It’s hard enough to defend your title when there are dozens of others who are hungry to take it from you, but add to that the fatigue of having recently competed in another physically demanding event, and you can understand what Judy McElroy was facing going into AFM FITTEST 2013. “The CrossFit South Central Regionals just wrapped up two weeks before this event and the last thing I wanted to do was run,” she admitted. “I gave myself a pep talk and did what I could. Just like everyone else, I didn’t feel ready. But showing up, and doing your best at the moment, puts you in the best place for next time.”
McElroy’s pep talk was clearly effective: She was able to hold on to her Overall FITTEST title, despite the increased number of female competitors this year. In discussing her training strategy coming into this year’s contest, McElroy explained, “Earlier this year I declared that, ‘ is the year that the athlete I presently am and the athlete I ought to be will meet.’”
For McElroy, that meeting in the middle meant enlisting the help of coaches. “You can have all of the talent in the world but underachieve because you don't have the right people to nurture your talent,” she explained. “I have done some good things in my life but have spent most of it in a state of unlimited potential. What does that mean? It means that I was good at a lot of things, and people were impressed…but I could never reach peak performance. You will never find a great athlete who coaches himself to greatness.”
With the help of her coaching team—which includes former Level 1 and Level 2 USA Track and Field Coach Aaron Davis, Wes Kimball of CrossFit Austin, and Olympian and National Champion weightlifter Chad Vaughn—McElroy began participating in CrossFit competitions at the end of 2012 and was competing at an elite level after only a few months. “The focus is on becoming a better athlete, not just better at CrossFit or deadlifting,” she said. “With the great coaching, and all the great athletes in Austin, I have lots of people to learn from.”
McElroy noted that she did not train for specific events of the AFM FITTEST; rather, she used the event as an assessment of her physical fitness. “There are a lot of different events, and I have to remind myself that I will do better in some and worse in others,” she explained. “Some people look at the scores and immediately announce that they could jump farther or run faster. That is not what this event measures.”
McElroy has a message for those who are considering entering the AFM FITTEST next year (or even for those who are just contemplating becoming more active): “Your life is now, or never. Every one of us possesses unfathomable strength and ability, but we rarely call on our tremendous mental and physical resources. They demand to be stretched, exercised, and challenged, and there is nothing better than athletic competition.”
If you had won the Overall category of the AFM FITTEST last year, you might have felt a bit self-satisfied and ready to move on to the next challenge. For Greg Cook, however, his 2012 results were merely a benchmark for what he wanted to build on in 2013. “Coming into this year, I wanted to improve upon my weaknesses from last year,” he said. “Last year, I didn't really train for the mile at all. I used some of my other training to work on aerobic conditioning, but didn't do any running over a quarter of a mile. This year, I started running to work and adding one-mile runs to the end of my workouts.”
The 25-year-old personal trainer at Pure Austin knew that this year he’d be facing a large contingent of men who would be eager to steal his title. Rather than stress about his competition, however, Cook’s strategy was to focus on himself. “I was determined to focus primarily on my own training,” he asserted. “I wanted to perform as well as possible, and if someone was able to beat me then they would deserve it.”
This “win big, lose small” strategy paid off, enabling him to defend his title as the fittest man in Austin. Not even the Mystery Tests could throw him off his game; in fact, Cook noted that he had suspected one of the tests would involve balance: “Last year [the AFM FITTEST] tested all of the aspects of fitness except for balance. So I had a feeling that one of the Mystery Tests would involve balance, but I couldn't think of any way to make it testable that would give any meaningful rankings.” The Interval Run was Cook’s favorite test, for its combination of speed, endurance, and change of direction.
Cook is not only a physical powerhouse in the gym; he also regularly flexes his mental muscles by playing chess.
Yes, chess. As in the game.
A few years ago, during a four-and-a-half-month backpacking trip across the world, Cook picked up the game from his friend, who taught him how to play on the life-sized chess sets they would periodically encounter. Cook enjoyed it so much that he ultimately purchased his own travel chess set in Budapest so that he and his friend could play all the time. (His affinity for the game may explain his ability to have successfully strategized two consecutive wins in the AFM FITTEST!)
