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Most Inspiring Fitness People & Stories of 2012

As the 2012 year comes to a close, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look back at a few of the people in fitness that provided tremendous inspiration. They all bring something different to the table, but the common thread is that their actions or stories help provide motivation to stick to your diet, or get off the couch, or fight through setbacks and injuries, or not let your age be an excuse, etc.

The Most Inspiring Fitness People & Stories of 2012, enjoy and be motivated.

Debra Cordner-Carson, CrossFit

A crippling fear of the ocean caused her to be disqualified from last year's CrossFit Games. The first event featured an open-water swim, and the emotional struggle caused her to be out of the competition from the very beginning.

She refused to let her fear take the same toll at the 2012 CrossFit Games. The intimidation of the ocean was still quite strong, needing several pep talks from coaches and judges while on the beach before the event began.

Cordner-Carson fought through her fears and finished the open-water swim (which was the starting leg of a sprint triathlon).  

After not making it past the opening event in 2011, she overcame her emotions in 2012 to finish 13th (out of 45) overall. Her inspiring attitude and example won the "Spirit of the Games Award" for 2012.

She also suffers from lymphedema, which causes build up and retention of fluid in one of her legs, but has not let this or anything else prevent her from becoming one of the fittest women alive.

"You don't always win everything. There are always roadblocks in life...I'll keep overcoming them."


Adrian Peterson, NFL Running Back

One of the NFL's best running backs (and one of my personal favorites since his days at the University of Oklahoma) suffered a horrible knee injury, tearing his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve 2011 game against the Washington Redskins.  After surgery on New Year's Eve 2011, Peterson battled back to start the 2012 season opener. 

One year to the day from his surgery, Peterson rushed for 199 yards and scored two touchdowns in a regular-season finale win over the Green Bay Packers.  He finished with 2,079 rushing yards for the season, 2nd-highest total in NFL history and is a front-runner for NFL MVP. No athlete in the modern era has been able to return from ACL surgery and return to top form so quickly.


Kevin James, Actor 

The "King of Queens" sitcom star kept his hefty shape for movies like "Hitch" and "Paul Blart, Mall Cop" - but managed to lose 80 pounds to play a school teacher-turned-MMA-fighter in "Here Comes The Boom".





The Rock, Actor/WWE

As we (well, I) get older - it becomes increasingly important to find role models that prove aging is no excuse to let your fitness suffer. One of my goals is to be the best "older" version of myself - and one of the best examples of keeping fitness momentum is The Rock.

Even at age 40, The Rock looks better than he did at age 20.  2012 saw him relentlessly busy shooting movies like "Snitch", "Pain & Gain", and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation".  

He also made his much-anticipated return to WWE, appearing several times on Monday Night RAW and on pay-per-view events at Survivor Series, and  WrestleMania XXVIII in his collegiate home town of Miami.

"The People's Champion" trains like a madman, even on days packed with 10-12 hours of movie shooting and stunts.  

His diet is high carb (and standard high protein) to fuel his activity - eating up to seven meals each day with items like sweet potatoes, rice, oatmeal, chicken, fish, veggies (with each meal) and occasional steak and eggs.

His cheat meals were legendary (trust me, take a look...) as well, proving that you can enjoy yourself with treats every now and then provided you've earned it.

The Rock continued to prove in 2012 that getting older can also mean getting better.


Matt Chan, CrossFit

Continuing in the theme of proving that age doesn't have to be a limiting factor, Matt Chan (34 years old) became the oldest man ever to achieve a Top 3 finish at the CrossFit Games.

In a sport requiring both immense work capacity (15 events over 5 days) and recovery efficiency, being an older athlete can surely become an obstacle.  Most of Chan's fellow competitors fell in the 22-27 year age range. It's a simple fact that the human body is not capable of the same things at 34 as it used to be at age 24.

Matt Chan combats age limitations by being smarter and more strategic.  Many Games competitors train multiple times daily, Chan trains once each day focusing on making that workout longer and more intense to compensate.  He is also a possessor of advanced-level knowledge of nutrition and recovery tactics (ex: he spent 10-20 minutes on the rower after EVERY event to flush waste products and lactic acid out of his muscles to speed recovery).

