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Fantastically fit: 8 locals use free time to work out (a lot)

By Theoden Janes
tjanes@charlotteobserver.com

For most of us, work is mandatory. Working out? It’s optional.

But there are those among us – hidden in cubicles, in company cars, on conference calls – who have regular jobs, but find time before and after to work out. A lot. To work out, frankly, like it’s their job.

Today we’re featuring eight local professionals who spend their days in lines of work that have nothing to do with fitness, while using their mornings, nights and weekends to keep their bodies in extraordinary shape.

Jenny Leiser

32, Charlotte, forensic chemist for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department

Current fitness pastime: Triathlons.

Then: She swam as a high schooler and then on scholarship at the College of Charleston, but didn’t start running consistently until after graduation, and bought her first bike at a yard sale.

Now: In her first Ironman (in 2009), she qualified for the 2010 World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. A typical training week can consist of five hours of running, 12 hours of biking and seven miles in the pool.

2012 highlight: A breakthrough run at a Half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) in Augusta, Ga. “As a swimmer, I’ve never been much of a runner, and this year I’ve been working on my run a lot. There’s a lot of times where you’re questioning, ‘Why do I do this? Why do I put so much time into it?’ Seeing all that hard work pay off was the highlight, for sure.” Leiser completed all three legs in 4 hours and 36 minutes, the fastest non-pro time in the women’s field.

Quotable: “No matter how I feel or how much I don’t want to do a workout, I always feel better after I’ve done it.”

Wade Miller

32, Charlotte, co-owner of Bellamy Homes

Current fitness pastime: Mountaineering.

Then: He was involved with the Boy Scouts growing up, and participated in a two-week backpacking trip in New Mexico as an Eagle Scout that really opened his eyes to the outdoors.

Now: In 2011, he trained for the Chicago Marathon and a major climbing expedition at the same time. In addition to weight training, cardio workouts, hot yoga and running during the week, on any given weekend he can be found climbing Crowders Mountain, hiking in the Smoky Mountains, or kayaking on the Catawba River, among other adventures. He also thrives on biking, sailing, skiing, snorkeling and snowboarding.

2012 highlight: He was part of a 10-person group that climbed Aconcagua in Argentina; at 22,837 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Americas. He’s considering Mt. McKinley as his next big thing.

Quotable: “I’m motivated by big goals and interesting accomplishments. For instance, when we were on top of Aconcagua, we were the highest humans on earth at that moment, because it’s the highest mountain outside the Himalayas and nobody climbs the Himalayas that season. I just love the feeling of getting away from things and connecting with Mother Nature.”


Tim Caldwell

35, Cornelius, data acquisitions for Data Driven Safety in Davidson

Current fitness pastime: Basketball.

Then: He played throughout his youth and into college, but a car accident in December 2002 left the lower half of his body paralyzed. Since that near-death experience, “I have tried to knock out everything on my bucket list.”

Now: In the past 18 months, he’s competed in a bodybuilding competition, in swim meets, and did two sprint triathlons last spring. He started adaptive CrossFit this summer to improve his speed and agility on the court. This fall, he is player-coach for the Charlotte Rollin’ Bobcats wheelchair basketball program (it’s his sixth season with the elite team).

2012 highlight: Finishing his first triathlon.

Quotable: “If the accident taught me anything, it’s that life is short, so I just try to make the most of it. All those things that you think about doing ‘one day,’ you’d better do it now because you never know.”

Andrew Crater

34, Charlotte, marketing coordinator at Servpro of West Mecklenburg County

Current fitness pastime: Yoga.

Then: He decided at age 5 that he wanted to be a professional cyclist. A bike accident at 18 left him with a broken back, but rehab introduced him to yoga, which he says kept his mind and body healthy as he went on to a pro cycling career.

Now: Though no longer pro, he still races on the national circuit, while logging upward of 15 hours of yoga and meditation a week.

2012 highlight: Becoming a registered yoga instructor by completing a 200-hour training course, allowing him to teach (when he’s not at his day job) out of his backyard studio.

Quotable: “Fitness is a way to extend life. Not only in a sense of living long, but living long and living well. Yoga is profound because although it is really low impact, it makes you very strong – not only physically, but mentally.”

Joy Dry

38, Concord, office manager at RE/MAX Leading Edge in Concord

Current fitness pastime: Bodybuilding.

Then: Early in life, she had no interest in physical activity, but when she turned 30, she decided it was time to get in shape. She joined a gym, got on the treadmill, and started experimenting with weight machines.

Now: She rises at 4 a.m. three days a week to teach a boot camp class, and hits the gym at 7:30 a.m. five to six days a week to do her own heavy lifting.

2012 highlight: Winning her division at the Stewart Fitness Bodybuilding Championships in Myrtle Beach.

Quotable: “A lot of people (starting out) fear going into that gym and being around people who are already in shape. Well, they had to start somewhere, too. So day by day, just set small goals: ‘I’m going to work out three times this week,’ or ‘I’m going to eat healthy today.’ Those successes add up.”

Andrea Hilderbrand

40, Charlotte, stage manager for NASCAR on ESPN

Current fitness pastime: Mountain biking.

Then: Played basketball, softball and ran cross country in high school, then continued with softball and cross country at Pfeiffer University.

Now: Though she suffers from hemochromatosis (also known as iron overload), she seems unstoppable: In addition to being bike-crazy, she is a runner, a CrossFit enthusiast, an avid mountaineer (she summitted 19,347-foot Cotopaxi in Ecuador in 2011), and a competitive shooter.

2012 highlight: In an eight-day span, she completed a 13-kilometer trail race; her first triathlon; a 15K trail race, during which she blew out her knee; and – while injured – a 63-mile off-road bike race featuring 11,000 feet of elevation change.

Quotable: “I may not be the fastest or the strongest, but I’ll never give up. I never enter an event with anything more than the goal of just participating and finishing. … At the end of the day, it has to be fun.”

Sonna Hughes

51, Charlotte, controller at American City Business Journals

Current fitness pastime: CrossFit and yoga.

Then: Her father forbade sports when she was growing up because “he thought it was a tomboy thing.” In her 20s, she couldn’t swim two lengths of the pool or run around the block without stopping.

Now: She does handstand pushups, high box jumps, unassisted pullups, two-story rope climbs, and other “things I never thought possible” at 51 (or any other age).

2012 highlight: Beating her 2011 times in four triathlons and two duathlons despite focusing on CrossFit and cutting back on triathlon training. In both duathlons, she was the third-fastest woman; her triathlon finishes qualified her for the USA Triathlon National Championships.

Quotable: “I found out three years ago that I have genetic heart disease. My sister’s had heart attacks, my parents both died of heart failure. I just want to have a good life, where I don’t have to be on meds.”

Benny Smith

45, Charlotte, external communications manager for Delhaize America

Current fitness pastime: Bodybuilding.

Then: Though he dreamed of being a bodybuilder as a kid, “growing up, I was always the skinny nerd with the big glasses – 140-something pounds, 5-10.” When he moved to Charlotte in 2004, after decades of putting it off, he started lifting weights.

Now: He works out at least five days a week. In addition to weights, he does CrossFit and cardio – both formally and informally (he always takes the steps to his fifth-floor office). His body is chiseled, just like those guys he used to idolize.

2012 highlight: Placing seventh in his division at the National Physique Committee Masters National Championships.

Quotable: “Don’t say, ‘Well, I’m gonna start the first of the year.’ Go ahead and just start. Even if you think you’re too overweight or you don’t look great going to the gym, it’s not about a fashion show. It’s about you being mobile.”

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