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Extreme Athletes

Three franchise execs play hard outside the boardroom, too


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All work and no exercise can make even the most dedicated franchise executive a bit crabby—not to mention flabby. Here are three very different ways hard-working fitness buffs have made extreme fitness a priority in their lives.

Kevin Ellis

Kevin Ellis crossing the line.

Taken by the water

Competitive open-water swimming wasn’t on Steven Davis’ bucket list. But it’s a natural progression from pool to ocean for an athletic, competitive person.

“As you go through life, you keep evolving how you work out,” the managing member for the Retail Investment Group in Scottsdale, Arizona, said. For years, Davis, who’s now in his 40s, played tennis and squash, but when you live in hot, dry Scottsdale, the thought of a cool pool is more attractive than just relief for joints that have experienced more than their fair share of strenuous use over the years.

Most outdoor pool owners are concerned with heating their pools, but in Arizona, pools in the summer have to be chilled down, not warmed up. But nothing compares to the icy reception one gets in the ocean. And once you’ve swum far enough out that the shore looks like a distant memory, “it’s like being in outer space,” Davis says. Depending on where you swim, there are rock outcroppings, strong currents, marine life, pelicans flying just above your head and water, water everywhere.

The open-water swimmer does a constant body check. The inner dialogue is along the lines of: “Did something just touch my foot? Can I get back” to shore? Davis says. Unlike running, swimming provides no opportunity to  turn around and walk home or hitch a ride if you’ve gone too far.

“Of course, sharks are an obvious assumption,” Davis says, adding that more people have died from being struck by lightning than eaten by sharks. Davis has never encountered a shark, but he has swum with dark, shiny, slippery animals that to his heart-racing relief turned out to be dolphins. Once, he remembers being particularly far from shore and noticing the dolphins were “closer to shore than me.”

“Your natural instinct is to get further out,” he says, which is not in your best interest, no matter how strong a swimmer you are. But swimming out beyond surfers: “It’s a very interesting perspective,” he adds.

Swimming may be the perfect sport for athletes who travel for work or vacation with kids. There’s usually water near resorts or hotels and the only gear needed is a cap, goggles and a swimsuit, he says.  Davis has participated in the open-water Statue of Liberty Swim in his hometown of NYC, as well as the International Surf Festival’s Pier-to-Pier Swim, from Hermosa Pier to Manhattan Beach Pier.

But one memorable experience illustrating the sportiness of swimming was last year in Ixtapa Mexico, when at 5 a.m. he came upon a lone baby sea turtle making its way to the ocean. A week earlier Davis watched as environmentalists staged a massive baby sea turtle release into the sea so the seagulls couldn’t pick them off before they reached safety. He watched over the solitary baby sea turtle until it, too, “got taken by the water.”

Steven Davis

Steven Davis, kids and Liberty.

Mind over what matters

The first time Kevin Ellis ran 55 miles in 13 hours, it was for fun. The second time it will be payback.

The vice president of small-business lending for Atlantic Coast Bank in Jacksonville, Florida, ran the ultramarathon in 2011 as a favor for a friend, who had organized it as a fund-raiser for Wolfson Children’s Hospital, a not-for-profit facility that treats children in the greater-Jackson area regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

“When I signed up to do the first ultra, it was all about me,” Ellis says. That was before he met the children who were patients and their grateful parents. “Then it became more than a notch in my belt.”

It was also before the staff at Wolfson saved his 7-year-old daughter’s life. Ellis says he and his wife thought they were taking Harper May into the clinic for the stomach flu. It turned out she had E. coli, which rapidly turned into hemolytic-uremic syndrome, which is as rare as it is deadly. Had she not been diagnosed so quickly—if there wasn’t a pediatric kidney specialist on staff at Wolfson—Ellis’ story may not have had such a happy ending.

“This year it’s going to mean a little more when I do the run,” he says. “It’s much bigger than a race.”

The fund-raiser is in February, but Ellis has started a 16-week training schedule of five days of running and two days of rest. Weekends are reserved for the long runs that start out at 90 minutes and become four to five hours closer to the event. It’s not the number of miles you log that counts, he points out: “Time on your feet is important.” So is getting on the road at 4 a.m., in order to have time to coach your daughter’s soccer game.