Chan continues to inspire that whatever the body loses with age, the wisdom gained can help compensate and still allow a person to maintain a high level of fitness and performance.


Carrie Riggin, Fitness Writer/Consultant

One of the enjoyable parts of fitness is sharing what you know and learn with others, while hoping to directly inspire them to better habits healthier lifestyles.


Carrie manages a busy lifestyle balancing work, writing fitness columns, catering to NHL fans as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes' Storm Squad, but also continuing to find time to focus on herself and her own fitness.

"Regular people" need to find role models and examples that they can relate to, and between her columns, blog, and Instagram offerings Carrie keeps her fans motivated while showing them fitness can be fun. 






Lindsey Smith, CrossFit

Continuing the thread around not allowing the busyness of life to impede on your fitness schedule, Lindsey Smith balances family life at home (including a young daughter), plus a full-time job as Athletic Director at an all-girls school in Ohio and Level-1 CrossFit Seminar Staff instructor (which requires frequent travel). Her training schedule is built around balancing overall life, which necessitates workouts as early as before work in the mornings, or even close to 10pm at night.

She's also one of the fittest women alive, competing in the CrossFit Games in 2009, '10, '11, and again this past year in 2012.

Read, or watch (here and here) to learn more about how busy her schedule is - and it may cause each of us to hesitate before using how packed our schedules are as an excuse not to find time to train during the week. I know I personally feel put-in-check about blaming my schedule for missing workouts after learning about Lindsey Smith's dedication.



Thomas Davis, NFL Linebacker

As a Carolina Panthers' fan, I'm admitting my bias from the start.  With that said, any athlete who is able to overcome three consecutive torn ACL's on the same knee to regain his starting job in the NFL deserves placement on any list of inspiring athletes.

Thomas Davis proved in 2012 that sometimes, when everyone else says you should probably just quit - you don't have to listen.




Kortney Clemons & Tatyana McFadden, United States Paralympians

I had the opportunity to have dinner with Kortney Clemons and his family in Indianapolis prior to the U.S. Track & Field Paralympic Trials this spring.  Clemons is a sprinter who lost his leg serving as a combat medic in Iraq.

He won the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Track & Field National Championship, and was featured in the 2009 documentary Warrior Champions.

Tatyana McFadden is a two-time Chicago Marathon wheelchair winner, who won a gold medal in London this year in the Women's 400m T54 event. 

McFadden was born in Russia with an underdeveloped spinal column and sent to live in an orphanage. She spent the first six years of her life using her arms and hands to get around before being adopted by a U.S. family and brought to live in the States.

She began to participate in wheelchair athletics as a young girl, and progressed to winning Parlaympic medals (silver, bronze) in Athens (at age 15), Beijing, and her first gold in London this year. She was even nominated for an ESPY as Best Female Disabled Athlete.

To call the atmosphere at the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field Trials "inspiring" would be sadly ineffective. To watch men and women who have lost limbs serving our country, or battled disease or deformity their entire lives, but declined to make excuses and continue to work hard and compete was one of the most incredible sporting environments I've ever witnessed.

I bought a dry-fit t-shirt at the event to remind myself during workouts once in a while that no matter how tired I am, how sore my various "injuries" may be, I'm still truly blessed to be able to do the simple things like run and jump with both legs. We fall into traps of complaining about nagging injuries, but these Paralympic athletes fight through far worse conditions everyday and still show competitive spirit out on the track in their respective events.  It was an honor to watch Kortney, Tatyana, and the rest of the field compete that weekend.



Jenny LaBaw, CrossFit

Continuing in the spirit of overcoming obstacles, Jenny LaBaw is one of my favorite CrossFitters for that same reason.  Without question an elite athlete (finishing 6th in the world in the 2011 CrossFit Games), she also spent most of 2012 as a prime example of how to fight and overcome setbacks.

LaBaw battles epilepsy, and decided to open up to the public this year about her condition in this powerful video:

She qualified for the 2012 CrossFit Games, and got off to a solid start - placing 7th and 4th (out of 45 women) on the first two events, a triathlon and military-grade timed obstacle course.

