2014 AFM FITTEST Winner Profiles
The 2014 AFM FITTEST winners from the age group and team competitions talk about what it takes to be among the fittest athletes in Austin.
AFM FITTEST Overall Indiviual Winners Julie Pickler and David Braswell
photos by Brian Fitzsimmons
Overall Individual Winner and
Age Group Champion
I am a firm believer in variety. Just like they tell you to eat the colors of the rainbow to get all of the nutrients you need, the same goes for exercise. If you meet your recommended amount of daily fruits by just eating oranges, it’s like lifting heavy five days a week and nothing else… we’d be missing out on a lot! I bring that same philosophy to my training routine.
I did not specifically prepare for AFM FITTEST. I did my normal routine of three days a week at MOVE Austin Fitness in addition to two-three days of running on my own. I did try to focus more on track work by doing shorter, faster distances, as opposed to longer, slower stuff.
I really just tried to have fun. I did the heptathlon (seven-event discipline in track and field) for more than ten years, and we had to master the mental challenges of doing numerous events in one day with little time in between. And to be successful, you had to have fun and ride a steady wave of emotion: not too upset if you did poorly in an event and not too excited if you did well. Keeping level until it’s all over is key!
What event did I like least? Burpees are simply terrible, no matter how good of shape you are in (or at least in my opinion). I have yet to meet someone who enjoys doing those.
I learned that, no matter what age you are, you can be fit, get out and compete, and have fun. I am inspired by the over-50 age group individuals out there doing this. I think our society is so mixed up about age. We just say, “I am just getting old,” and use that as an excuse to stop moving.
Overall Individual Winner
How did I prepare? Overall, my regular sprint training naturally gives me a good foundation. Training specific skills such as agility with my team was a great help as well. In addition, I really focused on training my weakness, the Softball Throw. It was, arguably, the reason I lost the first year; I missed every single attempt. So this time around, I worked with baseball performance coaches at Sharp End Athletics. Since I train at Sharp End already, I would have done myself a disservice not to learn from those guys. They taught a “non-thrower” how to throw.
It was very challenging being out there by 7 a.m. for the team division and having to complete two tests plus run the mile for my team and then do 12 more tests an hour or so later for the individual division. I attacked the situation only through the encouragement and the support of my friends, my team, and by taking in lots fluids.
When I compete, I internalize and zone out. I don’t like to talk much. I’m usually singing an upbeat song in my head or just visualizing what I’m about to do.
Being at the AFM FITTEST reminds me how important it is to be competitive, have training goals, and to never stop being active.
If I were planning the AFM FITTEST, I wouldn’t include a mystery test. I’m not convinced that the element of surprise is relevant in measuring optimum performance. I would suggest permanently adding an absolute strength test to the lineup.
Age Group Champion
My dad was an NFL strength and conditioning coach for more than 20 years, and he taught me more than he'll ever know. Functional strength, flexibility, and being able to last four quarters is more important than any max you can do on a lift. Twenty years ago, people thought what he was doing in the weight room was crazy. I was lucky to grow up under someone with his passion and understanding of the body. I also believe in variety to keep it interesting and fun. I swim, run, hike, do yoga, cycle, lift a lot of free weights, and am always looking for ways to strengthen my core.
I am familiar with football players and their training style because of my dad and my husband's experience playing football. Knowing that a couple of the events in the AFM FITTEST were combine-style events, I trained with a good friend who is a former NFL player-turned-coach, Tim Crowder with Nuclear Athletes. He helped me work on speed, functional strength, and event-specific training.
Watching competitors last year was great because I was able to see how mentally challenging it is to get through 12 events. I admire decathletes and heptathletes who have learned to stay emotionally neutral to keep their mind focused through the competition. It also made me excited to compete because it looked fun.
To help me stay focused, I pray and repeat this verse: “To set the mind on the Spirit is Life and Peace." When I get nervous in any situation, I repeat this, and I immediately get calm. I knew I had worked hard and was prepared. I felt confident, so I just decided to go out there, compete, and have a good time.
