Secrets Of The Super Fit

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! OK, well maybe these super athletes can’t perform those superhuman feats, but their athletic prowess will certainly impress and inspire you. Ocala Style recently visited with an elite group of local extreme competitors in hopes of snaring a few of their secrets to pass on to you.

The Bodybuilder
Erin Stern

Bodybuilding just for the sake of muscle bulk doesn’t interest Erin Stern. No, Erin, who captured the 2010 Miss Figure Olympia national title, prefers welding form with function.

“What I do and promote is functional strength training,” says Erin, 30, who is a walking advertisement for what she preaches. “The focus is on balance and stabilization, building strength to apply to everyday movements and needs.”

Photo by John Jernigan

Naturally athletic and always competitive, Erin is an accomplished horsewoman and was a Jr. All-American high school high jumper. It was while she was a University of Florida track star that Erin first encountered strength training.

“You need explosive strength for high jumping, so my coaches suggested I do some strength training in the gym to increase mine,” recalls Erin. “That’s when I first learned how important being strong was.”

Having made that connection, there was no looking back for Erin. She parlayed her newfound strength into becoming the first Lady Gator to compete in the pentathlon, which consists of five track events. Erin also competed in the seven-event heptathlon, and she still has three outdoor high-jump performances on UF’s All-Time Top 10 lists. After graduating from UF with a degree in environmental policy and going into the real estate business, Erin continued to strength train.

In 2007, she joined the U.S. Track and Field amateur team and began high jumping again with a goal of qualifying for the Olympic Track & Field Trials. Erin jumped 5 feet-11 inches in 2010, just missing the Olympic Trials by an inch. But she’s already back in training for the 2011 season with, pardon the pun, high hopes in the high jump.

When Erin closed her Ocala-based Extra Mile Realty in mid-2008, gym friends suggested she go into competitive figure bodybuilding. Erin took to it like she was born with rock-hard six-pack abs. In only her third figure competition as an amateur, she won the 2008 National Physique Committee’s Nationals and earned her International Federation Body Building pro card in November of that year.

“It was surreal how quickly everything happened,” says Erin, who signed with Fitness Management Group and was named the 2009 FLEX Rookie of the Year. “But I’m loving every minute of it.”

Erin, who has been featured on the cover of Oxygen magazine, adheres to a consistent workout and nutrition regime. She strength trains five to six days a week in hour-long sessions, using free weights and machines to focus on one body part a day. She also takes 45-minute brisk walks three times a week. During track season from January to July, Erin will add in sprint workouts. Four to six weeks prior to a figure competition, she’ll ramp up her gym work to two sessions a day. And good nutrition plays a key role in her fitness program.

“My diet is based on whole natural foods. I pack a cooler every day of lean protein like grilled chicken or bison, as well as fresh fruits and veggies,” says Erin, who works out at Ocala’s All Pro Fitness. “I eat six meals a day of about 300 calories each. My snacks are fruit, hardboiled eggs and rice cakes. And I drink lots of water, at least a gallon a day. Being fit, strong and healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be simple and fun, too.”

Erin’s TOP TIP:

“Make yourself accountable by writing down your main fitness goal. Then share that with your personal trainer or a workout buddy. It helps to break your main goal down into smaller attainable goals to get you from point A to point B. Take pictures at day 1, day 14, day 30 to help you see how you’re progressing.”

The Cyclist
Ryan Woodall

As far as champions go, Ryan Woodall is rather unassuming. Think Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent. Having acknowledged that he is indeed a five-time state mountain bike champion, Ryan modestly adds later that, oh, yeah, he’s also a two-time Southeastern regional champion.

For the record, Ryan captured the USA Cycling Florida State Pro Men’s championship titles in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. In 2006 and 2009, Ryan claimed USA Cycling’s Southeastern Regional Pro Men’s championship title.

Photo by John Jernigan

USA Cycling is this country’s official governing body for all disciplines of competitive cycling, including road and mountain biking. In addition to the state and regional competitions during the fall season, USA Cycling also hosts the summer season’s Pro Mountain Bike Cross Country Tour. Ryan has competed in those national events as well, notching two Top 10 finishes in 2010.

And all of this success began with Ryan, his brother Regan, and his father, Cullie, chasing each other through the woods.

“My family was very competitive in motocross sports,” says Ryan, 25. “Then a friend told us about the mountain bike trails at Santos and we decided to check them out. I was 13 at the time and it just clicked with us right away. Next thing we knew we were on bikes, chasing each other through the woods.”

Soon the chasing turned to competition and Ryan quickly excelled, snagging his first state championship in the Junior (ages 11-14) division in 1999. He moved seamlessly into the Pro Elite level, scoring in 2005 his first of five state championships to date.

“I love the competition and the camaraderie within the sport,” says Ryan, whose brother Regan is also a competitive pro division mountain biker. “But I want to compete at my best in every race, so I put in the hours of training that it takes. You have to have the dedication to do well.”

For Ryan, off-season training involves gym work with a focus on leg exercises to primarily build quadriceps strength. He also does weight work to strengthen his forearms.

