Swimming with Olympic medalist Brendan Hansen at new Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy

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Brendan Hansen heads up the swim program at the new Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy on Southwest Parkway. CHRIS LEBLANC photo.

A huge new swim facility just opened in southwest Austin, so I grabbed my suit, set my alarm clock for 4:50 a.m. and headed to practice.

After all, six-time Olympic medalist Brendan Hansen, who heads up the swim program at the sparkling new Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy, was coaching.

Chris Lewallen, left, and Brendan Hansen, right, at the new Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy.
Chris Lewallen, left, and Brendan Hansen, right, at the new Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy. CHRIS LEBLANC photo

During his career, Hansen collected three gold, one silver and two bronze medals, which we hope are now tucked away for safekeeping. (Remember back in 2008, when he accidentally left a gold one on a Southwest Airlines flight and it went missing for a day until another passenger found it and returned it?) Now he’s heading the swim program at Austin’s newest big-league swimming pool.

You should see the place. The Olympic-sized 25-yard by 50-meter pool grabs your attention first, but there’s also a 5,500-square-foot indoor training facility, spacious dressing rooms with showers and lockers, outdoor training spaces and an on-site running trail.

“Austin really needs this – everything’s under one roof,” says Hansen. “It’s the whole concept of parking the car, coming in and swimming, biking and running in one place.”

riding bike
Nate O’Brien, right, and Mattew Willenbring, left, test out the bikes at the new Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy. CHRIS LEBLANC photo

 

SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson and his wife Patti built the facility, which offers a competitive age group swimming program, U.S. Masters Swimming, triathlon training and water polo.

It opened to the public for a sneak peek this week. You can still drop by tomorrow for a free masters’ swim practice at 6:30 a.m. and a free community strength and conditioning workout at noon.

A trio of friends joined me for pre-dawn practice Wednesday. Hansen stood on deck while swimmers churned back and forth across 20 lanes of water.

Thoughts? Water temperature, perfect. Size of pool, enormous. Atmosphere, dark. (These 5:45 a.m. workouts give me tunnel vision …) General vibe, kicked back and fun.

Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy opened this month. CHRIS LEBLANC photo
Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy opened this month. CHRIS LEBLANC photo

Hansen loves to joke around, but I have a sneaky feeling that the hammer drops when you’ve been training with him a few weeks. It wasn’t until the hour-and-15-minute session was nearly over that Hansen doled out a nice lung-burning sprint set, reminding us that “sometimes I like to drive fast.” He’s coaching the masters program now, but says he’s looking for a world-class coach to take over that program while he focuses on the club program.

The place impresses out of the water, too.

Chris Lewallen, the center’s director of strength and conditioning, worked with Hansen before the 2012 Olympics. He’ll lead four types of classes here – one based on stretching, another based on strength, one based on speed and a fourth, a boot camp dubbed “scorch.” The training room is outfitted with snazzy bikes, exercise machines and stretchy harnesses designed to provide gut-wrenching core workouts.

The training room at Austin Academy & Sports Academy. CHRIS LEBLANC photo
The training room at Austin Academy & Sports Academy. CHRIS LEBLANC photo

“It’s all about atmosphere. The way people go to the next level in training is the people,” Hansen says. “I want people to walk in the door and be excited about taking it to the next level. That could be to drop 50 pounds, or it could be to go to the Olympics.”

The Austin Aquatics & Sports Academy, 3315 Southwest Parkway, is home to the Austin Swim Club competitive age program and CenTex Water Polo Club. The Austin Academy Triathlon Club and multi-sport programming will launch in March, with the addition of cycling and running classes. A four-week triathlon clinic and a water polo training camp for youth are scheduled for February. Small group fitness classes, personal one-on-training and private swim instruction.

For more information go here.

Primates hit the streets at Saturday’s Gorilla Run

Harry primates will dash through city streets at the annual Gorilla Run this Saturday.
Harry primates will dash through city streets at the annual Gorilla Run this Saturday.

Hundreds of gorillas (sort of) will stampede through city streets this Saturday during the Austin Gorilla Run.

The event, which includes a 5K fun run/walk/cycle, starts at 9 a.m. at the Mueller Browning Hangar off of Airport Boulevard.

