One Soldier, one woman, one mother, is showing everyone that different is OK and not only physical, but mental health should be a priority.

Natural body building helped an overweight Sgt. 1st Class Tiffany Merritt, 166th Aviation Brigade, maintain and keep a healthy weight for the Army and has allowed her to show everyone that being different is OK. She is a mobilized Reserve Soldier and played in the Legends Football League then segued into natural body building.

“I joined the Army at a very young age and I was always kind of overweight as a child. I actually stayed overweight for a quite a long time in the Army. I was almost kicked out for my weight,” Merritt said. “My journey, it was different. It was not traditional. Most people (that) join the military, they’re already fit or they know they are going to be meeting some physical standard. I joined the military, I had a rough childhood and I knew that was the best place to go and I liked playing sports and I was like, ‘OK, it will work for me,’ and life happened.”

She found that being overweight in the Army put an unflattering spotlight light on her. It was discouraging, but through body building, she had her caterpillar to butterfly moment.

“When you start off in the process, you feel like you’re wrapped up in your own world, but then you get to see yourself blossom up,” Merritt said. “Not only do you physically see yourself change, you see yourself change mentally. You get more confidence and you seem a little more educated and aware, like being aware of who you are. Challenges are good.”

She is a single mother and her 8-year-old son has autism. Though raising a child on the spectrum isn’t easy, he is Merritt’s biggest motivator and she makes sure that he knows that different is OK.

“He’s been my biggest fan. I found out he was autistic very young and right after finding out he was autistic, I got myself involved in playing in the Legends Football League. I started off playing a defensive tight end and he used to come to my games and it was really nice to let him know that different was OK,” Merritt said. “It’s OK to be really transparent and be who you are and allow the things that make you who you are to shine for you.”

She enjoys working with organizations like Make a Vet Sweat, whose goal is to get veterans and their spouses into gyms and she makes sure that her physical and mental health are a priority.

“In the military we really can overwork ourselves and take ourselves mentally to a place where we deflate way faster than the average bear,” Merritt said. “Fitness for me is my MRT (Master Resiliency Training), my mental health. That is my therapy. Like any other Soldier, I’ve been deployed. I’ve gone through my stuff and the gym is a place to think, to regenerate.”

She wants to break the mold of the stereotypical female Soldier and believes that being herself allows her to best the best Soldier she can be.

“A lot of women have a really hard time assimilating with our male counterparts. There’s really one extreme or the other. Sometimes you have to find the pendulum and kind of let it swing from one side to the other,” Merritt said. “I’ve been there, I was an acting first sergeant at one point and there were moments in my career that I just overcompensated. I wasn’t very true to myself and I had to find myself really going outside of my comfort zone. I think now that I have passion and purpose, it makes it easier for me fit right in.”