mitigations, and sometimes you need to spend your off-time preparing your meals for the week. It’s a constant grind and results don’t appear overnight.”
Rotklein often maps out the progression of each day in great detail, factoring in sleep, hydration, workouts and nutrition — all while putting in long duty days as part of the high-tempo public affairs staff at U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet — a vital information hub and key strategic communication component in the global Great Power Competition.
Rotklein said her fitness journey continues to teach her positive lessons about how to bring her best self to the fight each and every day.
“I’ve learned to tailor my workouts and food consumption to achieve my overall goals,” she said. “I’ve learned that discipline is at the heart of realizing any goal. And most importantly, I’ve learned that I have the best family, shipmates and teammates who support me and I need to ‘pay it forward’ in their future endeavors.”
Rotklein credits her role models for instilling her with not only the physical strength but the strength of will to excel in each of her endeavors.
“Strong women have empowered and motivated me to set an example for my daughters and all of the other strong women serving in the U.S. military,” said Rotklein. “I sincerely hope that my story can inspire others to achieve their goals. Anything is possible with discipline and a strong mindset.”