A physical condition

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nate Williamson and Hugh Cornick work on grappling techniques while working out in the basement of Andrew Lenway’s home Wednesday afternoon. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

As summer flares up, more and more people are scoping out ways to stay active. But exercise is a demanding commitment, and if it doesn’t catch your interest, it’s bound to go by the wayside. Why not try something new to keep the summer slump from hitting your workout routine?

Austin residents are embracing a few unique exercise methods to keep themselves fit. Whether their physical conditioning leads them to a wrestling mat, an 85 degree room or an obstacle-ridden mud course, the goal is the same: Stay sweating during the summer months.

The toughest test of one’s self

•Mixed martial arts pushes participants to breaking point, every day

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Nate Williamson trains with Hugh Cornick in the basement of Andrew Lenway's home Wednesday afternoon. The trio are part of a group that trains in Lenway's home for competition in the world of mixed martial arts fighting. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Just minutes back into the hobby he left for several years, Hugh Cornick was a wreck, breathless and hopelessly clawing for a puke bucket.

He could have just as easily jumped on a treadmill or stair climber; instead, he decided to punish himself.

“I just want to get in shape,” the former fighter and 38-year-old from Albert Lea said about joining guys nearly half his age who can push him to the breaking point. That was just two weeks ago. Now Cornick can manage to keep the contents in his stomach and breathe a little easier. Cornick, who has a karate background, re-joined a community that trains harder in a few hours than most people do in a week: They’re mixed martial artists. It simply took the dark, cramped confines of a basement, a wrestling mat and a few others who share his passion to get Cornick back into shape. And toughness. Lots of it.

“This is about as tough as you can get,” said Nate Williamson, a 21-year-old Austin man who got kicked out of high school wrestling years ago. “I’ve been in just about every single sport, and this is pretty much the hardest.”

Williamson, Thomas Herrera, 20, and several others from the area occasionally train in 28-year-old Andrew Lenway’s basement, where Cornick rediscovered himself, or so to speak. But that’s only one training ground, however. The training itself is not occasional. Williamson and Herrera train from four to six hours a day, six days a week, which includes heavy lifting, explosive lifting, Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai boxing and running — as much as 8 miles a day. They drive to Rochester almost every day to train with world-class Jiu Jitsu instructor Mario Roberto.

“By far the best Jiu Jitsu academy around,” Herrera said. “That’s my unbiased choice.”

Williamson is in the best shape of his life, he said, and any MMA fighter would understand that clearly isn’t good enough.

“You learn you always, always got to get better,” Williamson said. “You can’t get to a point where you are the best; it’s impossible. You have to keep working and keep working.”

Herrera, who comes from a wrestling background, would agree with that statement. Herrera trains as hard as he can because a fight that lasts all three rounds is even tougher.

“If I ever fight and it ends up going to a decision — despite the six-hour training days — I would say the nine minutes in that one fight is 10 times harder than one of my hardest training days. “You’re giving it everything you’ve got. It’s all being cashed in on this nine minutes. There isn’t anything left behind. At the end, you just feel like you’re almost reborn.”

Williamson and Herrera take fighting very seriously. They each have a half-dozen fights under their belts and aren’t just fighting for the local bragging rights. They want more.

“I want to take it all the way,” Herrera said. “I love the sport a lot, and I go up to Rochester about every day and train with a Jiu Jitsu black belt.”

Fighting is not for everyone, but anyone can do the training. And when both Herrera’s and Williamson’s fighting careers are done, they still plan to stick around the sport.

“I love training other people, and I love when people train me,” Williamson said. “You don’t have to be the best fighter to train other people.”

Herrera added, “It’s great exercise, and there is no age limit.”

And MMA is more to many than just beating the guy on the other side of the cage. It’s about self discipline, accomplishment, dedication and personal satisfaction. To Herrera and Williamson, it’s the ultimate test of one’s self.

“You can be in football; you can be in soccer and be on all these team sports and be involved in a team effort,” Herrera said. “But training for three months, training six hours a day … win or lose, you know it’s all on you.”

 Yearning for Yoga

•Yoga melds mind and body


Yoga instructor Lindsey Kepper takes students through her warrior yoga class Thursday at the YMCA. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

It’s no stretch to say Lindsey Kepper is a yoga fanatic. Kepper first discovered yoga, the ancient practice of exercise and meditation, in 2002 just as she suffered from chronic neck pain.

Despite numerous neck surgeries, Kepper couldn’t ease the pain in her neck until she discovered yoga.

“It’s been the only therapy, and I’ve spent lots of money on therapy, but it’s been the only thing that worked,” she said. “Yoga is the only thing that makes me feel better, and makes me feel healthy.”