The mile was the most difficult event for me. My husband ran alongside me for a portion of the race, and I kept having visions of him pulling me in a wagon while I reveled in drinking cold water.
This is the first time in a while that I’ve committed to training for something specific, and because of that, I felt I learned more about how important diet and sleep are to your body’s performance. People love to make up for a bad diet and little rest with strenuous exercise, and it just doesn't work.
Age Group Champion
David de Leon
My basic training philosophy is simple: lift, sprint, and push limits, mentally and physically. Move freely and have fun. My training goal is always longevity. I want to be 75 and still running, jumping, and playing with my grandkids.
The biggest challenges at the AFM FITTEST were the length of the event and the heat. I had to focus on hydration and finding shade. Doing both team and individual competitions made for a long day in the sun.
Previous event experience made me comfortable. I get excited during competition. Sometimes, I have to learn to relax and not use up energy with excitement and harness it for the events. I also knew to be better hydrated a few days before.
My preparation—fun. I focused less on winning and more on having fun. We are athletes; we know when to turn on the go switch. Our problem is learning how and when to turn it off. Mental key for me: Know when to turn the go switch on and off.
My suggestion for a mystery test: a 35-pound plate hold in each hand for as long as possible, a true grip test. No machine should tell me how strong I am.
Age Group Champion
I hired Dunte Hector, our Shop conditioning programmer, for the big task of training me. I call it “big” because, at this point in my life, with a baby boy on his way, an exciting business to expand, and a home to create for my family, I knew I would be a bum in the gym at times. We spent very little time analyzing the actual events and more time tapping into the weaknesses I had developed over the years, and how to conquer them. Hector is a technician when it comes to improving and fixing athletes. With his unique motivational style, he led me to improve in every single category of my fitness, regardless of final results. The goal had transformed into more of a personal record match with myself.
My wife, Ryan, was actually my guiding light throughout this year’s training and competition. On the day of competition, she was out there, pregnant, hot, and still rooting me on, the whole day.
I will be the first to admit that there are plenty of people more physically fit than I am in this awesome town. My goal this year was to lead by example, for my community at Dane’s Body Shop and my family. In my opinion, the differentiator in any goal people set for themselves will come from the “why” they do something. I worked hard for the event, yes, but I would not have done so well if I hadn’t had a great reason to do it.
The mile was most challenging. I rarely run for distance. I joke about it, but it’s true: if I can’t get away from something chasing me after 400 yards, I’m going to turn and fight.
Very simply put, I learned that competitions are like life, in a general sense. There will be challenges to grit your teeth through, slips and falls to endure, and sometimes a wicked twist when you think you have it all understood. But, in the end, it’s not what you did, it’s how you handled yourself and why you did it that counts.
Age Group Champion
In training, I focus on workouts that get results and move me toward my goals. Variety is key for me because it keeps the training interesting and helps me be a better overall athlete. I mix in things that I've done—kickboxing and MMA workouts. I like lifting, throwing, and carrying heavy things. Most of the time, I like training with a group or with friends because there is some banter that goes on and it makes a difficult workout fun.
I did face some adversity near the end of the competition. I was doing great in the first ten events when, all of a sudden, I felt my whole body cramp up at the end of the interval run. Cardio-wise, I felt like I had one more level in me, but my legs felt like they were made of lead and I could hardly move.
I competed last year, and that helped me understand what to expect and about how long it would take to go through the entire competition. I knew that the mile was just going to be challenging for me, so I mentally accepted that.