Cook is currently busy developing some new and innovative fitness classes he would like to roll out at Pure Austin this fall, but he hopes to once again defend his AFM FITTEST title in 2014. He encouraged people who might be on the fence about entering the contest to consider signing up next year and using the opportunity to benchmark their own fitness.
“I think a lot of people don't enter the competition because they feel like they won't have a chance to win it,” he said. “But many of these same people sign up for 5Ks and marathons without any concerns about winning. The key is to establish a benchmark and work towards improving for the next year.”
Julie Pickler made her debut this year in the AFM FITTEST; the former collegiate and pro athlete was looking for a challenge and goal to work toward. Two things swayed her: pictures of last year’s event that showed competitors having fun and an email from a friend—“Alex Earle said I should do it!”
As a heptathlete, the variety of the AFM FITTEST appealed to Pickler. She’d started out in high school in basketball, volleyball, and track; an area coach spotted her and introduced Pickler to the heptathlon. That’s a two-day, seven-event track and field competition that involves four events on Day One (100 meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200 meters) and another three events (long jump, javelin, and the 800 meters) on Day Two. Pickler excelled and received a full scholarship to Washington State University, where she garnered five Division I NCAA All American awards, before becoming a pro athlete with Asics. Just in case you’re thinking, “That’s right—I think she went to the Olympics, too, and was one of AFM’s 10 FITTEST before,” you’re wrong; that was Pickler’s twin sister Diana, also a heptathlete at Washington State. The sisters are close, and Pickler snapped photos at the AFM FITTEST all throughout to send to her sibling, who currently lives in California.
These days, Pickler combines quite a few of her loves with her profession; she’s the Wellness Specialist at Apple Inc. “The best way to describe [my job] is to keep/influence/motivate Apple employees to be healthy,” Pickler explained. “I absolutely love my job as it offers so much variety, from planning events to counseling Apple employees about their health results. I have amazing co-workers and a supportive manager who allows me the flexibility to get workouts in the afternoon and take walks around the building throughout the day with my co-worker.” She loves to cook (though she doesn’t like following recipes) and eat (her summer favorites are a Caprese salad, fish, and hearts of palm as a snack).
Though Pickler didn’t specifically train for the AFM FITTEST, she credits a lot of her success to Move Austin Fitness. She’d joined the gym two months prior to the competition. “I’m very picky with gyms, workouts, and trainers, and I have finally found my niche in Austin,” Pickler said. She’s been training with Katy Duggan Freshour, Jared Freshour, and Jake Norman three days a week, with a variety of strength, mobility, endurance, and speed workouts. “I believe in a balanced approach in order to achieve optimal fitness,” she explained, and that includes maintaining healthy and nutritious eating patterns and incorporating fitness into her fun activities. Pickler and her boyfriend love to take “surprise trips” (in fact, the two headed off to Estes Park the day after the AFM FITTEST) where they hike and camp. She recalled a fun trip with a 10-hour hike that involved sliding down glaciers and punching holes in the surface with their feet in order to ladder back up.
Pickler has an effervescent personality, a bright smile, and an easygoing sense of fun but there’s a real competitor contained in that lithe frame. She laughed and talked a bit about the healthy rivalry between her and her twin; she said they had a pattern growing up, that she’d be better at first and then Diana would catch up. She’s clearly not afraid of a tough competitor, as she said she’d encourage her sister to come try out the AFM FITTEST. “I will certainly be back next year,” she exclaimed. “I am looking forward to it because I will be in the same age category as Judy [McElroy, reigning overall woman champion] next year! Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I will be 30!”
While several of the AFM FITTEST age division winners have stated that they did not specifically train for the event, David King trained with a vengeance and all the focus of a heat-seeking missile. The trainer wanted to set an example for his children and his clients…and to discover for himself “what was possible if I REALLY trained.”
King started in early February and worked with a team of trainers (Michael Duke Winchester, Red Black Gym; David Braswell, Out Right Fitness; Brette Hayward, 5 Fitness), chiropractor (Dr. Jay Ding, Peak Performance Chiropractic), sports psychologist (Frank Sarosdy, Sarosdy Nutrition Solutions), and a whole crew of friends (fellow competitors Mark Cunningham, Kent Smith, and Steve Lisson). This was a very different approach for King, who described his typical training pattern as that of “a lone wolf.”
