20 Years of Austin Fit Magazine

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Former Editors of Austin Fit Magazine

Georgia Beth Ridenhour

1997—January 2004

What’s the story behind Austin Fit Magazine’s beginning?

Well, I was very ambitious when I got out of journalism school and I got married right out of college. With my husband’s job we were here, and my mother and sister were both living in Manhattan, so I had a really hard time not being able to do my job search in New York. Austin isn’t really the publishing hub you might need when you graduate. I had about two years of work under my belt. I was managing a magazine that had multiple locations, and I was working as the editor for three of them. But one day I got a wild hair and went to New York because I needed to see what was there. I ultimately decided I had to come back to Austin to make my marriage work. I was in this slump trying to figure out what to do next. 

Why focus on health and fitness?

When I was in college, I interned for a health and fitness magazine in Dallas and it always puzzled me why Austin didn’t have something like that. I felt so strongly that there was a need for that here. My main motivation was doing something for myself, as well as loving the health and wellness industry—and I wanted it to be well-rounded.

What challenges did you face in the early stages?

The first issue was 28 pages, and getting advertisers was challenging. But ad costs were low, and enough people in the community also saw the need for it, so they got behind it early on. Sun & Ski, RunTex, and Yoga Vida are just a few who come to mind when I think about who was there from the beginning.

I had somebody say to me what I’m sure many others were thinking. This man said, “I hope your husband has deep pockets.” I told him, “You know, my husband isn’t backing any of this.” A lot of people always thought that my husband was behind it. For me, failing was not an option. I would drive by places to see if they had magazines, and I always carried extras in my car. It was so exciting when people ran out of magazines—it was the best feeling. 

Do you have any regrets from your time running the magazine?

My regret is that I didn’t make it bi-monthly. I think that was one of the main reasons I wanted to sell. I started it when I was really young, and I think when you start something at the age of 27 you don’t expect to do it your whole life. Looking back, I’m realizing what a feat it was to get it off the ground. In the seven years of running it, I took only one week of vacation. Had I gone bi-monthly, I would’ve taken the time to make it sharper and more modern and stepped up the design. I felt burnt out and I wanted the option of not being in Austin. I thought I would sell it, and then once the dust settled I’d have an epiphany that would lead me to my next business idea.

How did the sale happen?

A broker told me the Earle family was interested in buying it, and I was ready to sell, so negotiations started shortly thereafter. Once the purchase was made, I stayed on for six months to help with the transition. I love seeing what they’ve done with it. 

How do you feel when you see the magazine now?

Very proud of it! I think it looks beautiful and professional. I try to pick up every issue—it never looks stale to me.

Drex Earle

February 2004—June 2011

What did you learn during your time as editor for AFM?

I’d say AFM made me realize how vibrant and connected the health and fitness community is in Austin. Everyone who owns a business or works as a trainer in this city is enthusiastic and seems to love their jobs. Their work ethic is integrated into taking care of their bodies and minds, and that was a great concept to work with.

How has that helped in your current position?

My time as an editor for AFM was more than a decade ago, but I still use a lot of the connections I made during that time. Austin was different back then—smaller and more connected—and a majority of the people I met are still thriving here. It’s nice to be a decent-sized fish in the pond in the community. 

What was your favorite issue to put together?

My favorite would probably be the Swimsuit Issue because it’s so fun to spend the day on the lake and get those shots. It’s a fun and ridiculous time. The Fittest Dogs Issue also started when I was there, and I loved that one. The connection between the owners and the dogs, the personality of the dogs, even doing a professional photo shoot with dogs… it was a blast. 

What was your vision for the magazine while you were here?

My vision was twofold. Overall, I wanted the magazine to grow successfully, and provide a platform for our advertisers to make a return investment. Editorially, I wanted AFM to be a legitimate resource for people to lead healthier lives. They could read everything in a tongue-in-cheek way, and grow with the magazine in the health and fitness community.

Melanie Moore

August 2011—November 2012 

What did you learn during your time as editor for AFM?

It was an interim period for me, and for the magazine, and I learned a lot about myself during that time. In addition to writing and editing for the magazine, I journaled madly. Writing has always been the way that I move through the world—it helps me make sense of things.  Throughout that year, writing proved to be a lifeline as I traversed some unexpectedly difficult terrain.

How has that helped you in your current position?

Prior to my time at Austin Fit Magazine, I had been the founder and executive director of a literary nonprofit organization. At a certain stage in one’s career, it is important to separate personal identity from professional identity. In other words, you have the chance to step back and realize that you have merit as a person, for just being. At work it is easy to think—and I’ve been in sales where it’s true—that you’re only as good as your last quarter. So that separation of personal identity from professional role is critical for finding peace. In my current role, as at AFM, I am not the founder but a leader in someone else’s organization, which can put a finer point on that distinction. At the foundation where I work now, I have the privilege of working with an exceptional board and a truly visionary founder. It is a gift to execute their philanthropic vision in an organization that has external esteem and internal operational precision.

What was your favorite issue to put together?