Hard luck struck her two days later, as a pre-existing neck injury flared up, causing her to struggle through the next two events.  I was in the stands with the crowd that day as she missed the time cap for the morning event, featuring 400m runs, split snatches (an Olympic Lift for those of you about to Google it), and bar muscle ups.  

It was a tough scene watching such a skilled and inspiring athlete struggle so mightily that she was moved to tears.  For me, and others around me, moments like that "humanize" great athletes because it makes them a little more like us.

Eventually her neck injury would cause her to bow out of the 2012 CrossFit Games, but true to form she did not cause that to interrupt serving as a role model, as she met and inspired a 5-year old girl also dealing with epilepsy later that weekend.

Winning, setting PR's, and earning medals are great things - but sometimes athletes like Jenny LaBaw provide us with greater levels of inspiration with the things they power through and overcome than anything else. There's no doubt that she will be back in 2013.


Hopefully this small list is a solid reflection of just a few inspiring athletes and stories from this past year - and serves to help set the positive tone for 2013.



CrossFit Debut

If you've read this site for any reasonable amount of time, you've probably picked up on the series of references to CrossFit.  I've mentioned having several friends who are avid Crossfitters and have been gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) selling me on how much fun it would be to join them for a workout (or "WOD" in CrossFit vernacular).  Between my teaching schedule and work travels taking me out of town, finding the right day and time has been a battle for several months. 

Finally, this past Saturday the stars aligned correctly and I made the appointment to join my friends Howie, Jill, and Jenneane at their gym, CrossFit Charlotte for my first ever WOD. 

For background context, Howie (pictured above man-handling some Dead Lifts), Jill, Jenneane, and their brother Joe are all related and are part of the larger group I consider to be All-Star Alumni of my athletic conditioning classes.  We met there originally, and they have now graduated on to bigger and better things.  It may surprise people when they hear me applaud athletes and friends for "passing through" my classes at the Y onto new challenges after a few months, but that should be the goal of everyone who trains, to continually try new things and advance to new fitness levels.

 Anyways, after solidifying plans on Friday there was no backing out of joining them this time.  Most Crossfit gyms post the WOD (acronym for "Workout of the Day") the night before, so I was able to go to sleep with somewhat of an idea as to what I'd be in for.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have been training for several months in-preparation for this day.


As seen above, the WOD featured as many rounds as possible ("AMRAP") in 20 minutes of the following:

  • 5 Clean & Jerks (Prescribed weights: Men 135lbs, Women 95lbs)
  • 10 Pullups
  • 15 Overhead Lunges (Rx weights: Men 45lbs, Women 25lbs)

I mention the prescribed weights, because one aspect of CrossFit I was not aware is that the weights are all scaleable.  Not everyone in the gym is as diesel as Howie, so everyone could bump their weights down to whatever amount is managable for their body type or skill level.


I ended up finishing with 6 rounds plus 8 reps (5 Clean & Jerks, 3 Pullups) as the 20 minute period expired. I made quite a few beginner's mistakes, which I suppose is to be expected.  For one, I started the period with mis-matched weights on each end of the bar, which is inexcusable stupidity for someone who has been weightraining since they were 14 years old. My first few Clean & Jerks felt awkward and unbalanced, then after two rounds of constantly adjusting my grip and altering my foot stance, I realized I had a 25 on one side and a 35 on the other side.

My form in kipping pullups (according to the Coach) was good for a first-timer, but mid-way through the #CrossfitHands WOD once my shoulders and forearms began to tremble and burn, form went south. 

Beginner mistake #2 was not using enough hand chalk for grip.  I've never been the type of person who likes making the same mistake twice, so after ripping open both palms (see graphic photo) I'll probably be either using more tape, or investing in some of the hand grips that gymnasts use.

We finished the WOD by heading outside for 10 hill sprints, which as sadistic as this sounds, took me back to the memories of football conditioning, and was a fun way to end the morning (again, in the sadistic sense).

I've made my feelings about CrossFit fairly well-known on this site so I won't bore by repeating once again.  After finally taking my friends up on their invite however I truly do "get it" and see why so many people have been swept up by this fitness wave.  Obviously every gym is different, and each has their own "vibe", but the atmosphere at CrossFit Charlotte was great.  A tough, competitive atmosphere that definitely made you realize you were in for a battle, however everyone was encouraging and positive. 