The last two events when my whole body cramped up, it was the most painful thing. It hurt to move; I was pretty much trying to run the mile stiff-legged because I couldn't even bend my knees. My friend Lizzete was trying to help me during the run, and I felt bad because I slowed her down. I told her to go ahead and leave me. She did and tried to get help for me. As soon as she saw my husband, she told him to go get me because I couldn't move. When my husband finally found me, I was dead last and about two-thirds into the mile. When I saw him, I started crying. My husband has been super supportive of my training. My hard training days were usually on the weekends; I would be training for a few hours at a time so he would do double-duty parenting. There is a picture of the two of us running toward the finish line. He was running with me and telling me to hang on, you’re almost there. When I crossed the finish, he caught me and told me he loved me and is very proud of me. That mile was the most difficult event—more difficult than the one last year when I hurt my hamstring—but but it is my fondest and dearest memory of this year's AFM FITTEST because my awesome hubby and I finished it together.
Age Group Champion
When I was 15, I broke my neck diving into a pool. I was extremely lucky to escape permanent damage, rehab quickly, and get back to playing sports. However, this experience drives my lifelong commitment to live healthy and stay active. I like to diversify my workouts, set goals, and, most importantly, have fun. Incorporating sports and working out in groups pushes me beyond my comfort zone, which is when you start seeing the best results.
You have to deal with the elements—Texas heat and humidity, strong winds, uneven or loose turf—but you just try to keep loose, stay focused and hydrated, and do your best to make adjustments as needed. The one-legged press (mystery event) was certainly interesting; it's not too often that I stand on one leg in a kitty litter box full of sand while holding a sloshing pipe overhead! Well played, AFM, well played.
I just wanted to go out there, have fun, and take it one event at a time. It’s important not to dwell on events that don't go as planned. It also really helped that the guys in my group were great and my wife was there as my support team, photographer, and pit crew. There was a great feeling of camaraderie at the event, not just in my group, and we all pushed each other to give 100 percent.
What did I learn? No matter what your current level of fitness is, or how old you are, you can always improve. I also learned that, apparently, many superheroes live in Austin. Superman, a stand-in for Thor, and a few Wonder Woman body doubles were all in attendance. Gotta love Austin.
If I could add a test, I'd love to see a functional sports-related throwing event like a baseball (or softball or football) for distance incorporated into the AFM FITTEST. I think a natural throwing motion event that's part of so many sports adds an interesting element to the competition and is a great skill to continue to develop.
Age Group Champion
My training philosophy: Participate in life. I am a trainer with iGnite Your Life Fitness and our training philosophy is simple—to live your BEST life you possibly can! For me, this means being strong and fit so I can water ski and wake surf for another 50 years. It means never giving up snowboarding or rock climbing or mountain biking or any new challenge that comes my way. It means someday teaching my future grandchildren all of the above. Training for me is just getting out there and making a choice to be strong so you never have to say "no" to anything you desire to do.
The most difficult test for me was the balance test. I thought I had great balance and stepped into my sand box with my PVC pipe and lots of confidence only to last 7 seconds as my foot slowly slid down into the sand! That was a very humbling moment.
During the event, I stayed focused through prayer, and God and my amazing fan club pulled me through all of the events! Truly, I could not have done as well as I did without the 25-plus friends and family that came out to cheer me on with posters and screaming. Thirteen pull-ups would have never happened had I not had my posse of iGniters yelling for me. It is really amazing what adrenaline can do for you.
You can ask anyone with iGnite what my favorite workout is and they can tell you—pull-ups, burpees, and sprints. I know it sounds weird, but these are my all-time favorite exercises. In combination, they make the perfect all-over body workout. It also makes a great training program all year long to prepare for the event.
I believe flexibility is one of the basic aspects of being fit, combined with strength, agility, and speed. Being flexible gives you the ability to avoid so many painful sports injuries.
Age Group Champion
My training philosophy centers on working hard every time that I suit up. Hard work builds character. Being able to persevere and forge onward when things are tough and your body and mind start entertaining the idea of folding helps me in all aspects of my life. There is a saying that I love on the wall of my gym, Wild Basin Fitness: "It’s the extra that makes the difference.” If you think about it, it is profound. When I am in the middle of a particularly grueling session, I look up at that writing on the wall, and everything makes sense. I try to take that everywhere I go.
