Austin cyclist Andrew Willis wins endurance national championship

Andrew Willis approaches the 400-mile mark of the 24 Hours in the Canyon race. Photo by Scott Thomas

Chalk up another long-distance cycling accomplishment for Andrew Willis, who gets kicks out of riding a bicycle for hundreds of miles through fry-an-egg-on-a-sidewalk heat.

Willis won the World Ultra Cycling Association’s National Championship event, 24 Hours in the Canyon, earlier this month by pedaling 448 miles in a single day.

The race started at the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon State Park at noon, when it’s nice and hot. Cyclists rode up to the rim, pedaled 100 miles, then dropped back into the canyon to complete as many 5-mile loops within the park as they could before noon the next day.

Willis cycles near Palo Duro Canyon during the 24 Hours in the Canyon race. Handout photo

“I really get into the math behind it, trying to squeeze a few seconds out of every lap with less power and a lower heartrate,” Willis said from the phone this week, while spinning on a bike trainer inside his home. (Always training, that man.)

It took Willis about 16 minutes flat for each 5-mile loop. The hardest part? The heat. And then the cold. Temperatures rose to about 105 at the bottom of the canyon during the day, then dropped into the 40s at night.

“That was really hard on a lot of peoples’ bodies,” said Willis, whose company Holland Racing puts on the weekly Driveway Series of bike races each summer.

RELATED: Could you pedal a bike from California to Colorado in three and a half days? Andrew Willis did

Willis spent a lot of time pedaling on his bike trainer, along with riding and working in the yard during the heat of the day, to prepare for 24 Hours in the Canyon. He also paced himself by starting slow and building intensity after the sun set.

Willis won the national championship in the 24-hour division. Handout photo

“Everyone else went out hard and had huge gaps on me,” Willis said. “At the end of the 100 miles, I came into the canyon in third place. It was hard to not freak out and try to hunt them down then – I had to remind myself I still had 15 hours. Sure enough, they pushed it too hard in the heat and by hour 12 and 13 they were falling apart and throwing up, and I hadn’t pushed myself at all yet. That’s when I turned it on.”

Two years ago, Willis completed the Race Across the West, a 930-mile race from California to Colorado. He’s now considering competing in the Race Across America, a 3,089-mile race from the west to east coast of the United States.

Calling all runners – Austin needs your blood

Members of Team Spiridon log a training run. Photo by Rob Hill


Let’s face it. Most runners tend toward the obsessive when it comes to their health. That’s why a local running coach wants them to donate whole blood or platelets during a drive he’s calling Blood Runs Deep.

“It’s as simple as the fact that I believe running can be a huge force for good,” says Rob Hill, community outreach manager at We Are Blood and head of the Team Spiridon running group. “Runners, given their focus on health, understand how critical blood is – not just for performance, but for the community.”

One in seven people will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lives, Hill says, and summer is typically a slow time for donations. All blood types are needed.

Linda Wyler of Austin gives blood at the Round Rock donation center in this file photo by MARCIAL GUAJARDO/ROUND ROCK LEADER

Runners are asked to drop by one of three Central Texas locations of We Are Blood, which supplies blood to hospitals and medical facilities in 10 Central Texas counties, between June 21-30 to donate. Two running groups, Gilbert’s Gazelles and Rogue Running, have already vowed to participate.

Concerned that donating blood will put you off your running game? Don’t worry. You could experience an 8 to 10 percent decrease in performance the day after donating, and a slight decrease for a day or two after that, but it won’t last. Just time your donation for after a run and before your rest day, Hill suggests.

Donors must be at least 17 years old and weigh 115 pounds. Some travel restrictions apply, too.

Book an appointment at or call 512-206-1266. You can donate at any of We Are Blood’s three locations – Austin North, 4300 North Lamar Boulevard; Round Rock, 2132 North Mays, Suite 900; or Austin South, 3100 West Slaughter Lane.