Each member of King’s team helped him in specific ways. King described the work he did with Winchester, which included kettlebell workouts and resistance band exercises, as “gracious torture.” Braswell’s Speed and Performance class took him to his running limits; Hayward’s NFL combine-style workouts worked his body and “challenged my mind to stay calm at levels of fatigue and burn previously unknown to me.” King visited the chiropractor “at least once a week” to keep his body healthy, and he took his nutrition to an intense level with Sarosdy, who added supplements into King’s diet and helped him visualize the AFM FITTEST “frame by frame, like an Olympic athlete.”
King is intense and focused, and he readily admits that he can have a “tough time controlling attitude when things don’t go my way.” Again, it’s a team aspect that’s brought improvement—his family. This super-charged competitor visibly softens when he talks about his two little ones, daughter Sofie and 1-year-old son Kade, and his wife, Chelsea, who he describes as “the mother I always imagined for my children.” He credits them with helping him to control that temper: “I admit that I reached down to throw a cone at this year’s AFM FITTEST,” King stated, “but I thought of my kids—they’re a great inspiration for me to be a better person.”
The family works fitness into their together time; they have a Saturday walk routine around Lady Bird Lake, Sofie is into gymnastics, and little Kade took up walking about three weeks ago. It’s important to King that he’s home at night for dinner, and schedules his job—he’s a fitness coach specializing in helping overweight folks take on nutrition and exercise—to accommodate that special family time. In addition, he coaches personal trainers to improve their skills with clients through his on-line program called Ebook Personal Training Excellence. He’s put his background as a management specialist to good use, though it took awhile to nail that college diploma. King started out in Flatonia, Texas, in a 1A school (“I graduated with 31 kids. We got to play everything, including golf and tennis”) where he specialized in track and field. However, he spent some time after high school “wasting unfilled potential partying on 6th Street” before he made it, at age 27, to Huston Tillotson University on scholarship. There, he competed in the decathlon under iconic coach Howard Ware, who took him to two NAIA National Championships in a row. King reflected on this time: “It was at this moment in life when I realized my parents were right. We can accomplish something extraordinary with hard work, a little help, and a positive attitude.”
It’s a little funny to hear King call out one specific test at the AFM FITTEST as his best event: the Precision Throw. King got 8 out of 10 throws, which took third in the men’s 30s division. “If it weren’t for this event,” he speculated, “I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.” He also talked about giving his all in the One-Mile Run, channeling Roger Bannister and working to stay with fellow competitor Dane Krager. He recalled the final 50 meters of the run: “I heard my friend, Taylor, screaming, ‘Do not surrender! Do not surrender!’ Somehow my legs finished the race in 5:43 and I fell to my knees. Surrounded by my entire team of support, including my wife and young children, I knew that I had given it my all.” He summed up that June day at Camp Mabry, saying, with a smile, “Win or no win, it was a wonderful day.”
Cara Mastrian laughingly describes herself as “kind of pretty good at a lot of different stuff” and a soccer player who works “wherever I’m needed.” This versatile mother of three has learned to master the art of the impromptu workout, and Mastrian credits the variety and creativity of these workouts as an important part—even as an advantage over her competitors—of her success in the AFM FITTEST. It’s hard to argue with Mastrian, as she is once again the 40-49 age division winner.
Mastrian doesn’t just incorporate her hectic family lifestyle into her fitness regimen; she’s embraced an additional benefit in having her husband Shawn as an informal coach and training partner. She described him as “the smartest person I know,” someone who is “into the science and technique” behind the various tests. “Together, we created ways to practice for each of the events,” she explained. “He helped me come up with techniques to employ and ways to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses.” Newcomers to the 2014 AFM FITTEST should take note of Mastrian’s advice: “Do not ignore the technique of each event. When you get up to the line to do the Broad Jump or throw the medicine ball, know exactly how you are going to execute it.” She added, “But most of all, just have a good time.”