Everyone who registers for the run gets a brand-new gorilla suit to keep. Temperatures are forecast to hover in the 40s and 50s on Saturday, which should make all the furry-costume-wearing participants happy. (The 80 percent change of rain, however, may not. Let’s hope it rolls in after the gorillas have disbanded.)

The annual Gorilla Run is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Mueller Hangar.
The annual Gorilla Run is set for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Mueller Hangar.

A costume contest will precede the run, and little gorillas can compete in an obstacle challenge course. Afterward, Thirsty Planet Brewing Company will pour aptly-named Silverback Pale Ale. Food trucks will also be on hand to re-fuel ravenous primates.

“The race is for everyone from kids and singles to families and team building corporations,” Frank Keesling, president of the Denver-based organization, said in a press release. “We are keeping Austin weird in a fun family way for all ages as well as bringing awareness to the critically endangered mountain gorilla.”

Proceeds from the event will help fund the new Ruth Keesling Wildlife Health and Research Center in Kampala, Uganda, where local Africans can learn wildlife health and management. The center will also house a laboratory dedicated to the study of infectious wildlife diseases.

Register here.

Donation-based class at Modo Yoga will benefit Austin musicians

A donation based class at Modo Yoga on Friday will benefit HAAM. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.
A donation based class at Moda Yoga on Friday will benefit HAAM. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.

Want to simultaneously stretch your body and help Austin musicians?

A $10 donation is suggested for the free class. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.
A $10 donation is suggested for the free class. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.

Modo Yoga, a new Austin yoga studio, will host a donation-only class to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, an Austin non-profit organization that provides Austin’s low income, uninsured working musicians access to affordable health care.

Even better? The 60-minute hot yoga class, set for 7 p.m. Friday, comes with live music by local singer-songwriter Drew Davis, and it will be set to candlelight.

 

The class will be candlelit and set to live music. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.
The class will be candlelit and set to live music. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.

The class is the first in a series of Karma classes at the studio, 7010 Easy Wind Drive, Suite 130, that will benefit a spotlighted charity each month. Studio directors Meghan McCracken and Gillian Brockett say they are partnering with HAAM as a way to give back to the community of musicians who represent the heart and soul of Austin.

Register for the class online here.  A $10 donation is suggested. For more information, go here.

Friends’ encouragement carries Makita Johnson to finish of 3M Half Marathon

Meighan Larbi, left, and Bianca Sias, right, encourage Makita Johnson, center, to the finish of the 2015 3M Half Marathon. Photo by MarathonFoto
Meighan Larbi, left, and Bianca Sias, right, encourage Makita Johnson, center, to the finish of the 2015 3M Half Marathon. Photo by MarathonFoto

Look closely at this photo, taken during Sunday’s 3M Half Marathon.

It shows Makita Johnson, with two encouraging friends at her side, struggling to make it to the finish line of the 13.1-mile race.

Makita Johnson's sons wait for her to cross the finish line of the 3M Half Marathon. Photo by Derrick Johnson
Makita Johnson’s sons wait for her to cross the finish line of the 3M Half Marathon. Photo by Derrick Johnson

The event marked her first half marathon, the longest distance she’d ever run. Johnson, a sales account manager at Dell Inc. and the single mother of three boys, had back surgery in 2013 and doctors told her she had to quit kick boxing. She joined the local chapter of a running group called Black Girls Run.

The race started off fine, and as she ticked off the first few miles, Johnson felt confident and strong. But at Mile 9, things turned tough. The last few miles, she began to doubt she could cross the finish line.That’s when friends came to her aid. Bianca Sias and Meighan Larbi had driven down from Dallas, promising to help her finish.

“I was hurting, on the verge of tears, and really just wanted to be off that course,” Johnson says. “Meighan was doing her best to keep me motivated, reminding me my boys were waiting for me, that I’d been through so much with surviving losing my father, surviving my divorce, being an awesome single mom and recovering from spine surgery.”

Sias, who had already finished her race but had gone back to check on her friends’ progress, saw Johnson’s look of distress, tore off her flip-flops and dashed onto the course to help.