Paddlers to traverse 21 miles of Lake Austin for Dam That Cancer

Stand-up paddleboarders, in front left to right, Liz Kelley, Scott Herz and Rob Koenig float past the Pennybacker Bridge during the 5th annual Tyler’s Dam That Cancer event in 2014. The event raises money for The Flatwater Foundation, a nonprofit that provides access to mental health services for those affected by cancer. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cast an eye toward Lake Austin Monday and you might spot a flotilla of people aboard standup paddleboards.

Nearly 200 people will paddle 21 miles from Mansfield Dam to Tom Miller Dam during Tyler’s Dam that Cancer. The event raises money for the Flatwater Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides access to mental health services for those affected by cancer.

RELATED: Paddlers glide 21 miles for a cause

The public is invited to celebrate their finish with a party at the Lower Colorado River Authority offices, 3701 Lake Austin Boulevard. To attend, make a donation, either in advance at or at the door. The party will feature music from DJ Abe the Assassin, food from Texican Cafe, and beverages from Landshark, William Chris Vineyards, Live Soda and Chameleon Cold Brew.

Paddlers are expected to arrive at about 5:30 p.m. The party runs from 6-8 p.m.

Organizers hope to raise $700,000 at this year’s event. All proceeds will help support families in need.

Ladies, meet other female cyclists at this event

Meet other female cyclists at a meet-and-greet Wednesday at Mellow Johnny’s.


Looking for a welcoming group of cycling compadres, ladies?

The ATX Sirens, Driveway Sheros will host a team meet-and-greet on June 20, so interested women can socialize with cyclists from women’s racing teams from around Austin.

The event is part of the Austin Women’s Racing Ambassador Cup program, which works to provide a safe and welcoming environment where women can learn bike racing skills, build confidence and make friends. Come to learn how to join a racing team, find folks to ride with and hang out with other female cyclists. Drinks, snacks and door prizes will be provided.

The event is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop, 400 Nueces Street. For more information, contact Rheannon Cunningham at or go to

NLand Surf Park pushes reopening to June 26

Surfer Bree Kleintop, riding with pro surfers from Team Lost Surfboards by Mayhem, rides a wave during an exhibition held at NLand Surf Park on Sunday, Sept. 03 2017 at NLand Surf Park. (Rodolfo Gonzalez for Austin American-Statesman)


NLand Surf Park has pushed back its reopening date to June 26.

The park closed recently for maintenance, and planned to open June 21, but repairs have taken longer than expected.

RELATED: New BSR Surf Resort near Waco temporarily closes for maintenance

It’s not the only Central Texas surf park that has temporarily closed for repairs. The brand-new surf resort at BSR Cable Park near Waco closed to fix the liner in its surfing pool. It plans to reopen to the public July 1, according to its website.


Need some moving meditation? Try this free Tai Chi class at Bull Creek Park

Catch a free tai chi class at Bull Creek Park every Saturday. Vince Cobalis/Special to the American-Statesman

Add this one to the free fitness folder…

Ip Sun Tai Chi practitioners meet from 9-10:30 a.m. every Saturday at Bull Creek Park, 6701 Lakewood Drive to practice their form of moving meditation. Meet in the small parking lot on the east side of the park.

Instructors will lead the group in the ancient healing practices of Tai Chi and Qi Gong. The meeting is free and open to the public.

Ip Sun, a Tai Chi training program in the Tukong Moosul system, is an internal martial art developed by Buddhist monks living at the Dae-yeon Sa Temple located in the Korean mountains, according to a press release. Practitioners say it develops self-awareness, confidence and inner strength while improving balance, coordination, concentration and self-defense.

For more information about the Ip Sun Tai Chi program go here. For more information about Tukong Martial Arts – Tukong Austin, go here. For more information about the event go here.

On International Day of Yoga, do a downward dog with 3,000 people

The public is invited to attend a free community yoga session Saturday on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol.

Expect to see a lot of downward dogs in downtown Austin this Saturday.