Mastrian just couldn’t pass up the challenge of competing in the AFM FITTEST. “This competition is so unique to the Austin fitness scene, and it is really cool to be a part of it,” she said. “On what other occasion would you have the opportunity to improve your coordination by throwing softballs? Or use all the power in your legs to jump as far as you can? Or work on the good old-fashioned pull-up?”
Though she’d won her age division in 2012, Mastrian felt there was work to be done to improve her performance in all events for 2013. “The idea of pushing myself to excel in so many aspects of fitness is so appealing to me. It’s a fun way to train and a fun competition,” she asserted. To prepare for this year's event, Mastrian began working with Karen Smith, a running coach in Austin, who helped her “focus on versatility, endurance, and rapid recovery.” This training tweak resulted in a faster mile time for Mastrian and gave her the overall ability to “better attack each event.” She also praised the “wonderful people” at Heroes CrossFit in Cedar Park who were “so supportive of [her] training and competition for this event.” Mastrian applied a bit of detective work to her training, too; she noted that “balance” appeared in this year’s literature, realized that this was not one of the key words on the 2012 competitor shirt, and deduced that one of the Mystery Tests would involve balance (her best guess on the focus of the second was core work, perhaps planking).
Hating to admit she has a down day every now and then, Mastrian has learned to power on. “I push through and tell myself I’ll just get it done fast!” she explained. “I know that I will feel good after a workout and that’s what keeps me motivated—that awesome, post-workout feeling that I know will knock out almost any form of the ‘blahs.’” Mastrian also draws inspiration and motivation for her workouts and daily life from her grandmother, who survived three years in a Japanese prison camp in Dutch Indonesia during World War II. “She believed in being a strong woman, inside AND out,” Mastrian said. “She was always fit, even before it was trendy, and she exercised well into her eighties. Some day I hope to write her story, but until then, she will continue to be an inspiration to me.”
Mastrian looks at well-being as a whole, and so she does not neglect the health of her soul. Her faith and fitness fuel one another. “I regularly use my runs as a time to pray and reflect and appreciate God’s creation all around me,” she said thoughtfully. Finding joy and gratitude in her ability to work her body “adds a profound level of drive” to everyday workouts and even benefits her mentally, helping her to clear her mind and focus on things that are important.
“When I’m competing, or pushing myself really hard, I often call on God,” said Mastrian. “When you ask Him to show up, he’ll be there. Every time.”
There is no competitor who can challenge you like yourself. Or at least that’s returning AFM FITTEST winner Tim Zeddies’ philosophy. “If I can beat numbers from the previous year, or from a previous workout, then I feel successful,” he asserted.
Of course, given Zeddies’ profession—sports psychologist—it makes sense that he would take such a healthy attitude toward the competition. He looks at the FITTEST “not as an opportunity to fail, but as a fitness measurement, a chance to have fun and get information about areas to address in training.”
Coming into the 2013 FITTEST, Zeddies was confident in the changes he had made in his training and was hoping to see some improvements to his scores. Last August, he began training weekly with Dane Krager of Dane’s Body Shop, focusing on lower body explosiveness. He also attended classes at Dane’s two to three times per week. “[I] love the community aspect of [Dane’s Body Shop], as well as the emphasis on overall health and fitness,” he said.
One of the most important aspects of Zeddies’ training, especially as an athlete in his forties, is rest and recovery. “We grow when we rest,” he said. “It’s a hard lesson to learn.” With his number one goal being to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury, Zeddies adjusted his workouts by decreasing their volume and number while keeping the intensity high.
This year, the Mystery Tests were the subject of much speculation among the athletes, Zeddies included. To prepare himself for whatever the FITTEST threw his way, he chose a few possible options and trained accordingly. “On the one hand, it was fun because you didn't know what was coming,” he mused. “On another level, and this was particularly true on the balance test, it seemed to measure a competitor's ability to find a gimmicky way to do the test rather than a more pure measure of fitness.”
Were he given the opportunity to add his own Mystery Tests to the mix, Zeddies said he would select two: “Max push-ups in two minutes…The first minute is comparatively easy, but the wheels come off for most people on the second minute,” he explained. The second would be the “Farmer's Carry Interval test in place of grip test…it is a better measure of functional fitness, in my opinion.”
