As a young girl, Angie DiMattia knew softball would be her way out of an impoverished life.
Growing up, she lived with her parents and shared a room with her older sister inside a crammed 500-square-foot mobile home in Phenix City, Alabama.
"I remember stray animals coming into the house from the holes in the floor," said Angie, now a first lieutenant. "It was rough."
Her father worked hard delivering mail to make ends meet, she said. But, one day, her mother, who suffered complications from Type 1 diabetes, told her they'd never be able to afford to send her to college.
She saw softball as her golden ticket. It also fed her competitive side that later forged her into a chiseled bodybuilder and United States of America's Ms. Colorado.
The strong work ethic that blossomed from her humble roots pushed her to keep practicing softball. Yet, she needed extra lessons to be a better pitcher, her favorite position. With no money to pay for them, she decided to work for her coach, who owned a batting cage.
A young Angie DiMattia poses for a photograph before a dance recital.
She picked up balls and swept the batters' boxes in between customers. And at the end of the day, the coach helped with her form.
"That's how I figured out how to pitch was through his lessons," she said. "But I earned it."
She also earned each of her wins with a used glove she had bought for 25 cents at a flea market. She pitched well with it throughout high school and got a scholarship to a nearby community college.
"That glove, and obviously my work, earned a college scholarship," she said.
Angie shelved her lucky glove, but still used her industrious attitude in other competitions.
Now 34, Angie has raced in several marathons, Iron Man triathlons and often advises other soldiers on how to achieve their fitness goals.
Her motivation to care deeply for her own body partly stems from witnessing her mother suffer with hers.
"I just watched what life was like when your body fails you," she said.
With her mother's dietary restrictions, sugar was banned in the house and Angie learned how to eat healthy at a young age. She also saw sports and fitness as an outlet that taught her leadership, teamwork and camaraderie — skills that continue to resonate in her Army career.
"My life has definitely been geared toward taking care of my body, which takes care of my mind that takes care of everything else in my life," she said.
Her efforts recently bore fruit.
Earlier this year, she competed in the Arnold Sports Festival, a massive competition with about 22,000 athletes. Out of nearly 20 contestants in her category, she finished second place.
First Lt. Angie DiMattia is seen volunteering for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia.
The road to get there was not easy. On top of her routine physical training for the Army, she added two more hours of cardio in addition to a weightlifting session every single day for numerous weeks.
"I'd be so tired, I'd plop down," she said of when each day ended.
While preparing for the competition, the endurance runner-bodybuilder also tried something out of the ordinary — a beauty pageant.
"I'm the complete opposite of a pageant girl," she said, laughing.
While at a volunteering event, she met the state director of the USOA Miss Colorado pageant who convinced her to sign up. The prize that finally persuaded her — if she won, she could use her title to highlight issues she cares about on a wider platform.
"The pageant was never my goal," she said. "To serve military families and Gold Star families, that was my goal."
To her surprise, Angie became the first active-duty soldier to ever win the "Ms." category for single women over 29 years old.
After being crowned, she has been able to collect more donations for Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Carson, Colorado, where she once served as a family readiness leader with 4th Infantry Division.
To her, volunteerism is her life purpose. She sees competitions as "selfish goals" because it saps a lot of her time from selfless endeavors.
"I don't do a lot of community service because I'm really busy," she said of when preparing for contests. "But it's good sometimes to balance life. You have to grow individually before you're able to help others."
That passion was ignited a decade ago when she began to serve as a fallen hero coordinator for the Soldier Marathon in Columbus, Georgia. Proceeds from the race benefit the National Infantry Museum and other military-related nonprofit groups.
"It isn't just me, it's this team of people who all have the same mission," she said. "We all love to run and we all love to serve our community and our military."
Cecil Cheves, who is the race director, said that Angie has been an integral part of the annual event.
Then-2nd Lt. Angie DiMattia conducts a dumbbell workout Feb. 23, 2018, at Fort Carson, Colorado.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Neysa Canfield)
She'll research and produce a list of fallen soldiers from the local area and place their names on paper bibs that runners can run with in memory of them.
She also has a "vivacious personality" that she reveals as an announcer when runners cross the finish line.
"She gives off energy that draws others to her," Cheves said.
But she is not self-focused, he noted, and is very interested in people.
"She's the kind of person every organization, like the Army, would want," he said. "She's very much a team player."
Angie also strives to use her current role as Ms. Colorado to raise awareness of fallen service members during other events, such as motorcycle rides that honor veterans.
Similar to the marathon, she hands out bibs with the names of deceased troops for riders to wear. If someone donates money for a bib, she gives it directly to Survivor Outreach Services.
"I've never taken a dime from it, not even to pay for my gas, not to pay for the printing materials, anything," she said. "I pay it out of my own pocket."
In 2012, Angie first joined the Georgia National Guard as an enlisted truck driver so she could be assigned to a unit that was close to her ailing mother.
But soon after she completed training, her mother passed away.
"I was only here so I could be next to her," she said.
She decided to enroll in the ROTC program at Columbus State University and earned a bachelor's degree. She became an intelligence officer, then a strategic communicator and is now preparing to switch careers to be a space operations officer in Colorado.
As a child, she was obsessed with space. She painted her ceiling black and mapped out the night sky with stars and planets that glowed in the dark.
"It isn't something you hear about very often," she said of the Army's space career field. "When I realized that this was an opportunity, I was so excited."
Being able to rise above the "rough patches" she was dealt with as a child has also made her a better leader, she said.
The strong work ethic that blossomed from her humble roots in Alabama has pushed 1st Lt. Angie DiMattia to accomplish many goals in life.
To her, she's not embarrassed of the way she grew up. It actually shaped her desire to assist others facing their own challenges.
"I can influence beyond the chain of command with my community service and charity work," she said. "But then I can relate to my junior soldiers through me being real. I know what it's like to struggle a bit in life."
When she gives advice to her soldiers, she says to seek mentorship from someone different from them and that way they can learn more.
She also likes to recite a quote on achieving goals that a Buddhist teacher once told her: "You just need to be yourself, but be all of you."
But, perhaps, the greatest lesson she has learned is time management. If things in one's life do not bring added value, she said, they need to be eliminated.
"My time is more important than my money," she said. "You can invest money and get a return, but you cannot invest time and get time back."
She suggests soldiers need to first define who they are and where they want to go before they try to conquer a goal in life.
"Let's start mapping out these stepping stones," she said, "that are going to be crucial to getting you to that next goal."
This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.