“My dad always said, ‘You came into this world small, weak and afraid. Don’t leave it that way,’” says U.S. Air Force Sgt. Jimmy McKeown, who will step on stage for his first physique competition at this weekend’s Patriots Challenge in Las Vegas. “I’m a firm believer in this.”

McKeown didn’t set out to become a shredded physique competitor. A technical sergeant in operations intelligence, it’s no surprise that he has, on occasion, jumped out of a plane. But a few years back, a skydiving accident left him with a pair of broken legs – not exactly the best base for heavy barbell work. Instead of succumbing to the doldrums of depression, he immediately sought out assistance for a quick return to action. Now, he finds himself ready to tan up for his first amateur physique show.

The good news is that you don’t have to strap on a parachute to take a few cues from this serviceman’s journey to aesthetic excellence.


Name: James Mathew McKeown V

Branch of Service: U.S. Air Force

Rank: E6 Technical Sergeant

MOS (Military Occupational Specialty): 1N071 Operations Intelligence

Deployments: Afghanistan, March 2013, 12 months deployed

Current Station: Las Vegas, NV

Hometown: Key Largo, FL

Birthdate: August 10, 1984

Height: 5’8″

Weight: 162 pounds

Facebook: /osmckeown

Briefly explain your background as an airman. Why did you join the Air Force and what has it done for you as an athlete?

I joined the United States Air Force because I wanted to save lives, serve my country and be part of something bigger than myself. The military has kept me in shape due to the mandatory physical fitness tests we have semi-annually or annually the depending on how you score. However, the military’s image of “fit” is generally pretty skinny. When I compare myself to my friends back home that are non-military, I can definitely see a difference in their level of fitness and mine. I’m just glad I was required to stay fit.

Why is a high level of fitness important for an airman? How has it helped with your particular job in the AF?

In the Air Force we always say, “Fit to fight.” Maintaining a high level of fitness isn’t just something were required to do – it keeps us alert and helps us maintain a certain level of awareness required in a 24/7 combat operations environment.

How does your dedication to country and mission come into play during a tough workout?

In our Airmen’s creed the last and final sentence reads “And I will not fail.” That rings through my head during fatigue when I have zero motivation and zero energy to keep going. Sheer will power, that’s what works for me.

When did you first get into lifting weights?

I would say around age 15 or so. I had always dabbled with weights here and there. But never so badly as now did I want to transform myself, or to see what I can do with my body, my physique.

When did training really become a passion for you?

November 2013, during my deployment in Afghanistan. A few years ago I had a skydiving accident. My main chute didn’t open and I pulled my reserve seconds before hitting the ground. I ended up breaking both legs and couldn’t walk without assistance for eight months. I went to work with casts and crutches and ankle braces. Whatever it took. I guess that was my “second chance” in life. Instead of just being another couch potato, I wanted to do something different, something extreme. I had a lot of time to myself during my deployment to think and reflect upon my life. It wasn’t until this happened that I contacted a good friend of mine, Joe Davis, a NPC Physique competitor. I asked Joe for workout and diet advice and boy did he give it!

When did you make the decision to compete? Will the Patriots Challenge on July 5 be your first show? 

November 2013. Joe told me that I should do a show in July 2014 and that we would begin my 16-week preparation March 15. Yes, this will be my first show ever…my NPC debut, if you will.

How do you feel about how your prep has gone and what are your expectations for the show?

It has been grueling! It has been exciting at the same time. All my friends and family asked me why I’m doing this to myself. It wasn’t until the last three weeks that they finally started asking for diet and exercise tips. I expect to have a great time at the show. I trained hard and I know the other competitors there have trained hard for it as well. I’m just looking forward to the experience and hopefully to meet others who are as passionate about this as I am.

Why physique? Why not make the leap to bodybuilding?

At first I had leaned towards bodybuilding, but liked the idea of being in great shape while maintaining a muscular appearance and still being able to fit through a doorway. Plus, the grocery bill is expensive enough as is! I can only imagine being a bodybuilder!

What supplements do you like to use to keep your goals on track?

The best supplement: proper nutrition. That was the key to my success. Post-workout I would take a scoop of ISOFLEX protein, regular creatine monohydrate and depending on what phase I was in, dextrose as well. A daily multi-vitamin, and fish oil pills.

What do you feel has really been the key to your success in getting this fit?

Will power. That and dialing in my macros and micros to be sure I was feeding my muscles enough that I wouldn’t burn through them and enough healthy fats and carbohydrates to gain strength and lose fat. I was generally pretty good about my diet. More so than anyone I know. But I would allow for days to eat lots of carbs, especially after a HIIT cardio session or going low carbs. This way I could reset natural hormone levels in order to continue burning fat at a higher rate than normal.

Do you plan on pursuing a career in the fitness industry during/after your time in the Air Force? 

During my career, absolutely! Afterwards, why not? I have enjoyed this adventure and will continue to maintain a certain level of fitness. If I could be a fitness model and get paid to do it, I would in a heartbeat!


Sgt. McKeown uses a unique training tactic to build his lats.

“My favorite body part workout has got to be what I call ‘Batwings.’ I sit backwards and do dumbbell rows on an inclined bench and do 2 sets of 8 reps. On the last rep, I hold that weight up for 20 seconds until dropping the weight. Then I’d do 2 sets of 20 reps and hold the weight up for 20 seconds before dropping the weights. This way, I’m targeting the fast twitch muscle fibers and at the same time I’m also targeting the slow twitch muscle fibers due to the time under tension.”