Our workout regimen often involves several cycles or repeats. They are taxing both physically and, probably more so, mentally. If you lose your focus in the middle, you pay. You have to be in it for the long haul, like life itself. I have trained in the gym to endure and grind it out, so I actually used the length of the day to my advantage. I knew that I was well-prepared, and I knew that I had put the work in, so mentally I was able to remain focussed and in a positive frame of mind throughout the event.
The easiest AFM FITTEST events for me were the grinders: the pull-ups, burpees, shuttles, and mile. I love the difficult, taxing events for some warped reason. It is the way that we train, so I felt that they were mine. When your mind is right, then all else is, too.
In training for the AFM FITTEST, I learned that hard work indeed pays off, my kids can all run faster than me, and that, despite the fact that sushi is the perfect rocket fuel for athletic performance, it is OK to eat a big ol’ cheeseburger with fries and a Dr Pepper every now and then.
What would I change? If I could suggest a mystery test, then I would select a simple static plank for time. Simple, clean, and effective. The perfect mind game.
Age Group Champion
My basic training philosophy is "Be active. Keep moving." At my age (65), I continue to play full-court and half-court basketball for cardio, and I lift weights and attend classes at Body Toners.
After competing the previous two years, I was not quite as nervous, but the adrenaline was still flowing. It was also nice to visit with some of the contestants from previous years.
My personal mental keys to help me stay focused were to stand and concentrate before attempting each challenge. That helps me focus, because there can be a lot of distractions.
The easiest event for me was the 40-yard dash. I really enjoy it.
I have learned that if one wants to become physically fit and maintain that fitness, one must make it one’s lifestyle. This becomes more important as we age, because we don't merely want to "exist," we want to live a quality life.
Janice with her grandchildren, Taylor and RJ
Age Group Champion
Just as in most things in life, it is usually easier to do something if you have done it before. I competed in the AFM FITTEST last year and so was prepared for a lot of the elements: what to eat and drink during the competition, what to expect in the events and in the judging, what it feels like to line up next to other competitors in the 40-yard dash and the interval run, etc. I just think AFM FITTEST is a great event. After our group finished (which was still pretty early in the day), I had a blast watching the other groups compete.
Trying to keep a clear mind at an event like this is interesting. For one thing, you have to accept that at times you will not be thinking as clearly as you normally would. For me, my mind gets cloudy at the end of the interval run and during the last 15 seconds or so of the burpees. Also, while it is helpful to have mental keys, it is not good to have too many thoughts going at the same time. So, before each test, I simply told myself to be "quick and light" and to "trust my training.”
I need to continue to work on flexibility. Being more flexible helps in all athletic endeavors, and is very important in being able to run fast. Generally, I want to be as fit as I can be. I have done a lot of work on endurance and just pushing through when I am tired, but I want to get faster and more explosive. It is always a question of working on the weaker aspects and filling in the areas that are not quite up to the mark.When I was young, I was the kid who was always reading a book (which I still love to do). I was only moderately involved in athletics. The point is that if I can get more fit, anyone can.
The 40-yard dash is a fascinating event, because it is all about the start, and it is over so quickly. I was looking forward to it, but it still gets the adrenaline going. I worried about the softball throw because it is so delicate.
When I began working on getting more fit about five years ago, it was definitely outside my comfort zone. Lifting heavy weights was initially outside my comfort zone. But I began to believe I could achieve things that previously seemed out of reach. Signing up for an event like the AFM FITTEST in which you compete against other people—and in front of other people—is challenging, but I thought it would be good for me for that very reason.