There was also a big emphasis on form and teaching, which is another of the widely-held drawbacks of  CrossFit among the masses.  It's true that Olympic-style lifts can be dangerous for those with limited experience, so qualified teaching and coaching is an absolute mandatory.  The coaches at CF Charlotte took special attention to any of the "first timers" prior to the WOD.  

We also spent a solid amount of time on warm-up and joint mobility exercises beforehand, which anyone who takes my classes can attest that I emphasize as well. 

Howie, Jill, and Jenneane always joke that I will soon be drinking the "CrossFit Kool Aid"...(as soon as the raw skin on my palms heal) they might be right.

He's much calmer than during yesterday's WOD, but here's an old video introduction with Coach Andy Hendel of CrossFit Charlotte as he first opened the facility:


CrossFit Charlotte - 6th annual Fight Gone Bad

One of the regulars at my YMCA fitness classes told me he was competing in the CrossFit event, "Fight Gone Bad".  This was the 6th annual event, also serving as a fundraiser for three different charities, including the Wounded Warrior Project

I've written about CrossFit before, but as a reminder each workout has a unique name, often in-memoriam of fallen soldiers and servicemen and women.  "Fight Gone Bad" was designed to mimic the physical endurance demands of a mixed martial arts bout, featuring five minutes of work, one minute of recovery, over three rounds. "FGB" got its name after all-time great UFC fighter B.J. Penn undertook the workout one day, and described it afterwards as being much like "a fight gone bad".  The name stuck.

Here's a glimpse at the workout structure:

Three (3) rounds of:

  • Wall-ball, 20/14 pound ball, 10 foot target (Most reps) 
  • Sumo Deadlift High-pull, 75/55 pounds (Most reps)
  • Box Jump, 20" box (Most reps)
  • Push-press, 75/55 pounds (Most reps)
  • Row (Most Calories according to meter)

The weather was much cooler than a normal early September Saturday thanks to the cold front that came in yesterday, but the athletes toughed it out and I saw some tremendous performances. 

I had been debating taking a few breaks from my half-marathon endurance training (races in October and November) to add some Crossfit-style workouts.  Being in this atmosphere has definitely motivated me to get off the spin bike and put the running shoes away once in a while and not to forget mixing in a CrossFit-style workout.  I'll also be adapting the FGB workout for my YMCA classes, beginning next week.

Here's a sample video of "Fight Gone Bad":


Metro Dash Recap

Yesterday I competed in the Charlotte tour stop of the Metro Dash.  This is an event combining all the "fun" of CrossFit training, and mud runs (minus the mud).  The event features a giant obstacle course with elements like rope climbs, tire flips, wall climbs, monkey bars, and carrying lots of heavy implements like logs, medicine balls, and sledge hammers.

Ideally I would have rested and taken an early morning heat, however I was a guest instructor at a charity fundraiser boot camp in the morning.  I was able to get into a later 1:30pm heat (which can also be taken literally, as it was ridiculously hot).  The schedule meant I had about a two-hour window to cram fast-digesting carbs (rice cakes, bananas, Gatorade, Gu gel) into my system to replenish muscle glycogen.

When I arrived for check-in, I was immediately intimidated impressed by the apparent fitness level of the other competitors I saw.  Even the female competitors looked like they could pick me up by my feet and hold me over a balcony. As I sat in a shaded part of the stadium I definitely had a few voices going through my head wondering if I should even go through with this.  My training wasn't ideal leading up to the event (more on this later), however I felt far more prepared for this event than my horrible showing at the Duke Energy Stair Climb this past March.

My waiting time flew by quickly, and after a few last-minute trips to the water fountain, I downed a Gatorade Prime and another Gu gel and headed over to the holding tank for my heat to begin. 

I ended up finishing the course in 11:39 (unofficial) which certainly was not the best time of the afternoon, however mostly I felt good about the performance.  Overall, I was pleased with how I did, since there was no point during the course when I felt the challenge was so great that finishing was in-doubt.