Makita Johnson hugs her boys after finishing the 3M Half Marathon. Photo by Derrick Johnson
Makita Johnson hugs her boys after finishing the 3M Half Marathon. Photo by Derrick Johnson

“That’s when I buckled,” Johnson says. Her right foot burned, her calves shook and she just wanted to lie down. She burst into tears. “All I could think was, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t want the medal that bad,’” she says.

She cried partly because it hurt, but partly because she was so touched by her friends’ belief in her ability to finish.

“I was crying because there was just so much beauty in their friendship,” she says. “I was crying because I remembered various Black Girls Run sisters telling me I would get through it. The motto is ‘We leave no one behind, everyone will finish,’ and I felt them there with me in spirit, helping me cross that finish line.”

Her boys met her at the finish line. She hugged them tight, then went to brunch with her girlfriends to celebrate.

“I was so tired, but so happy,” she says. “I just felt incredibly proud of myself and in awe of myself, knowing I had spine surgery a year ago and now I’m running a half marathon.”

She’s already scheduled her next race, the 10-mile Austin 10/20. In the meantime, she’s wearing her race finisher’s medal everywhere she can, from the office to the grocery store.

“I earned this puppy,” she says.

The best running buddy: Jennifer Guernica and Ferguson

Jennifer Guernica poses for a selfie with her favorite running buddy, her dog Ferguson.
Jennifer Guernica poses for a selfie with her favorite running buddy, her dog Ferguson.

When we put out a call for runner selfies a few weeks ago, Jennifer Guernica sent in this gem showing her with her favorite running partner, her four-legged buddy Ferguson.

It reminded me of the importance of running buddies, whether they’re human or canine. Dogs need to get out and exercise, and Ferguson is no exception. On days when you might not want to go for a trot, a dog’s need to exercise can provide a nice boost of motivation.

“He is always ready to go running and knows which days he gets to go. He gets out of bed and sits outside the bathroom waiting for me,” Guernica says. “He hops up and down like a bunny while we get his jogging leash!”

Guernica says she feels at ease and relaxed when she runs with Ferguson, whom she describes as “the sweetest and happiest fuzzy guy.”

“I’m not really concerned with pace or anything else,” she says. “He just leads me around the trail and we ‘talk.’ He looks back at me to make sure I’m keeping up and I constantly laugh at him stalking squirrels and birdies while we run.”

Yoga and chocolate, together at last

Chocolate Pharmacy will host a yoga class and chocolate tasting on Jan. 29.
Chocolate Pharmacy will host a yoga class and chocolate tasting on Jan. 29.

Yoga and chocolate? Together?

Indeed. Chocolate Pharmacy co-founders Amy Pancake and Jyl Kutsche will lead a gentle flowing yoga class and chocolate tasting from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 29. Here’s how they put it: “Using the practices of yoga asana and meditation to heighten our senses, we’ll explore the subtleties in taste and aroma of several blends of our Chocolate Pharmacy spiced chocolate.”

Pancake and Kutsche are long-time yoga practitioners and instructors, as well as chocolate junkies. They’ve teamed up to sell chocolate made with heirloom Criollo cacao from Peru, harvested by small co-op farmers. All levels are welcome at the class, in the garden studio at Soma Vida, 1210 Rosewood Avenue. Cost is $15. Space limited; RSVP to info@chocolate-pharmacy.com.

The Fittest Games set for Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Expo Center

The area's fittest athletes will compete at The Fittest Games at the Travis County Expo Center. Photo by Mike Bing
The area’s fittest athletes will compete at The Fittest Games at the Travis County Expo Center. Photo by Mike Bing

Need a little inspiration? Make plans to watch supremely fit athletes hoist weights, sling giant ropes, jump, hurl kettlebells, climb and do pullups at the 2015 Fittest Games.

Athletes will compete in four divisions. Photo by Mike Bing.
Athletes will compete in four divisions. Photo by Mike Bing.

The event, hosted by CrossFit Central, will feature nearly 500 athletes in four divisions – pro, amateur, team and masters – vying for cash prizes.

Competition starts at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, at the Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane. Single-day spectator tickets are $25 at the door Saturday and $20 Sunday.

A charity Workout of the Day, or WOD, is part of the lineup on Saturday.