Overall Team Winner
and Open Division Team Champion
Left to right:
Alejandro Juarez: Burpees, Balance Test, and Precision Test
Terrance Simms: 40-Yard Dash, Interval, and Pull-Ups
Dane Krager: Med-Ball Toss, Reverse Med Ball Toss, and the Pro Agility Shuttle
David Braswell: Vertical Leap, Grip Test, and 1-Mile Run
We are comprised of two separate coaching companies: Outright Training and Performance (David Braswell and Terrance Simms) and Dane’s Body Shop (Dane Krager and Alex Juarez). The team name signifies the connection that both companies have with each other’s community; we combined two prominent training companies in Austin’s fitness community. Both companies connect well and have a similar mission for their fitness businesses. On a personal level, we have also become some of the greatest friends. We also had the pleasure of being led by Tim “The General” Zeddies, who was originally a team member. He's a natural leader, so it was an obvious decision to make him our team captain. Braswell and Simms, as a fitting tribute to the way Zeddies strode stoically around our practices and carefully organized our efforts, gave “The General,” a former college quarterback, his nickname.
In the 2013 AFM FITTEST, Zeddies and Krager competed and won together as “Team Dane’s Body Shop.” Zeddies also won his age division, and Krager placed fourth overall. Both, Braswell and Simms have been incredible competitors in the past FITTEST competitions, as well, placing in the top ten in their age group each year. Each member of our team has placed in the top 15 overall, and first in specific events throughout the FITTEST, so the decision to work together was easy. We realized we were like-minded, easy-going, and interchangeable in the 12-event competition this year, and that gave us confidence going into each practice and ultimately event day at Camp Mabry.
Each person took at least two tests that he felt he could have a top score in, and the third test was a bit of a toss-up since we were all fairly versatile athletes. Zeddies asked everyone where he would like to be placed for his third event. He’d watch us carefully at practice and analyze our skills. After a short bit of time, he’d suggest an obvious placement. It was brilliant, quite frankly. When he fell to injury one week prior to competition, we had to shuffle some things around on the fly. We knew his loss would mess a lot of things up for our team chances if we hadn’t found Juarez to step in.
We met up when our schedules allowed it, about six to eight total practices, to work on specific things and to build camaraderie. Our guys are involved in many aspects of fitness; they’re competitors, fitness and performance coaches, a sports psychiatrist, and former college and pro athletes. We stay competition-ready year-round, and that allows us to be ready for events like the AFM FITTEST.
Corporate Division Team Champion
Cirrus Logic Team 3
Left to right:
Praveen Dsouza: Med Bell Throw, Overhead Throw, and Vertical Leap
Deric Leon Williams: 40-Yard Dash, Pull-Ups, and Grip Strength
Eleanor Williams: Interval Run, Balance Test, and 1-Mile Run
Patrick Galvan: Burpees, Softball Throw, and 5-10-5 Pro Agility Shuttle
Deric Leon Williams, team captain, on his role with the team: I see different body types and abilities, so I recommend and cultivate their desires to match talents and sports. I like to encourage and motivate people to participate in classes, events, or races because, whether you come in first place or 101st place, you win—you showed up, tried, and accomplished a positive goal that has impacted your life health-wise, and probably someone else's too.
Praveen Dsouza participated last year and came up huge this year! After the 2013 AFM FITTEST, Dsouza took it to another level in his training and development. His whole outlook changed. He bought new shoes, new athletic clothes, and became more focused on his health goals. He used the AFM FITTEST as a launch pad to get faster as a runner. He has a cousin in India who is a competitive runner; they get together every two years, and Dsouza wanted to surprise his cousin with his new improved healthy lifestyle and faster running pace.
We just did what came naturally to us because we had last-second issues due to the postponement and existing family commitments.
Our team will be back because Cirrus Logic has great employees and leadership that values their employees by providing great fitness classes and group instructors through Lionheart Health, all of which help and prepare us to participate in events like the AFM FITTEST.
Gym Division Team Champion
Left to right:
Dustin Andrews: Mystery Test 1 (Forward Chest Pass), Grip Test, 1-Mile Run
David de Leon: Pull-Ups, Burpees, and Mystery Test 2 (Balance Test)
Keith Benford: Med Ball Toss, Vertical Leap, and Softball Throw
Kevin Benford: 40-Yard Dash, Pro Agility Shuttle, Interval Run