“Because of the way you have to ride the bike, almost upright, you need to have strong quads and forearms,” says Ryan, who works at Brick City Bikes. “Strong legs keep you on the bike. Strong forearms help with the maneuvering up and down and around.”

During the Florida fall racing season, it’s all about bike time. Ryan says he’s “on the bike almost every day either for one-hour easy rides or three-hour all-out ones.” While his focus is on mountain biking, he does do some road bike training and racing “to help with basic strength and speed.” Ryan has two mountain bikes and one road bike.

The races held across the state can vary from 20-35 miles and sometimes there are more than one a weekend. Points are awarded according to the finish in each event leading to the season finale championships in respective divisions.

Ryan, who mentors young mountain bikers, does have an ultimate goal in his sport.

“I hope to be picked up by a national pro biking team,” he says. “It would be great to be able to make a living doing what I love.”

Ryan’s TOP TIP:

“Buy the best bike you can afford. You can get a good mountain bike for around $500. Shop around at the local bike shops, talk to experienced riders and get matched up with the best bike for you. Then go out to the bike trails and start out on the beginner’s trails. Most of all, have fun!”

The Martial Artist
Joanna Maxwell

If you need a good swift kick in the you-know-what to start a fitness program, Joanna Maxwell may just be the woman for the job. As a two-time songahm taekwondo world champion, Maxwell delivers a pretty potent kick.

Need proof? In 2007 and 2009, Joanna won songahm taekwondo world championship titles in the women’s sparring 50-59 age division. In 2010, after winning the Florida state championship in sparring and weapons, she was the runner-up in a sudden victory match at the world championships. Governed by the American Taekwondo Association, the world championships are held every June in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Photo by John Jernigan

“As a martial arts, taekwondo is about more than just punching and kicking,” says Joanna, 56, who has been involved in the sport for a little more than a decade. “Songahm taekwondo is about the development of the mind and the body. You have to have both inner and outer strength to become a whole person.”

Taekwondo traces back to an ancient Korean martial arts known as t’aekyon. The contemporary taekwondo term is a blending of Chinese and Korean words, which loosely translate to “The Way of the Hand and Foot.” The songahm form of taekwondo, which focuses on a non-aggressive and ethical system of self-defense, only came into being two decades ago.

In an ironic twist of fate, Joanna actually graduated from high school while living in Korea. But she admits she didn’t get introduced to the martial arts discipline there.

“My father was in the Air Force, so we traveled a lot and I grew up on military bases,” says Joanna, who adds with a laugh, “but when I was in Korea, I wasn’t into taekwondo. I was into GIs.”

Many years later after settling in Ocala, Joanna became involved with taekwondo through her brother Chuck Franz and his kids, who were taking classes. Then her son Alex also became interested and soon Joanna was spending a lot of time watching taekwondo.

“I had been looking for something to get myself in better shape,” says Joanna, who has had multiple careers in horse farm management, security and mortgage lending. “I thought taekwondo was something I could do physically and I liked the mental discipline aspect of it, too.”

In 2000 and at the age of 45, Joanna began her commitment to songahm taekwondo. She moved through the nine-levels of color belts, earning her black belt in 2002. In 2006, she became a nationally certified instructor and in 2008 opened ATA Martial Arts of Ocala.

“I’m proof that taekwondo is for anyone who makes the commitment,” says Joanna, who has been married to her husband, Barry, for 31 years. “We have students from four years old to 77, boys and girls, men and women. We had five state champions and seven championships in 2010 come from our gym.”

Six days a week, Joanna incorporates training and teaching into her classes. The adult classes begin with “a boot camp-style, full-body warm-up.” Core strength is emphasized because “there is a lot of balance involved in taekwondo.”The three disciplines of form, sparring and weapons are taught. During the competition season, at least one tournament a month is entered with a focus on the Southeast region. Points are accumulated during the season, which culminates with the June world championships in Little Rock.

“It’s a lot of work, but we don’t sell black belts,” says Joanna. “They have to be earned.”


“Songahm taekwondo involves total commitment to mind and body fitness. And if you make that commitment, you will be rewarded by becoming a stronger whole person.”

The Speed Skater
Joey Mantia

Joey Mantia has a need for speed—the kind of speed that has earned him 28 gold medals from seven inline speed skating world championships. Add to that a substantial cache of silvers and bronzes and a long list of speed-skating records. As a member of Team USA, Joey came away with two golds, two silvers and one bronze at the 2010 World Roller Speed Skating Championships in Colombia, South America.

“Colombia is like the inline speed skating capital of the world,” says Joey, 24, who graduated from Vanguard High School. “Soccer is still the number-one sport there, but speed skating is right behind it. It’s always a great experience when I go to Colombia.”

Photo by Ron Baltazar

Joey doesn’t remember a time he wasn’t crazy about speed skating. His father, Joe Mantia, signed him up for speed skating classes at Ocala’s Skate Mania when he was just nine. In short order, Joey was winning competitions at state, national, international and world levels. Thanks to his sport, Joey has traveled the globe with stops in such places as Germany, Korea, Holland, Belgium, China, Italy and Venezuela. And he was always taking home some precious metal and numerous titles wherever he competed.