My worst challenge was the first one out of the starting gate - the ladder climb.  One of the tough aspects of an event like this is that unless you have tried a Metro Dash before, you're bound to face an implement for the first time ever.  I had never climbed a rope ladder of this nature before, so after getting my foot caught for the third or fourth time, I just took my legs out and climbed it with upper body alone.

After the subsequent sled push, during the crawl through pipes I paused for a brief moment to catch my breath. My body definitely had its first "woah this is insane, we should have stayed home and watched TV" moment.

After that, I was able to largely push through the rest of the course.  (*note - the one other scary moment was nearly racking myself at the top of one of the wall climbs, which momentarily put my baby-making future in serious jeopardy.) As I said, I was not the fastest competitor there, but definitely came away encouraged enough to be a lock for next year's event if they return to Charlotte.

I would HIGHLY recommend this event to anyone who thinks they are close to having the necessary physical skillset.  Here are a few other scattered thoughts and points of analysis from Metro Dash:

 Train specifically for this event

Much like the Stair Climb events, this event requires event-specific training, or as reasonably close as one can accommodate. If considering an event like Metro Dash, the check list of training disciplines would be:

  • CrossFit
  • Rock or Wall Climbing
  • Bootcamp or Athletic Conditioning classes
  • Pull-ups & Dips (should be able to complete 8-10 reps)

Guys - if you like fit women, this is the place to be.


Sorry but it has to be said.  I've never before been in an atmosphere where 75% of the females in attendance were probably better athletes than me (and I ran college Track & Field for 2.5 years).  In all seriousness, ladies if you spend an hour on the elliptical or stairmaster everyday and think you are getting the most out of your fitness, the women of events like Metro Dash (and CrossFit) would encourage you to branch out a little more.


Get comfortable being "one of the worst"

That's a bit misleading, however I was serious about my earlier point regarding comparative fitness of the ladies group.  Among the men, I would safely put myself in the bottom 25% of overall performers - and I'm a former two-sport college athlete, and certified fitness trainer who works out 5-6 days each week with targeted dietary habits. As I said, I was happy with my performance, but was far from the top of the group.  And I left this event feeling even more motivated (in a positive sense) to attack my training and diet moving forward. 


This is a lesson to anyone who stands on the perimeter of a group fitness class feeling too intimidated to jump in, or skips past P90X or Insanity infomercials on TV because they know they're out-of-shape compared to what they are seeing.  Once in a while everyone should be in an atmosphere that challenges them to improve.  Even the best and the fittest of recreational athletes should challenge himself or herself in an environment where they look around and wonder if they can keep up with everyone else.  Leave your ego in the bag with your car keys and wallet, and go compete.  Chances are one or two of the "all-stars" might end up giving you some encouraging words or helpful tips along the way.  And you might find yourself hungry to come back for more.

As I said, an event like this requires total body fitness, which is why groups like the Navy Seals endorse this style of training.  I will definitely be signing up for the 2012 event, and highly recommend this event to anyone who may fit within the necessary fitness range.




Plyometric Bodyweight Drills

Often I get asked questions like "I don't want to join a gym, but what else can I do besides running?" or "How can I spice up my workouts without having access to equipment?"

I'm a big fan of plyometric bodyweight drills due to my time running track in high school and college. (note - I was not very good and probably lost 99% of my heats)  I use bodyweight plyos as warm-up drills for most of my fitness classes, and also as a form of Tabatas to get everyone's heart rate elevated and make them earn their trip to the water fountain.

Plyo drills are a great way to not only challenge your cardiovascular system, but build your explosive lower body power and fast-twitch muscle fibers.  These drills can be difficult to explain and are best demonstrated - so I've decided to use a pretty accomplished source as an example, IFBB Figure Pro Erin Stern.

Erin Stern is the 2010 Ms. Figure Olympia, and competed in the high jump and heptathlon at the University of Florida.  I'm always biased towards track & field athletes, and Erin Stern justifies my feelings with how well she hits each of these drills shown in the below videos.

Erin Stern is one example of why it takes a lot more than just "going for a jog" or reading a magazine on the StairMaster to achieve the sort of physique you can be proud of.