Family support is key to any athlete’s success, and Zeddies credits his wife Andrea and their daughters (Bella, 11 years old; Julia, 10 years old; and Caela, 6 years old) with his. “The generous and loving support of my family…[they] have been so wonderfully patient with Daddy's fitness activities, which often involve early bed times for me and strict diets,” he said.
Zeddies plans to return once again next year to the AFM FITTEST (“It's too fun to miss!”), and he hopes that others will join him. “I'd encourage them to use the FITTEST as an opportunity to face and then overcome whatever they're fearing. After all, fear is just a feeling, right?”
Kathleen Parker exudes positivity, confidence, and passion. As an iGnite Your Life Fitness trainer, she consistently inspires others to challenge themselves: "Our philosophy…is to empower each member to reach their fullest potential and live their best lives every day. Each morning, I can’t wait to go to ‘work.’” Parker invites the curious to try out her favorite class, “Lake Escape.” In it, she teaches wake surfing, water skiing, and wake boarding, which were all staples of her childhood growing up around Lake LBJ.
Parker returned in 2013 as the female 50-59 winner with her focus on bettering last year’s results and keeping her title. “My main competitor (this year) was myself,” she said. In late spring, Parker “amped up her training,” adding sprinting drills and working twice a week with two personal trainers, Coach Mo (Maurice Harris) at Coach Mo’s Elite Fitness and Chad Mahagan at Westlake Medical Center. She also practiced the Precision Throw: “I can still do the splits, but cannot throw a ball,” she joked. Parker’s additional training paid off—she proudly exclaimed, “I got last place in the softball throw last year and moved up to second-to-last place this year!” She also met her goal of improving her scores in every other event. While Parker admitted that “walking out onto that competitive field is intimidating,” she stressed that first-timers will feel “amazing, accomplished, and exhilarated” after crossing the finish line of the last event. With that kind of positive thinking, Parker is sure she’ll convince her husband to take on the challenge next year.
At 90 years young, Parker’s father, who “lives life fearlessly and fully,” adds inspiration to her active lifestyle by reminding her that “having a healthy and strong body keeps a healthy and strong mind.” Active all her life, Parker may be one of a very few people who “loves burpees,” praising the exercise that works multiple muscles (much to other’s dismay).
She and her husband have four adult daughters, three of whom are triplets. All but one, who claims to have been “separated at birth,” follows a love-to-sweat lifestyle. However, Parker did not find her calling to become a trainer until she was 45; prior to that time, she’d focused on “raising my kids” and, once they were grown, began to search for “what I wanted to do with my life.” She tried out classes at iGnite and discovered something she loved; founder Neissa Brown Springmann inspired Parker to “find and follow my passion, and to live each day with purpose…I would not be doing what I am doing today had I not taken that to heart,” she asserted.
Aside from her competition with last year’s numbers, Parker noted that all of the women in her 2013 age division were “amazing competitors,” and she called out Mary Moran Parker in particular as one to watch for 2014. “We all have gifts in different areas,” she said, and some of those gifts were tested in this year’s Mystery Tests. “I liked the idea of Mystery Tests because there is no way you can train for them and they truly show your fitness level on the spot,” Parker explained. When asked what type of test she’d like to see in the 2014 AFM FITTEST, Parker stressed one that measures flexibility. “Having full range of motion is such an important part of being healthy and fit,” she reasoned. “Along with strength and endurance, I believe flexibility is the third component of being all-around fit.”
Watch for Parker again next year. “[The FITTEST] is a great summer goal; having goals to reach throughout the year keeps me going full force,” she said, adding, “Waking up with a purpose each morning keeps us all around happier.”
Jim Talley missed last year’s AFM FITTEST event. He only heard about it after the fact, when he discovered that a training friend, Jessica Estrada, was the runner up in the women’s 20-29 division. The two worked out together at CATZ, which puts on occasional competitions for its athletes, and Talley’s curiosity got the better of him. “Jess and I scored very similarly in one of those competitions,” he remembered, “ so I used her FITTEST times/counts/distances (with some adjustments) as a crude measure of how I would have done in my bracket in 2012. This made me think that it was maybe a possibility to win it.” In addition, Talley loves a challenge—how could he resist?