The first 100 athletes who raised $150 or more will compete to see how many reps of the “Flatwater, Find Yours” workout they can do in three one-minute rounds. Proceeds will benefit The Flatwater Foundation, which provides mental health services to families and individuals affected by cancer. Prizes including watches and speakers from Nixon, Dynamax balls and more.

There are still openings for the WOD competition – sign up here.

And lest you think CrossFitters don’t have any fun, note that Michelob Ultra is on board as a presenting sponsor. Cheers.

Tickets are available at the door. Photo by Mike Bing.
Tickets are available at the door. Photo by Mike Bing.

Want to practice at home? Here’s the “Flatwater, Find Yours” WOD:

  • Wall ball 20/14
  • Deadlift 135/95
  • Ab mat sit-up with medicine ball 20/14
  • Burpee box jump 24/20
  • Push press 95/65
  • Rest 1 minute

Pro triathlete Amy Cottrill Marsh finishes second round of chemo for leukemia

Amy Marsh is undergoing cancer treatment at Seton Medical Center Austin. A bone marrow swab party is scheduled for Saturday at Austin Tri-Cyclist.
Amy Cottrill Marsh is undergoing cancer treatment at Seton Medical Center Austin. A bone marrow swab party is scheduled for Saturday at Austin Tri-Cyclist.

Pro triathlete Amy Cottrill Marsh remains at Seton Medical Center Austin this week, where she has wrapped up a second round of chemotherapy to treat leukemia.

A routine blood test last August showed unusual results that Marsh, 37, initially attributed to overtraining. She cut back the time she spent swimming, biking and running, but a retest in November triggered concern. She underwent a bone marrow biopsy and learned Dec. 23 that she had acute myeloid leukemia, a quick-developing form of cancer that affects the blood.

Amy and Brandon Marsh have both been pro triathletes.
Amy and Brandon Marsh are both pro triathletes.

“We went in at 2:30 p.m. By 6 p.m. we were checked in at the hospital,” said her husband, triathlon coach and former pro-triathlete Brandon Marsh.

Amy started chemotherapy the next day and has been at the hospital since. Doctors have told her she will likely need more chemotherapy and then a stem cell transplant. The triathlete, who is accustomed to training hard up to 25 hours a week, told her husband: “This is like an Ironman and we’re just barely in the swim.”

A “Bone Marrow Jam” in her honor is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Austin Tri-Cyclist, 903 Barton Springs Road. Participants will be orally swabbed and their information entered into a national and global registry for bone marrow donors. If a match is found, blood cells will be filtered from the donor and given to a patient who needs them.

Amy Marsh was diagnosed with leukemia Dec. 23.
Amy Cottrill Marsh was diagnosed with leukemia Dec. 23.

The pro triathlete, who had planned to retire after the 2015 season, works as a youth swim coach at Western Hills Athletic Club in Rollingwood.

“Being fit has really helped her handle the chemo more than anything and will help her handle the next phase, whether it’s additional chemo or if it’s a stem cell transplant,” Brandon Marsh said.

Amy Marsh swam for the University of Minnesota. She has won four Ironman triathlons and two Ironman-distance triathlons consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. She also won a half-distance Ironman in 2014.

Brandon Marsh cut his wife's hair last week.
Brandon Marsh cut his wife’s hair last week.

Since checking into the hospital, she tries to get up and move 30 to 60 minutes most days, but she’s tired, Brandon Marsh says. She’s passing the time watching HGTV and playing Scrabble and other games, and pedaling a stationary bicycle that physical therapists moved into her hospital room.

“Cancer doesn’t care – it doesn’t care how fit you are, it doesn’t care how fat you are, it just doesn’t care,” Brandon Marsh said, adding that community support has been overwhelming. “Everyone responds differently to treatments.”

He cut her long hair into a bob last week, then shaved it short a few days later. “That was pretty emotional,” he said. “She’s GI Jane now.”The family has health insurance but a fund for incidental costs has been set up here.

Running through the desert at the Big Bend Ultra

Here's the gorgeous finisher's medal from the Quicksilver 30K I ran Sunday at Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Here’s the gorgeous finisher’s medal from the Quicksilver 30K I ran Sunday at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

The more I run off road, the better I like it – more interesting terrain, more laid-back races, and, in many ways, easier on the body.

