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Meet the fittest man and woman in Austin

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Greg Cook and Judy McElroy in Austin Fit Magazine
Greg Cook and Judy McElroy were recently named two of Austin's fittest people. Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons/Austin Fit Magazine
Judy McElroy in Austin Fit Magazine
Judy McElroy competed in the CrossFit South Central Regionals just two weeks before being named one of Austin's fittest people.  Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons/Austin Fit Magazine
Greg Cook in Austin Fit Magazine
Greg Cook, a personal trainer at Pure Austin, regularly flexes his mental muscles by playing chess.  Photo by Brian Fitzsimmons/Austin Fit Magazine
Greg Cook and Judy McElroy in Austin Fit Magazine
Judy McElroy in Austin Fit Magazine
Greg Cook in Austin Fit Magazine

Editor's note: Each month, CultureMap features an exclusive story from Austin Fit Magazine. This month, the magazine introduces you to the 10 fittest men and women in Austin. The August issue is on newsstands now.

Overall Female Winner/Women’s 30s Winner: Judy McElroy
It’s hard enough to defend your title when there are dozens of others who are hungry to take it from you, but add to that the fatigue of having recently competed in another physically demanding event, and you can understand what Judy McElroy was facing going into AFM Fittest 2013.

 “You can have all of the talent in the world but underachieve because you don’t have the right people to nurture your talent,” said Judy McElroy.

“The CrossFit South Central Regionals just wrapped up two weeks before this event, and the last thing I wanted to do was run,” she admitted. “I gave myself a pep talk and did what I could. Just like everyone else, I didn’t feel ready. But showing up, and doing your best at the moment, puts you in the best place for next time.”

McElroy’s pep talk was clearly effective: She was able to hold on to her Overall Fittest title, despite the increased number of female competitors this year.

In discussing her training strategy coming into this year’s contest, McElroy explained, “Earlier this year I declared that, ‘[2013] is the year that the athlete I presently am and the athlete I ought to be will meet.’”

For McElroy, that meeting in the middle meant enlisting the help of coaches. “You can have all of the talent in the world but underachieve because you don’t have the right people to nurture your talent,” she explained.

“I have done some good things in my life but have spent most of it in a state of unlimited potential. What does that mean? It means that I was good at a lot of things, and people were impressed ... but I could never reach peak performance. You will never find a great athlete who coaches himself to greatness.”

With the help of her coaching team — which includes former Level 1 and Level 2 USA Track and Field Coach Aaron Davis, Wes Kimball of CrossFit Austin, and Olympian and National Champion weightlifter Chad Vaughn — McElroy began participating in CrossFit competitions at the end of 2012 and was competing at an elite level after only a few months.

“The focus is on becoming a better athlete, not just better at CrossFit or deadlifting,” she said. “With the great coaching, and all the great athletes in Austin, I have lots of people to learn from.”

McElroy noted that she did not train for specific events of the AFM Fittest; rather, she used the event as an assessment of her physical fitness.

“There are a lot of different events, and I have to remind myself that I will do better in some and worse in others,” she explained. “Some people look at the scores and immediately announce that they could jump farther or run faster. That is not what this event measures.”

McElroy has a message for those who are considering entering the AFM Fittest next year (or even for those who are just contemplating becoming more active): “Your life is now or never. Every one of us possesses unfathomable strength and ability, but we rarely call on our tremendous mental and physical resources. They demand to be stretched, exercised, and challenged, and there is nothing better than athletic competition.”— Courtenay Verret

Overall Male Winner/Men’s 20s Winner: Greg Cook
If you had won the Overall category of the AFM Fittest last year, you might have felt a bit self-satisfied and ready to move on to the next challenge. For Greg Cook, however, his 2012 results were merely a benchmark for what he wanted to build on in 2013.

 Greg Cook is not only a physical powerhouse in the gym; he also regularly flexes his mental muscles by playing chess.

“Coming into this year, I wanted to improve upon my weaknesses from last year,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t really train for the mile at all. I used some of my other training to work on aerobic conditioning but didn’t do any running over a quarter of a mile. This year, I started running to work and adding 1-mile runs to the end of my workouts.”

The 25-year-old personal trainer at Pure Austin knew that this year he’d be facing a large contingent of men who would be eager to steal his title. Rather than stress about his competition, however, Cook’s strategy was to focus on himself.

“I was determined to focus primarily on my own training,” he asserted. “I wanted to perform as well as possible, and if someone was able to beat me, then they would deserve it.”

This “win big, lose small” strategy paid off, enabling him to defend his title as the fittest man in Austin. Not even the Mystery Tests could throw him off his game; in fact, Cook noted that he had suspected one of the tests would involve balance.

“Last year [the AFM Fittest] tested all of the aspects of fitness except for balance. So I had a feeling that one of the Mystery Tests would involve balance, but I couldn’t think of any way to make it testable that would give any meaningful rankings.” The Interval Run was Cook’s favorite test, for its combination of speed, endurance, and change of direction.

Cook is not only a physical powerhouse in the gym; he also regularly flexes his mental muscles by playing chess.

Yes, chess. As in the game.

A few years ago, during a four-and-a-half-month backpacking trip across the world, Cook picked up the game from his friend, who taught him how to play on the life-sized chess sets they would periodically encounter. Cook enjoyed it so much that he ultimately purchased his own travel chess set in Budapest so that he and his friend could play all the time. (His affinity for the game may explain his ability to have successfully strategized two consecutive wins in the AFM Fittest!)

Cook is currently busy developing some new and innovative fitness classes he would like to roll out at Pure Austin this fall, but he hopes to once again defend his AFM Fittest title in 2014. He encouraged people who might be on the fence about entering the contest to consider signing up next year and using the opportunity to benchmark their own fitness.

“I think a lot of people don’t enter the competition because they feel like they won’t have a chance to win it,” he said. “But many of these same people sign up for 5Ks and marathons without any concerns about winning. The key is to establish a benchmark and work toward improving for the next year.” — C.V.

To meet the other eight fittest Austinites, visit Austin Fit Magazine.

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