By Emily Starbuck Gerson

At age 25, Natalie Tedesco has already experienced more than many people ever will in a lifetime. She joined the Army Reserve as a teenager, then just months after graduating from the Army’s Advanced Individual Training, she opened her own gym at age 19. While she initially struggled with coming out as lesbian, she found a strong sense of acceptance and pride while serving in the military.  

Tedesco has spent the past eight years as an Army reservist, while also being a busy entrepreneur. She lives just outside Pittsburgh and owns and operates Tedesco Body Shop and The Fit Stop, a fitness, kickboxing, strength, and personal training gym with a new meal prep service. She lives with her girlfriend, and together, they raise five children. 

Modern Military Association of America: What was your experience of coming out as lesbian?

Natalie Tedesco: I came out to my family when I was 14 years old. My parents did not see it coming; they were in complete shock and denial. This has since come full circle over the last 10 years, but I had a tough time coping in high school and allowing myself to be who I was meant to be. Oftentimes I caught myself living a double life — the true self, and who my family wanted me to be. 

I spent a lot of time playing sports with my school and hanging with my friends, simply avoiding feeling like a disappointment to my family or being home feeling like I was “hiding.” When I joined the military, it was my way to escape reality in a sense. I could be my true self and nothing mattered other than the mission and competing to be my best. I was lucky to be so accepted within the ranks; I know that is not always the case.

MMAA: Can you tell us more about your military career thus far?

NT: I joined the Army Reserve in 2013 as a Psychological Operations Specialist and I graduated from Franklin Regional in 2014. Upon completion of my senior year I left for boot camp. I fell in love with the Army, sense of team and family, and the drive towards self betterment and accomplishments. My life goals are to serve the people of my country and community, making the world a healthier place. 

I have served in the Army Reserve for eight years, four years Airborne — all with the 303D Psychological Operations Company. I am currently a SSG serving as a Team Leader and as the Master Fitness Trainer for my unit. I have competed twice at 2nd Psychological Operations Group (2POG) Best Warrior competitions, once as a SPC and once as a SSG.

I recently graduated from American Military University in April with a BS in Sports and Exercise Science with a minor in Marketing. 

MMAA: What has it been like being a young entrepreneur running a fitness business?

NT: I am truly lucky for the team and members of Tedesco Body Shop. I opened the gym at the age of 19 in October 2015 upon returning from AIT. It was the best decision I ever made, although one that taught me a lot of life lessons.  Each person has made my career what it is. I have always had full support and trust with my team when I am called to duty. Everything I do flows. Sometimes it’s with sales, marketing, or customer service; other times it’s physical training, motivating, or being a strong mentor when people are in need.

My personal mantra or motivational saying is “be unapologetically you.” I always encourage, motivate, and inspire people to live to their full potential, which includes being their true self. 

Too often as adults we are taught to think in doubt, fear, or judgement. I plan to break that and help people realize what they can do and how their journey can help impact others. I know I got this trait from my parents. I watched them as entrepreneurs, hustling to give us the best life possible. In turn, they taught us so much more. 

MMAA: How do you balance running your business, being an Army reservist, and having a family?

NT: As a young entrepreneur, I have learned and become accustomed to working, hustling, and prioritizing my time. It is important for me to find a balance, which I struggle with, but having a family and kids has helped me begin to find the importance of teaching, being a role model of healthy home habits, and more. It has helped me slow down a lot and find a better way to manage my time.

Balancing my own businesses of my gym and meal prep service, plus the Army, has always been a bit of a challenge, but nothing we aren’t prepared for in training. It’s constant work under stress, making quick decisions, and mainly, leadership. I have built such a strong team and community that run my business while I am gone. I am able to volunteer for missions and training knowing my team will be able to handle it. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

MMAA: You joined the Army Reserve soon after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. What was it like knowing that you would never have to serve in the closet?

NT: Joining after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a freeing feeling. I had a tough coming out trying to live two lives and hide who I was. The Army really allowed me to be myself and gave me the confidence that no matter what my sexuality was, I would be treated the same! 

MMAA: How has your identity has a lesbian has been a positive in your life and military career? 

NT: My identity as a lesbian has truly put a light on the ability to be your true self and still accomplish everything people say you won’t do. My motto is “be unapologetically you” because I teach everyone I am around that true happiness comes from living as yourself and helping others find that internal peace. Being myself, sharing my stories, and not hiding my identity, has allowed me to show the utmost confidence and mentorship for others in the LGBTQ+ and women in the ranks in general.