These days when he isn’t traveling, Joey lives on the U.S. Olympic Training Center campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He also rents a house in Salt Lake City, Utah, to take advantage of the ice tracks training facility there in anticipation of soon switching to that surface.

“It’s wonderful to be able to use the great facilities at the U.S. Training Center,” says Joey. “It has one of only three banked speed skating tracks in the country.”

The inline speed skating season is nearly a year-round affair and to get through it, Joey has to be in superb physical condition. When he isn’t skating, he does some road biking for cross-training and “to cool down and stretch my legs.”

Another component of his fitness program incorporates what Joey describes as “dry lands work.” This involves plyometric and isometric exercises “to build the explosive power that speed skaters need.” Joey says that “endurance is the hardest to get and the first to go,” which is why there are many more sprinters than long-distance skaters in the sport.

After becoming lactose intolerant a few years ago, Joey was advised by a doctor to eliminate dairy from his diet and try a simpler way of eating.

“I starting eating a clean diet of no dairy and no processed foods,” he says. “I focused on fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Within three months, I felt much better and I’ve stuck to that way of eating.”

Having achieved so much in the sport that he is passionate about, Joey is now giving back. He puts on two-day skating camps for beginners to advanced skaters. He’s also involved with the National Speedskating Circuit, which was founded by multiple national inline speed skating champion Miguel Jose. The NSC, which hosted its first season in 2010, was created to bring inline speed skating into the professional mainstream of American sports.

“I think it’s so important to give back to the sport,” says Joey. “I’m very grateful that when I was coming up in the sport, the more experienced skaters mentored me. So now it’s my turn to give back.”

Joey’s plans for the future include competing for one more year in inline skating and collecting more world championship gold. Then he’s going to turn his attention to speed skating on the ice with a major goal in mind—the 2012 Winter Olympics.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished just about everything I can in inline speed skating,” says Joey. “Competing in the Olympics is my next challenge.”

Joey’s TOP TIP:

“The great thing about inline skating is that you can do it almost anywhere. It’s a relatively low-impact sport, so that makes it one of the healthiest, too. You can buy a decent pair of roller skates at any sports store for $150-$200 and, of course, for safety you should also get a good helmet.”

The Swimmer
Brian Kuhn

At 42, Brian Kuhn went through a midlife fitness crisis. Two years later, he had impressively resolved it, qualifying for both the FINA World Masters Swimming Championship in Sweden and the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last year.

“Considering that I hadn’t been a competitive swimmer in 20 years and had never done triathlons before,” says Brian, “those two accomplishments came as a surprise. Nice surprises, though.”

Photo by John Jernigan

In the pool since he was eight, Brian was an elite swimmer on the Forest High School swim team. But after high school graduation, he got busy with other things in his life. He briefly started swimming again in his mid-20s, then stopped again, this time for almost two decades.

“I got married, started my business, had kids, got divorced,” says Brian, 44, who has owned Evolutions hair salon on Fort King Street for 15 years. “By the time I was in my 40s, I realized I needed to make some lifestyle changes. I needed to make time to get fit and healthy again.”

The first thing that Brian did was jump in the pool at the YMCA. He regained his swimming fitness quickly and his competitive nature with it. He formed a U.S. Masters swim team, dubbed the Woo Masters, which started competing at swim meets. When someone suggested he try triathlons, Brian was up to the challenge. Through swimming, biking and running, he was soon 25 pounds lighter and fitter than he’d ever been in his life.

Brian entered a qualifying swim meet in St. Petersburg for the World Masters Championship. Surprise #1: He finished in the top three in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke in his 40-44 age group, qualifying for the World Masters Championship that summer in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Next up Brian entered the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, a USA Triathlon sanctioned event, on April 29, 2010. More than 4,000 athletes competed to qualify for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. To qualify, an athlete had to finish in the top third of his or her age group. Brian completed the one-mile swim, the 24.9-mile bike event and the 6.2 mile run in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 52 seconds. Then came Surprise #2.

“A couple of days later, I’m going through the St. Anthony results and realize that I had qualified for the national championships,” says Brian, who could easily pass for a surfer with his sun-streaked blond hair and laid-back attitude. “With two championships to choose from, I decided to do the triathlon championships.”

In Tuscaloosa on September 25, running and biking over terrain that Brian found surprisingly hilly and swimming in a big, deep river, he finished in a respectable 2:38:39. His next challenge is to compete in Ironman triathlons.

Brian’s training schedule includes being in the pool at 5:30am Monday through Friday. During the week, he mixes in biking or a spinning class two or three times after a swim and running four miles a day. On Saturday mornings at 6am, a group of runners known as the Social 8 meet at the YMCA and run the eight miles to the Downtown Square. Once a week, Brian usually does his own personal triathlon.

“Now I’m probably a little more extreme and competitive than most people,” says Brian, who follows a diet of lean protein, vegetables and fruits. “But everyone can make time to be fit and healthy. That’s the key—you have to make the time.”

Brian’s TOP TIP:

“Don’t be scared to start a fitness program. Pick an activity you like, whether it’s swimming, biking or running, and start back slowly. Then as you progress, challenge yourself and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.”

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