More than 3,000 people will gather on the lawn of the Texas State Capitol at 5:45 p.m. for 90 minutes of yoga, meditation, music and dance on the fourth International Day of Yoga. This year’s theme is “Yoga for Warriors,” and military veterans are encouraged to attend.

The family-friendly event is free and open to the public. All ages and backgrounds are welcome.

The Art of Living Austin, a non-profit organization that offers workshops in breathing techniques, yoga and mediation, is organizing the event in collaboration with local yoga studios. FITT Finder, a mobile app that serves as a guide for fitness and wellness, is sponsoring it.

Dress for the heat, and bring your own yoga mat and water.

For more information email or go here.

(Nominate your favorite yoga studio in our inaugural Best of the Best Awards.)

Want to hang 10? You’ll have to wait – both Central Texas surf parks are closed for repairs

Surfer Jett Schilling, with Team Lost Surfboards by Mayhem, rides a wave during an exhibition held at NLand Surf Park on Sunday, Sept. 03 2017, in Del Valle, Texas. (Rodolfo Gonzalez for Austin American-Statesman)


If you’d waxed up your surfboard in anticipation of catching some waves at one of two Central Texas surf parks this week, you’re out of luck.

Both NLand Surf Park, just east of Austin, and the new BSR Surf Resort, which opened May 12 northeast of Waco, are closed for maintenance issues.

BSR Surf Resort opened May 12 but closed May 30 due to problems related to the liner in the surfing pool. According to the resort’s website, it will reopen to the public on July 1.

RELATED: New BSR Surf Resort near Waco temporarily closes for maintenance

The Waco surf park park uses an air-powered system to mimic ocean waves whose strength and timing can be adjusted. Waves roll out in sets of three, with each wave spaced about 5 seconds apart and a new trio every 45 seconds.

Here in Austin, NLand Surf Park is also temporarily closed.

“Our next Low Tide was initially planned for​ mid-July​ but a particular area of our lagoon needed maintenance sooner than we had originally scheduled,” a press release said. “The work is under way, with a June 21st completion target. Blue Prairie restaurant and NLand Brewing Company will remain open with normal operating hours as we perform maintenance on the lagoon. For updates, please visit our website.”

The park, which opened in October 2016, closed not long after it opened to repair leaks in the liner of the surfing lagoon. It reopened in May 2017.

RELATED: NLand Surf Park reopens after months of repairs

Suffice it to say you won’t be catching any waves at either of the Texas surf parks. If you still want to hang 10, you’ll have to head to the Texas coast, where I just camped a few weeks ago with some surfers at Mansfield Cut.

They got lucky – the surf was relatively good and they spent two days playing in the waves. Or do what I’m doing – heading to Costa Rica to participate in a women’s only surf camp with Surf With Amigas. Look for a story soon.

Fabulous after 60? Fit folks needed for Austin 60 Strong calendar

Two local physician networks are looking for fit folks tohighlight in their Austin 60 Strong calendar.


Know a senior who’d look good in a calendar?

Two local physician networks are looking for a dozen fit and inspirational Central Texas residents, ages 60 to 69, to feature in the 2019 Austin 60 Strong calendar.

Contestants will be judged on their health, fitness, wellness, community involvement and volunteerism. A panel of judges will select 12 winners who exemplify how life after age 60 can be a positive, vibrant and active time.

RELATED: Fit after 50: How should our exercise routine change as we get older?

In addition to appearing in the Austin 60 Strong calendar, winners will be honored with a kick-off party, a professional photo shoot and compensation for their modeling time.

Anyone age 18 or older can nominate someone. Enter online at by Aug. 15 or download an application form and mail it, along with a 200-word essay, head shot and full-length photo, to: Connected Senior Care Advantage, Attn: 60 Strong Contest, 4515 Seton Center Parkway, Suite 250, Austin, TX 78759. Mailed entries must be postmarked by Aug. 10.