That’s why she became a yoga instructor in 2007, so she could share her passion with others. Kepper is a registered yoga teacher with more than 420 hours of training through the National Yoga Alliance. She also carries a master’s degree in Public Health. She moved to Austin from the Twin Cities area in January, and soon found businesses willing to host her classes.

She teaches vinyasa, a type of yoga emphasizing breathing and the transition between poses. Kepper also teaches heated yoga, which is gaining national popularity. Heated yoga is done in a room set to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which helps people stretch easier and supposedly burns fat more effectively.

“It’s very different than doing yoga in a regular room,” said Jennie Germain, Paramount Theatre executive director. Germain has been a yoga fanatic since 2000, and tries to go at least once a week to Kepper’s classes.

“Because your body’s warm, it’s a lot easier to get into the poses. It kind of makes the experience a lot more intensive, because it’s really hot,” Germain said.

Kepper hopes to do even more heated yoga soon. Though she currently teaches heated yoga at Essential Life Spa and Warrior Yoga Mix at the YMCA in Austin every Thursday and Friday, she will open the Yoga Studio of Austin this week at 401 N. Main Street, Suite 202. Classes will start Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and Kepper hopes to offer Hot Yoga, which takes place in a room heated up to 106 degrees. Kepper is also teaching community yoga at the Paramount at 5:30 p.m. every Sunday throughout the summer as well, though participants need to bring their own yoga mat.

That’s just fine for Kepper and the growing number of yoga enthusiasts [called yogis] in the area. Kepper found a large audience for her classes, and she believes a yoga studio in town will help people get healthier and happier.

“I live for yoga, and I want to share it with everyone,” she said.

 Tough Mudder a spiritual, physical challenge

Ben “Ghost” Bunnell, left, and Cody “Dirt Bag” Klein, two members of Team Uppercut, jog to the next obstacle during the May 19 Tough Mudder race in Somerset, Wis. - Photo provided

•Race about working together

Pastor Aaron Broberg of Cornerstone Church wanted to gear his church group toward a physical challenge.

“I’d like to do a physical fitness group,” he said to himself. “What’s good for the spirit is also good for the body.”

He heard about the Tough Mudder from a youth pastor at the church and decided to get involved in the Twin Cities’ event, which was held in Somerset, Wis., this year. The race featured a 12-mile hike interspersed with a series of obstacles that include climbing, balancing and jumping. Participants had to navigate through mud, fire, ice-water and 10,000 volts of electricity.

While athletes challenge themselves with individual tasks like marathons and aim to clock their best times, Broberg said that wasn’t point with the Tough Mudder.

“It’s more about camaraderie and working together to accomplish a task,” he said, adding there was a parallel to the group’s spiritual side. They worked together in church in much the same way.

They quickly amassed a group of 15, as as they started training, they developed their unique roles on the team—and their nicknames.

“I’m a nickname kind of guy,” Broberg said. “All of them have some sort of meaning that came during training time.”

Broberg was a leader of Team Uppercut, and went by “Team Captain.” Kelly “Sea Bass” Nesvold and Bryce “19%” Becker also helped lead the team, and several other guys slowly rose to leadership roles as training progressed, Broberg said.

The team started training at the end of January, and continued all the way through May. Most of the team’s members were in their mid 20s to mid 30s, and “average athletes” at the time training began.

That didn’t last long. Team Uppercut quickly got in good shape. Broberg said every man on the team lost 10 to 15 pounds and gained several pounds of muscle.

“It was as hard as you’re willing to push yourself,” he said. “Everybody moved forward.” One man, who had been training since fall and joined the group when they started, had dropped 45 pounds by the end of training.

For Broberg, the most challenging part of training was to stick to the rigorous exercise schedule.

“The self-discipline to continue working out when you have those days when you’re just really tired,” he said.

The team relied on camaraderie to keep everyone going, especially during early morning runs.

“We had runs where guys didn’t show up,” he said. The group would run to their houses to urge them to get up and come along.

By the time of the Tough Mudder itself on May 19, the team was a close-knit group. During the race, Broberg said three different levels of aggressiveness form, each with between three and seven people. Everybody on the team finished the race. The fastest completed it in two hours and 15 minutes, and the final participant on the team finished at three hours and 45 minutes.

“I think everybody did great,” he said.

The group is already considering what to look toward for the fall. They will discuss some of their options later this month, which range from trail runs, mud races and obstacle courses.

Even after the event, Broberg said training was the best part. After spending six hours a week pushing each other toward better physical fitness, the men on the team had developed close friendships. Some have kept the training going to this day, he said.

“I was surprised by the power of the team.”

For more information on Team Uppercut or videos of its intensive training regiment, visit www.teamuppercut.com.

 —Stories by Matt Peterson, Kevin Coss and Trey Mewes