Gosh, there were so many that were fun. I think I’m most proud of the issues related to the AFM FITTEST event because we took that topic from a community-wide vote to a contest using empirical evidence to quantify Austin’s fittest people. Our publisher Lou Earle championed the idea of “healthspan” (as opposed to just a lifespan where health often declines). Guided by that idea, as well as the intent to avoid ending up with exclusively younger winners, we segmented the contest by age to prove—as our contestants and winners did—that fitness is a lifelong endeavor where you can succeed at every level. We featured champions in each age group.  That issue, and that contest, reflected total team collaboration to pull off successfully. It’s still my favorite issue each year; I am thrilled that the contest continues.

What was your vision for the magazine while you were here?

Fitness is a wonderful lens through which to view the world. We all look at the world from inside our bodies—our physicality shapes our worldview—so fitness is a topic that crosscuts the population in ways that are not possible for most affinity publications. We had some amazing interviews with local icons, from Willie Nelson to John Mackey, to Luci Baines Johnson, to John Paul DeJoria, to Marion Jones. I was in the role during an interim period and my primary goal was to serve the owner family’s interest by maintaining continuity during the transitions. As a former journalist and editor it was important to adhere to principles of editorial integrity. As a leader, I endeavored to create a production process that allowed all departments to align their inputs and outputs to produce the highest-quality magazine possible.

Leah Fisher Nyfeler

November 2011—December 2014

What did you learn during your time as editor for AFM?

I learned so much... I had worked in newsletters, and I had been a professional editor, and I had done freelance writing, but I had never put all of those things together in a print and digital magazine publication. So when I came on with Melanie Moore (thank goodness), she really taught me the ropes and mechanics behind how a print publication should work. It was extremely helpful for me to learn that process.

How has that helped in your current position?

It’s helped me a lot. Right now, one of the things I’m doing is working as a freelance editor for Greenleaf Book Group, LLC, so I’m working with authors editing their publications. I have an understanding of layout and visual from working at the magazine that I think a lot of straight up editors don’t have. When I’m editing those manuscripts I’m looking beyond punctuation, usage, formatting, Chicago Manual of Style, to ‘how does this fit on the page?’ So that’s something my authors really benefit from. The other thing that’s really helped is having been editor-in-chief, I have a good grasp on how to pitch a story. I see it, I know what editors want, and it’s also allowed me to write pieces for different people on the publication end. 

What was your favorite issue to put together?

Well, I can honestly say I have a handful of favorites—it’s really hard to pick just one. There are favorite stories I have as a writer, and then there are the favorite issues I have as an editor-in-chief, where I’m looking at them as an overall picture. I would say my top three favorite stories would be the F1 Issue, the X Games Issue, and the Mind Body Issue focused on boxing and dance. The F1 story I got to do purely as a writer, and I wrote 90 percent of that issue because I was an assistant. It was a favorite for me because I got to introduce F1 to Austin, I got to meet a lifelong hero in Michael Johnson, and I got to learn about F1 and fall in love with it. The same thing happened with X Games, because I was editor-in-chief at that time, so I got to lay out how we introduced it. I love the story on Morgan Wade and going to his hometown, interviewing his parents and sitting in his house, and tying that all in with X Games and Austin. I think one of the best issues we ever did was the Mind Body Issue that married boxing and dance. We had Ann Wolfe on the cover of that, and she is a treasure, a boxing legend. It’s exciting to see that we tapped into something Austin had, that maybe not everybody in the fitness community knew about yet. And we made that really cool connection between what’s involved in boxing and what’s involved in dance, which are surprisingly similar. 

What was your vision for the magazine while you were here?

My vision for the magazine was always to be an inclusive place for all types of fitness. I think so often we get wrapped up into thinking fitness looks a certain way or is a certain way, and the reality is that there are many different types and definitions of fitness as there are people. The beauty is in finding the thing that works for you. In the Beauty and the Beast issue, we had readers send in their quirky sports, and that was so fun because you see all of these different people doing all of these different sports at different ages with different body types. I always wanted the magazine to be a place where anybody could come play and be active. We— meaning my managing editors Natalie England, Courtenay Verret, and myself—took it all over the place because fitness in Austin is such a broad and wonderful thing.

April Cumming

December 2014—August 2015

What did you learn during your time as editor for AFM?

I learned that growth exists outside of your comfort zone and that challenges—be they in your career or personal life—are just opportunities in disguise. Also that it takes teamwork (and a lot of iced coffee from Quack’s) to make the dream work. 

How has that helped you in your current position?

In my current role at Austin Woman, I always have my eyes peeled for the next assignment that will push me to challenge my writing skills and make my reporting skills stronger. After all, to be a good editor means you must first be a good writer, yes? 

What was your favorite issue to put together?

Oh goodness. Probably the Feb. 2015 Love + Fitness Issue. Sitting down to speak with Los Angeles Angels pitcher, Huston Street, will be one interview I’ll always remember. The life of a professional athlete—especially one that has to balance raising a family with a relentless travel schedule—is incredibly fascinating. Side note: Only god knows how much I had to brush up on my baseball jargon in preparation for that day. 

What was your vision for the magazine while you were here?

To be the go-to fitness and health resource for athletes in Austin and to educate and inspire all readers to get out and explore this awesome city we get to call home. 

Keep reading for more about Austin Fit!

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