Winners will be notified by Aug. 27, and must be available Sept. 13-15. For more information email

Proceeds from calendar sales will benefit Capital City Village, a virtual community of seniors committed to aging in place and community while maintaining healthy and active lifestyles.


Logjams, man-sized gar and hallucinations: Texas Water Safari kicks off Saturday

Team Dirty Dogs lowers their five-person canoe over Cummings Dam on the San Marcos River on Sunday. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Once they negotiate the boat-bashing chaos of the start in San Marcos, they’ll face the first rapids.

Then will come a twisting stretch of river, a mud-slickened portage or two, a dam, more rapids, more portages, more dams, more twists and turns, and an onslaught of discomforts that starts with aching muscles and sunburn and works its way, like a building tsunami, into a horror show of indigestion, stinking boats and exhaustion.

In all, paddlers who start the Texas Water Safari have signed on for about 260 miles of nothing less than misery.

Veteran paddler West Hansen scouts a stretch of the Guadalupe River near Tivoli. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I’m going to be writing about the Texas Water Safari this year, so I’ve been spending as much time as I can with the local paddling community.

During the course of what’s been billed as “The World’s Toughest Canoe Race,” solo paddlers and teams of up to six will face logjams and mosquitoes, poison ivy, clouds of nose, eye and lip-coating mayflies, mosquitoes, a snake or two, actual alligators and, even more horrifying, human-sized alligator gar. It draws macho guys, bad-ass women, couples, families, friends and the just plain curious.

They’ll paddle through all of it, for hours on end, many not even pausing to sleep. The hallucinations will come, and so, too, will the disgruntled digestive systems and inflamed skin and mud-smeared bodies. In the end, though, they’ll earn a coveted finisher’s patch which, one can only presume, makes it all worth while.

Pam LeBlanc had her sandals sucked off her feet during a training portage. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

I got hooked on paddling last year. I paddle slow. I like to camp along the way, look at nature and soak up the silence. But for the past few weeks I’ve been rubbing shoulders with a whole new breed of paddlers.

These people buy bulk containers of Spiz liquid food mix, they hold entire conversations about jug foam, they tell horror stories about sleep deprivation-induced hallucinations and fish that jump into their canoes with such force they break ribs.

A few weeks ago, I spent the day at Palmetto State Park, where many of them had gathered for three days of training. My husband and I enjoyed a leisurely three-hour run in our 17-foot Alumacraft canoe while they humped it twice that far in the same amount of time. I could barely keep our boat going straight. I ran us into the bank a few times.


Then, last weekend I took a field trip down to Cuero, where I scouted a huge log jam with a couple of veteran racers. My shoes got sucked off my feet in the mud. I (temporarily) lost a paddle during a portage. I saw half a dozen small alligators. I screamed and nearly fell out of my boat – four times – when a gar with teeth like needles and nearly as big as me (I’m not exaggerating) surfaced near my bow.

This weekend I hopped into seat four of a five-person race canoe, filling a seat on one of the Dirty Dog’s training runs. We scouted their first few portages on the upper stretches of the San Marcos River. I slipped and bashed my shin while wading around in the river. We saw a snake. I tried to paddle in synch with people who knew what they were doing. I struggled (unsuccessfully) to keep up when they shifted into high gear, practicing going fast and furious. I kept slamming my paddle against the side of the boat.


I’ve spent hours chatting with people who have done this race before, asking them why they do it (it’s a challenge, it’s a way to bond, it’s peaceful, for the adventure) and how they push on when they want to quit (because everybody does), how they stay awake and what happens when nature calls (they pee in a bottle or jump in the river to do their business).

The race kicks off at Spring Lake in San Marcos at 9 a.m. Saturday. The leaders will likely cross the finish line in Seadrift sometime very late Sunday or early Monday. They’ll be blistered and sunburned, delirious and dehydrated, exhausted and thrilled.

Look for my story in mid-July.

West Hansen carries his one-man canoe out of the river after a Sunday training run that finished near Tivoli. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman