One of Fort Belvoir’s own recently received the highest recognition an Army athlete can earn—the title of Athlete of the Year. This prestigious distinction is bestowed annually to one male and one female athlete who excel in all aspects of sportsmanship.

Capt. Justine Stremick, who joined the Army in 2010 as part of the Health Professions Scholarship Program, when attending medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine, received the honor from Col. Michael Greenberg, Fort Belvoir Garrison commander, during a ceremony, May 28 at the Community Center.

Stremick was on inactive ready reserve until she graduated in 2014 and went on active duty. She completed her emergency medicine residency at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis McChord and PCS’d to Fort Belvoir in 2017. She deployed to Afghanistan this past winter for four and a half-months where she worked at the HKIA Role II Hospital in Kabul as the chief of Emergency Medicine.

Her current assignment is at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and she credits the command team and staff there with playing a major role in her ability to excel as an athlete and achieve this high award.

“I work in the Emergency Department as an emergency medicine physician and am part of FBCH’s Alpha Company,” she said. “The support of the unit command and department leadership was instrumental in my ability to go play and compete as part of the All-Army and All-Armed Forces volleyball teams.”

“Justine has been a part of the All- Army Sports Program for two years and is a leader and great player, in every sense of the word,” said Sarah Galon, All-Army Service rep and a member of the Army Athlete of the Year voting committee. “She is committed and knows what it takes be a team player, a motivator and a coach on the court. It is great to see her be recognized as a top Army athlete.”

Early sports passion

Stremick’s passion for volleyball (and several other sports) began at an early age and her dedication to the game has taken her on an amazing journey that has resulted in some remarkable accomplishments. Stremick’s love for the sport started as a middle school student in Langdon, N.D., where she played with her twin sister, Briana, through high school. Together, the “twin towers” (both sisters are over 6 feet tall) helped their high school team win the state volleyball championship. She continued playing the sport at the University of Notre Dame, was named to the All Big East Volleyball Team and received the Knute Rockne Student Athlete Award, among other distinctions.

“Being from a small town in North Dakota allowed my siblings and me to participate in a wide range of activities. Growing up I played volleyball, basketball, softball, track and field and ran cross country,” she said. “I started playing volleyball in seventh grade, when I was 12 years old. The more I played, the more I loved the sport. I played on an awesome high school team with a very knowledgeable coach and had the chance to play with a few of my sisters. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to play at the University of Notre Dame, where I also played pick-up basketball in my free time. After I graduated, I have continued to find ways to play in my spare time and have met some incredible people along the way.” 

All-Army try-outs

The road to becoming the Army’s best female athlete began when Stremick decided to try out for the All-Army volleyball team, which she’s since made twice. It was something she wanted to do for several years but “the timing was never right,” she said. “When I was in (medical) residency it was really hard to take that time off.”

Stremick credits her Troop Command-South leadership, hospital leadership and co-workers with being very supportive of her goal to compete at the highest levels of military sports.

“It was so great to have support from the people who I needed to support my goal,” she said. “It’s not every co-worker who is going to say ‘go ahead and play volleyball for a couple of months while we stay back here and work.’ I am really thankful that everything worked out and I was able to do something that I love.”

Stremick sees earning the Army Female Athlete of the Year title as an opportunity to highlight the support the Army has given her, and its athletics program.

“I think this is a cool way to represent the Army and represent a different side of the military,” Stremick said. “I am honored to have been selected for this award and have the ability to represent Fort Belvoir and military medicine in a positive light. The caliber of talent and athletic ability in the military is very high and showcased throughout the All-Army and All-Armed Forces sports teams.”

Injury recovery

Stremick’s journey, however, has not been without its challenges.

After completing her deployment to Afghanistan, she reported to the All-Army volleyball camp and was selected to play in the All-Armed Forces Tournament. During the first match, she tore her ACL on her left leg. Athletes often get ACL injuries when they stop and quickly change directions while running.

“So, of course, I didn’t get to play the rest of the tournament and that was a big bummer,” she said. “We have a really fun team this year, so I was really disappointed I didn’t get to play the rest of the tournament with them.”

Now, back at Fort Belvoir, the emergency medicine physician is recovering on the job and still working shifts in the ER.

If all goes well with her recovery, Stremick will join her U.S. Armed Forces Volleyball teammates in October as they compete in the 7th International Conseil International du Sport Militaire Military World Games in Wuhan, China. CISM is the largest military athletics organization in the world and second largest multi-sport organization, after the International Olympic Committee.

“I am just working on rehab. I am going to work hard and I am hoping to be in a position to play again in October,” Stremick said.

When asked what advice she would give to a young, up-and-coming athlete setting his or her sights on success, she placed dedication and a strong belief in one’s goals as the key ingredients.

“Not everyone is going to be on your side and understand why you want to play. But, if you love your sport, you will find a way,” she said. “Ask early and often. Be persistent. Work hard in the gym. Play in your spare time. Be willing to make sacrifices in other areas. The military offers a unique opportunity to represent not only yourself, but your unit, your branch and the United States on the international stage. You may not get this opportunity again.”