Running is mostly mental. “You can train your body to do anything, but getting your mind to go along” is the challenge, he says. Your mind is the “monkey on your back telling you to stop,” he adds. To keep going in this particular case is mind over what matters.

He’s lucky, he contends, because he enjoys the monotony of long runs. He doesn’t listen to music, instead he just lets his mind wander.

The key to staying injury-free, he says, is to build up to the long distances gradually. It also helps to listen to your body and practice yoga. “I like to swim for the all-over stretch,” he adds.

When running isn’t enough of a challenge, Ellis adds two more sports to the mix. He’s completed two Ironman competitions: a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon—in that order.

While time on your feet is important, the shoes on your feet are even more so. Ellis buys two pairs of shoes at a time. Good running shoes are generally serviceable for 300 to 400 miles, he says, adding, “I have a large collection of shoes that I can’t run in, but are good for lawn work.”

Running is his stress reliever. The self-discipline is also important in his work life. “You need a certain amount of intensity to take a client from Point A to Point B,” he says.

He may not be the fastest runner—“I finish when I finish,” he explains—but he’s fortunate to be wired for long distance. “Stuff doesn’t wear me down,” he says.

Kelly Rogers

Kelly Rogers, aka Obi Wanda

Queen of the Derby

Kelly Rogers’ alter ego became Obi Wanda after she spent the most romantic holiday of the year in the “suicide area,” watching a bout at the Lansing Derby Vixens’ Valentine Massacre.

Rogers, the new franchise development director for Two Men and a Truck, has always enjoyed pairing conventional (responsible job) with the outrageous—little black dress with puff sleeves, accessorized by“weird” tights and clunky boots with buckles.

“I fell in love with it,” she says of the roller derby. “There’s an element of danger. It’s rough...there’s speed.”

The 39-year-old mother of three didn’t become a fan; she signed up for boot camp. Her husband, she says, wasn’t convinced becoming a Lansing Derby Vixen was a good idea. Rogers, after all, is tiny—5’5” and “floats under 110 pounds.” She’s always worked out, so she is strong, but the average roller derby skater is more likely to be described as a “tall, big-boned woman” than as diminutive.

Today’s roller derby isn’t the same sport as it was in the ‘60s when throwing punches was legal. It’s still rough, but it’s played more as a sport than a show, Rogers says. Skaters still wear hot pants, but paired with jerseys and funky socks.

It’s rare in a sport to play both offense and defense, Rogers says, which is what makes this sport challenging. The women skate on a flat track and the object is to help your team’s “jammer” make it through the pack more often than the opposing team’s. After one time through the pack, the jammer earns points for each opposing player she passes. The Vixens are fortunate to have a personal trainer as a skater who provides them with off-skate workouts.

Before joining the team, Rogers had to demonstrate proficiency in 40 skills. To skate in a bout, team members have to make at least two of the three two-hour weekly practices. Rogers is on the “B” team and she’s out there to have fun. “It’s great exercise,” she points out. And it’s also social. “It’s a big, crazy family you inherit and you can never get rid of,” she says.

About 1,000 people show up to cheer for the team. Rogers, who is a self-described geek, chose Obi Wanda (a play on Obi-wan Kenobi, the Jedi master) as her skate name because she and her husband are Star Wars aficionados. “My number is R2D2,” she says, grinning.

Her character especially resonates with young boys who are also into Star Wars and routinely line up to ask her to sign their programs.

Roller Derby is not a cheap sport. In addition to buying your uniform—a bright green and pink jersey that’s belted so team members have something to propel themselves off of— there are elbow and knee pads, wrist guards, a hockey helmet, tights and/or knee socks and skates. Her Riedell skates alone cost $350.

After taking the job with Two Men and a Truck, Rogers placed herself on the inactive list. Not only does she not have the time for the practices, she can’t afford to break a bone—or worse—and not be able to travel for work. Fortunately, most of the bruises are covered by clothes. Derby skaters are taught to “pick a cheek” when falling on their butt, in order to avoid damaging the tailbone, she says.

In order to stay involved, she’s thinking about becoming a “skating referee” for the league. It’s a way to stay in shape, while lightening  her load, and the color of her bruises.

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