Talley has been a soccer player since his 30s and he maintains his fitness through avid play; he’s involved in both indoor and outdoor leagues in Austin (primarily the AMSA Over-40 Premier league team, the Eliminators 040). He started playing when coworkers at MCC introduced him to a noontime pickup game with IBM and UT folks located at the Balcones/Pickle Research Center campus. Soccer also became another way for Talley, a long time single parent, to bond with his kids. “I decided early on that it wouldn’t be in anyone’s interest if I ‘sacrificed’ my life for the kids (and grew resentful of that),” he explained. “So I supported their participation in youth soccer leagues, and they came along to my adult soccer games.”
While Talley didn’t set out to work a particular training schedule for the AFM FITTEST, he made plans to continue his functional training with CATZ; in addition to his soccer, he continued to run. Talley figured he’d devote the last six weeks prior to June 15 to specificity of training. And that’s where the wheels came off—he fell ill. “I got sick at the beginning of May,” he remembered, “and I just never seemed to get any better.” Every workout Talley attempted put him back in bed with what seemed to be a cold or flu. A round of antibiotics had no effect; two weeks before the AFM FITTEST, he went to see an ENT specialist to find out what was causing his dizziness and lack of energy. Though the doctor felt his condition was resolving, Talley wasn’t so sure—he even debated on whether he should pick up his packet. He reasoned that he could always change his mind, so Talley did pick up that packet… and he made it to the event, though the Burpees exacerbated the vertigo and he repeatedly fell off the balance beam. But this is Talley’s biggest strength, “that I’ll rise to whatever challenge is in front of me, or ‘die’ trying,” and so he stuck it out.
He’s a quietly confident man who tends toward the self-deprecating, mixed with streaks of wry humor. For example: Talley wrote that he was feeling “dejected and desperate, and of course, seriously deconditioned” by his bout with illness, and then added a side note, writing, “For you younger athletes, one of the ‘joys’ of being an older athlete is that the amount of time required to get into shape rapidly increases as the decades roll by, while the time required to get thoroughly out of shape diminishes in a similar fashion—a Catch-22 really, which, hopefully, you’ll have the athletic longevity to experience for yourself.”
Yes, Talley’s a lifelong athlete with a seriously competitive streak. He talked about returning to compete again (though he knows injuries—and illness—can play a huge part in that outcome); he outlined how he analyzed his fitness with Greg Cook’s initial run-through of the AFM FITTEST; he explained how he worked to improve his pull-ups by achieving one additional rep each week. And yet, this guy knows how to have some serious fun. Talley is a huge music fan who probably sees more bands in a month than most fitness buffs with similar training regimens see in a year; in fact, he’d attended the Old Settlers Music Festival in Driftwood and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival right before falling sick. He’s always been into music, so much so that he moved to New Orleans for a while and worked as a studio engineer. Talley is also a salsa dancer. He fell in love with the Latin step when he was an exchange student in Ecuador, and he’s been working the floor ever since. “I don’t really consider it exercise,” he said, though there’s no doubt he’s managed to incorporate another fitness aspect into his day via leisure time. He gave a shout out to the Sahara Lounge over on the East side as a great place for music and salsa.
When asked what he would say if given the opportunity to encourage someone to try the AFM FITTEST, Talley responded humorously. “I would tell them: ‘You are so screwed. You are going to go out there and make a total fool of yourself when you…’ Oh, wait! The question said encourage, not discourage!” he joked. Then, he gave a succinct, serious, inspiring response. “You shouldn’t think of it as a dichotomy between (nearly) winning it or looking like a fool,” Talley explained. “That’s definitely a false dichotomy. The AFM FITTEST event is a great evaluation opportunity, which can show you where you’re at personally in terms of fitness. Such a benchmark, in turn, sets you up to be able to compete against yourself (your most worthy opponent) as you work at improving year over year. The AFM FITTEST event provides a fun, wholesome, healthy environment which is a great place to challenge yourself.”
At the 2013 AFM FITTEST, Janice Wirtanen accomplished the goal she set at the end of last year’s event, “to be healthy enough to participate next year,” with flying colors. Not only did Wirtanen participate, she nabbed a repeat win in the women’s 60+ division. An avid basketball player and boot camp attendee, Wirtanen explained that she’s not explicitly training for the AFM FITTEST—she’s training for life. “I do not want to become an elderly person who becomes dependent on others to perform day-to-day tasks,” she stated adamantly. “Once a person finds excuses to avoid working out, it would probably become a habit, eventually leading to a sedentary life.”
Wirtanen’s boot camp instructor DJ Olsson encouraged her to participate in the 2012 AFM FITTEST. “The night before [last year’s] event, I seriously doubted my ability to compete,” she admitted. After chatting with several female competitors the morning of the competition, Wirtanen realized that nervousness was a common theme, and it should not deter those who are afraid of competing in the FITTEST. “It was nice to be in a positive environment in which women support each other,” she said. No encouragement was needed this year, though, as Wirtanen was eager to “compare [her] 2012 scores with this year’s scores” and signed up with confidence.
Wirtanen finds that her best source of inspiration comes “from within.” Suffering from a deep foot bruise and an inflamed tendon from an injury about three months before the competition, Wirtanen was crutch-bound for three weeks and unable to fully exercise for an additional two weeks after that. She had concerns about her cardiovascular abilities coming into the event, though she performed well. Wirtanen was pleasantly surprised to also find inspiration in her fellow competitors, Jody Kelly (75) and Linda Lloyd (60, who recently lost a significant amount of weight). “It would be so cool to be 75 and be able to compete,” she said admiringly.
Wirtanen, who hopes to return in 2014, would like to see push-ups added to the event, possibly in the form of a Mystery Test. “Hopefully, I will not suffer any injuries prior to the competition,” she remarked. “Unfortunately, as one ages, the possibility of injuries increases.” Wirtanen has plenty of opportunities for injury, as she continues to play basketball competitively (she’s always on the lookout for additional women to field the Senior Olympics team she’s on) and stays active teaching physical education in an elementary school. That PE class, though, turned into quite an advantage; Wirtanen was able to practice her softball pitching with the kids and improved significantly; she is the Best in Test winner for 2013 with 9 out of 10 throws in the Precision Throw. Last year, she threw overhand and scored 3 out of 5; this year, she practiced an underhand throw, reasoning, “If it’s good enough for Cat Osterman, it’s good enough for me.” Her future focus is on reclaiming the cardiovascular endurance she had prior to her injury.
Wirtanen continues to push herself to try new events in all aspects of her life, and that youthful attitude led her at age 60 to start her own lawn-mowing business. As sole employee, she’s found her business to provide another useful, albeit unconventional, workout that will no doubt aid in a speedy recovery of her cardiovascular endurance. “It was hard work, but it helped keep me active,” she noted, adding, “You are truly as young as you feel.”
Inspired by his two children, Joey (age 28) and Lauren (age 24), who “are in very good shape and are tough to keep up with,” Pat Thomas came back for the 2013 AFM FITTEST. “My kids would never let me hear the end of it if I didn’t defend my title,” he said. Making this win even sweeter was Thomas’ ability to prevail over the challenges of being active with asthma. “Some people have arthritis; I have asthma,” Thomas noted. Having dealt with the condition since he was 23, Thomas’ lung capacity is between 60 to 70 percent, and he had never run for exercise until he prepared for last year’s event. This time around, Thomas worked his running and the effort shows. While he claims he’ll “never break 10 minutes,” he came awfully close, clocking a time of 10:02 this year.
Thomas kept most of his training elements from last year in place, including the amount of time spent in the gym. He added additional plyometric work, weekly burpees (“because it’s a specific event”), and running. “I know I’ll never be anything other than last or close to it in the mile, so I need to do really well in all the other events,” he averred. Mission accomplished: Thomas placed first or second in all but two of the 12 tests. Additionally, he dominated this year’s Mystery Tests, winning both the Vertical Jump and Balance Beam Hurdles in his age division. “I had no idea what to expect,” Thomas said, smiling, “and that was a really fun thing—not knowing.” He wondered how much of his success at this year’s AFM FITTEST could be credited to dropping 20 pounds through an Atkins-style diet; his reasoning for the weight loss was that “I can’t get any younger, so I might as well change the things I can.”
Although the aforementioned training was essential to Thomas’ conditioning, his true passion is golf. Thomas started playing when he was 32 and, while he doesn’t arrange his vacations around golfing, he has played famed courses such as Pebble Beach and St. Andrews and logs quite a bit of playing time in Maui. You won’t often find Thomas aboard a golf cart, though. He walks whenever possible and is typically able to get in a good 10K during play. In tandem with the weight of his clubs and other necessities, golfing tees up a well-rounded and aesthetically pleasing workout. Thomas works his golfing around his training and business, since he’s not retired. He even manages to bring a fitness-oriented perspective into his day job; Thomas smilingly states that he helps companies get “fiscally fit.”
“Age really is a state of mind, not a number,” Thomas declared. He will be back in action at next year’s AFM FITTEST even though he knows “all those young 50+ whippersnappers…will be coming up to our bracket soon.” The AFM FITTEST keeps him motivated all year to stay in great shape. His advice for new competitors: “Just have fun, and compete against yourself. Do the best you can.”
On one hand, the winning team at the 2013 AFM FITTEST is brand new; this combination of four men in their 30s and 40s did not compete together last year. However, Dane’s Body Shop did put together last year’s winning team of ten. What’s the secret?
There may not be any need to analyze any further than gym owner and guiding spirit Dane Krager, former NFL (Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks) and Arena Football League (Austin Wranglers, Arizona Rattlers) player and owner of the eponymous shop. Krager also took the men’s 30 division last year, so he is intimately familiar with what it takes to put together a successful training session for the AFM FITTEST. The four men came together through Krager’s prep classes for this year’s event. Tim Zeddies had, ironically, won training sessions with Dane’s Body Shop as an overall men’s 40 division winner for 2012. David Norton and Brian Allen-Aguilar, both new to Austin, came to that first session where all in attendance ran through the entire fit test to establish a base line.
“I knew Tim would be on the team from the start,” said Krager. The two were working out every Wednesday afternoon, and they put their heads together to analyze the prospects. Norton, who’s a TV producer (“The Biggest Loser” and a new venture called “Destination Fit”), trainer, and model—and also a complete beast when it comes to pull-ups—was a no-brainer. Allen-Aguilar was “the ringer” for the mile; completely self-trained until the AFM FITTEST, Allen-Aguilar had moved from Colorado and “needed something to do” to help cope with loss in his family and recover his well-being, and he’d embraced running. The four men came together as a team.
Norton explained that they never looked at training as something special for the event; he called their workouts a “365 [day] lifestyle.” Each of the four also entered the individual competition. Surprisingly, the events each undertook for the team were decided on June 15, scrawled on the back of a bib in the minutes before the afternoon competition got underway and following a brief analysis of their performances throughout the day. Norton had rocked the pull-ups (he’d worked up to 130 a day), so he performed those, the Standing Broad Jump, and the Hand Grip—he’d pulled a hamstring in training and opted out of the running events. No worries there, as Allen-Aguilar—who’d knocked out a 5:17 at this year’s Manzano Mile and went on to bust out a 5:21 in the individual competition at the AFM FITTEST—had that, the Balance Beam with Hurdles, and Burpees. Zeddies focused in on the Agility Cone Run, Interval Run, and the ever-popular Precision Throw, knowing he had the support of his daughter, who told him prior to the event, “Daddy, no matter what happens on Saturday, I love you.” And Krager, ever the gentleman, simply opted for whatever events the others didn’t want to do—the Vertical Leap, the 40-Yard Dash, and Standing Med Ball Toss. To a man, they each felt they performed better in the Team event than they had earlier in the day for the Individual. How did this happen? According to Zeddies, “On competition day, you tell your body to shut up.” Norton explained further, when asked whether he rationed his physical resources: “If you’re thinking about the next thing, you can’t do anything. You have to be in the moment and give it your best.”
Watching the four together, it’s clear that there wound up being more to the group than simply trying to give the best team performance in a fitness competition. There’s a sense of camaraderie and joyfulness in their approach to fitness, and a true sense of bonhomie in their interaction with one another.
What stands out more than their impressive physical fitness is the amount of sheer fun that these guys had with each other. And they’ll be back.