I ran the Quicksilver 30K at Big Bend Ranch State Park this weekend. The race was part of the Big Bend Ultra that also included a 50-miler (yes, miles) and a 10K.

That's me, Julie Butler and Katie Ryan, all of Austin, running through the desert during the Quicksilver 30K. Piece of cake!
That’s me, Julie Butler and Katie Ryan, all of Austin, running through the desert during the Quicksilver 30K. Piece of cake!

It marked my fourth time to run the race, which moved this year from Big Bend National Park to Big Bend Ranch State Park a little farther west.Besides getting a new location, the race got longer, growing from a 25K to a 30K. It covered much more rugged terrain, too. Instead of mostly smooth gravel roads, this year’s course twisted along single-track bike trails. That meant an up-and-down course with lots of rocky ledges, clattery rocks, dry sandy creekbeds, incredible desert vistas – and one dead jackrabbit.

A big contingent of Austin runners made the trip for the race, and they represented well on the podium.

Congrats to Rory Tunningley of Austin, who won the men’s division of the Quicksilver 30K with a time of two hours, 12 minutes and 3 seconds. Another Austin runner, Gretch Sanders, won the women’s division of the 30K with a time of 3 hours and 19.5 seconds.

Jesse Rickert of Gunnison, Colorado, won the Buena Suerte 50 miler in 7 hours 55 minutes 57 seconds. Meghan Hicks of Utah won the women’s race in 9 hours, 46 minutes and 16 seconds. (Some racers were out on the grueling 50-mile course for nearly 15 hours.)

Stacey Shapiro of Austin won the masters division of the Rock Dog 10K. The 10K overall winners were Roarke Zimmer of Alpine (48:14.9) and Athena Milani of Alpine (54.19.9)

.I won’t soon forget the glint of the rising sun on the shimmery rocks of the Crystal Mountain loop, or the rollercoaster dipsy-do’s of the Dog Chollo loop near the finish. I stumbled a few times but never hit the dirt. My only injuries were scratches sustained while peeing behind an ocatillo.

My favorite parts? Watching the sun rise and running alongside two friends for the 19-mile duration of the race. It flew by! The aid stations were stocked with yummy stuff like boiled potatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels, cookies and M&Ms. Pauline Hernandez made gorgeous clay finishers’ medals (see photo above).

And did I mention the movie star? At the finish line, we ate lunch with a friendly (and handsome) runner from New York who identified himself only as James. We found out later it was actor James Badge Dale, who has appeared in “24,” “The Departed,” “CSI: NY,” “Lord of the Flies,” “Iron Man 3,” “The Lone Ranger” and more.

Mellow Johnny’s bike shop expanding to Fort Worth

Mellow Johnny's is opening a second location in Fort Worth.
Mellow Johnny’s is opening a second location in Fort Worth.

Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop is rolling into Fort Worth.

Crews have already broken ground on the new location, part of the Clearfork Trailhead Cycling and Fitness Center on the banks of the Trinity River in Fort Worth.

The expansion marks the first spinoff of the Austin-based store, opened by cyclist Lance Armstrong and two other partners in 2008. Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times but was later stripped of his victories after admitting he doped during the races.

The Fort Worth shop will be operated and managed by Mellow Johnny’s, but Armstrong does not have financial ownership, said Todd Church, partnerships manager for Mellow Johnny’s. Clearfork, a mixed—use development of residential, retail shops and restaurants, will own the 13,000-square foot facility, which will also house a fitness studio and rooftop bar.The shop gets its name from the phrase “maillot jaune,” which means “yellow jersey” in French. A yellow jersey is worn by the cyclist leading the three-week Tour de France.

The center is scheduled to open in May or June.

Like the Austin shop, the Fort Worth location will cater to cyclists of all ability levels, from casual riders and commuters to racers. It will include a retail side as well as service, clothing, parts and rentals and training.

“That was one of the goals, we really wanted to promote it as a hub of the community, where anyone can come and be a cyclist and doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you’ll feel comfortable,” Church said.

“It’s pretty fantastic,” Church said of the shop’s location about 100 yards from a trail along the river. “You can go 40 miles on a paved trail or gravel trail and not get on a street.”