In August, Johnathan “Nate” Davis arrived back in Mississippi from Spain - where he had just excelled in an elite, military skills contest - and started his second year of medical school.
In spite of the vast distance - geographically and philosophically speaking - between those two important events in his life, his accomplishments in land navigation, water-hazard survival, marksmanship, and more in Madrid provide a metaphor for making it through medical school, where he is also obliged to complete difficult courses, keep his head above water, negotiate strange territory and take his best shot.
A former high school and college football player for Pascagoula High School and Millsaps College, Davis is a cross-fit enthusiast, powerlifting phenom - 820 pounds in the raw squat - military officer, husband, father-to-be and physician-in-training who still works out twice a day and drills once a month in the Mississippi Army National Guard's Medical Detachment in Jackson.
By virtue of his strength, it seems, he can squeeze hours out of minutes and weeks out of days.
“I've been told all my life that you can't do this if you do that, because there's not enough time,” said Davis, born in Mobile and brought up in Pascagoula, “but it's what you do with the time you have that counts.”
In the 26 years of life he has counted so far, Davis set a one-time powerlifting record, completed a master's degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Mississippi, earned the gold bar of a second lieutenant and started a family with his wife Jessi Davis, who should give birth to their first child in a couple of months.
“He puts his heart into his dreams - and his dreams are to be a husband, a dad and a doctor, and work on wounded soldiers,” Jessi Davis said.
Nate and Jessi Davis in Madrid.
“And I was really proud of him when he went overseas to represent the state of Mississippi and the National Guard. We never dreamed we would go to Europe until we were maybe 50.”
She was able to accompany her husband, thanks to the support of one of Nate Davis' mentors, Dr. Alan Jones, professor chair of Emergency Medicine at UMMC.
The couple celebrated their third wedding anniversary during their stay.
“I know it was an honor for him to be chosen for that competition,” said Jones, who met Davis during cross-fit training. “He shadowed me in the emergency department, so I know him pretty well. He doesn't know a stranger.
“He's very motivated, always upbeat. He's very serious about his medical career. And he's a strong dude.”
Davis put his might on display as a member of one of several three-person squads representing Team USA Military at the Confederation Inter-allied du Officer Reserve Military Competition.
Hosted by Spain this year, Aug. 1-3, the event pits teams of reservists from NATO countries against one another in land navigation, rifle and pistol marksmanship, a 500-meter land obstacle course, a 50-meter water obstacle course and more.
Davis dead-lifts 405 pounds during a July workout while preparing for the Team USA Military competition. (Mississippi National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Williams, Joint Force Headquarters-Mississippi Public Affairs Office)
Davis, who was accustomed to intercepting passes as a linebacker, got the chance to throw this time - although he threw grenades.
He was nominated for Team USA Military by his Guard unit based on his physical fitness scores.
“The first time I saw him do a drill, he just smoked everybody,” said Dr. Scott Carlton, a local family medicine physician and lieutenant colonel in the Guard. “I said, 'Who is this guy? Is he a plant?'
“He should have no problem getting soldiers in a fighting unit to follow him. He'll be a good leader, whatever direction he wants to pursue.”
Davis has pursued powerlifting since he was in high school, when Joe Ladnier spotted him working out in a Pascagoula gym.
“He had incredible strength for his size and his age,” said Ladnier, a former world champion powerlifter who still wins contests in his age and weight class.
Because of Davis' “raw talent,” Ladnier offered to coach him for free; it paid off in win after win in powerlifting contests, peaking with Davis' record-setting performance for the squat in the 220-pound weight class, May 2013; the record stood for about three months.
“He exceeded what I thought was his potential,” Ladnier said. “I was honored to be a part of that.”
Although the military competition was more about stamina and agility than muscles, Davis' powerlifting background could not have hurt. His team, including two Air Force reservists, outran and out-compassed the others for most of the event until the final day, when the Germans blitzed and took the gold.
“It was hot and dry,” Davis said. “We crossed creeks, did a low crawl through a tunnel. We had to run as fast as we could from station to station, on a 10-mile course. But we probably ran 12 miles - we got lost once or twice.”
Davis competes in the obstacle course as part of Team USA Military in Madrid, Spain, Aug. 1-3. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes, courtesy of Joint Force Headquarters-Mississippi)
Davis said he is grateful for his Guard unit's support. Serving in the military is a “life goal,” he said. It's also a way, through a student stipend program, to help pay for his medical education - another long-held dream inspired by his grandfather and three uncles - all general surgeons.
But he is still wedging cross-fit training into his demanding schedule. “It's kind of a stress relief from medical school,” he said with a smile.
Ladnier has no doubt his former pupil will succeed. “I've trained a lot of doctors in the gym and made good friends with them,” he said.
“Nate is very sincere, and I can just tell he's going to have a great bedside manner. He's going to be a good one.”
Powerlifting - a sport in which a contestant tries to lift the most weight for one repetition, in three different lifts: squat, bench press and deadlift. The competitor who lifts the most combined weight in these three lifts is the winner. Beyond brute strength, it requires careful coordination of foot position, bar position, breathing, head position and more.
Squat - a lift in which the lifter, with a weighted bar resting across the shoulders, bends at the waist and knees in a near-seated position and tries to stand up
Raw - as in “raw” squats: denotes little or no supportive gear, often only a belt and knee wraps
Bench press - a lift performed flat on one's back on a bench while holding a bar with both hands directly over the chest; the bar is lowered until it touches the chest, then raised until the arms are in an “upright and locked position”
Deadlift - a lift in which the bar is grabbed with both hands and picked up - without bending the arms - until the lifter is standing completely upright with the shoulders thrown back and the knees locked
Sources: deepsquatter.com, mensfitness.com