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Four athletes share how they use sport to stay active

By Matt White | Photography by Beth Mann

heavy lifting

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] little more than a year ago, Michelle Danielle Jordan, seeking a new fitness routine, opened Google and typed in “sports with weights.”

She discovered powerlifting. After a few articles and videos, she couldn’t wait to try the deadlift, squat and bench press exercises.

“I’ve always liked to work out, but I like to move heavy things,” she says. “If someone says to use the 15-pound barbells, I want to use the 40s.”

Michelle, who lives in Siler City, began working out at Zone Fitness and Tan, imitating the exercises she’d seen online. As she improved, she began to think about not only getting stronger, but also competing, encouraged by members of a women’s powerlifting group on Facebook. Members of the group post inspiration and advice, and share videos of their lifts, seeking pointers. Michelle says group members even spotted a hitch in her squatting technique.

“At a competition, one of the judges told me the same thing, so I was getting it from both sides.”

Armed with that insight, Michelle worked on greater flexibility in her hips and hamstrings.

She entered two powerlifting competitions in 2018, taking third in her weight class at a regional meet in Charlotte, and first in a meet in Denver, North Carolina (near Lake Norman). Working out in December, she hit 410 pounds on a max deadlift, her best ever, and has almost broken 400 in squat, at 395. She wants to hit 450 and 415, respectively, this year.

Zone Fitness and Tan, Michelle says, has been crucial to her development because its owners, Christina Fisher and Jackie Adams, treat it as a community.

“I checked out other gyms, but I didn’t feel as welcome,” Michelle says. “Christina had this personality that made it more of a family.”

One of Zone Fitness and Tan’s owners, Christina Fisher, says the gym is where “you’ll see all of Siler City in one place.”

Siler City, Christina says, “has gone through a lot of demographic changes.” The city is now about half Latino, with a wide range of demographic groups, which Christina says Zone Fitness embraces. Gym goers are likely to hear ranchera or Latin pop played alongside hip-hop and rock on the gym’s sound system. At her gym, Christina says, “You’ll see all of Siler City in one place.”

Beyond the growing number of weights on her bar, powerlifting has changed Michelle’s life in many small ways, too.

“I’ve gone from fast food two or three times a day to meal prep on Sundays for the whole week,” she says. She drinks a gallon of water a day and, at various stages of her training cycle, might eat up to 300 grams of protein (most adults need about 50 grams). Her son, Julian, 7, has joined in, too, helping prepare a full week’s worth of healthy meals on Sunday nights. When Michelle drinks a protein shake, he does as well.

Well, sort of.

“It’s a Nesquik,” she says. “He thinks it’s a protein drink, so I just let him drink it.”

As a Realtor, Michelle relies on her personality to connect with clients, and she says powerlifting has made a huge difference.

“It’s a whole attitude change,” she says. “I’m much more confident now. I feel like I exude it. At the gym, I’m talking to anybody and everybody, and I try to make a lot of eye contact. I tell people, ‘Come work out with me, even if it’s just 30 minutes.’ I’ll be dancing between sets and everybody will think it’s hilarious.”

At 5 feet, 8 inches and 207 pounds, she says she now regularly hears from women online who are inspired by her success.

“I love that women are saying it’s OK to have muscles,” she says. “If you lift 400 pounds, you will not look like a guy on steroids. You will look like a strong woman.”

a mighty oar

Forest Pearson, a junior at Woods Charter School, has been rowing three years.

Forest Pearson, 16, stays focused on making clean, rhythmic rowing strokes as he skims across the waters
Jordan Lake.

It’s a three-part exercise: First, the catch, where a rower’s oar hits the water; then the drive, when the rower extends their body to pull the oar; and finally, the recovery, when the rower returns to the start position. The rower has to concentrate to match their motion to the rest of his team so they move as one boat – catch, drive, recover.

Even though that keen focus is necessary, the Jordan Lake Rowing Club, which Forest is a part of, is never short of unique sights as they explore the backwaters and hidden coves of the huge reservoir.

“We see a lot of eagles,” says Forest, a junior at Woods Charter School. “There’s even a guy in a paraglider.”

The paraglider, Forest says, is typically out across the water from Crosswinds Boating Center, where the club begins and ends every training day. Forest rows for the club’s high school-age varsity team. The club fields teams from middle school-age to adults and is open to rowers of all skill levels, with clinics and camps for novices. They row all over Jordan Lake for practice, anywhere from 10 kilometers to occasionally twice that distance, sometimes as far as the mouth of the Haw River, where it enters the lake. And they row in all kinds of weather.

“I’ve rowed in snow, in sleet, everything,” says Forest, who sets the tempo for his boat, a position called the stroke.

The club was launched in 2015 by Jim and Heidi Walker. Jim rowed for Great Britain in two Olympics. After moving to Wake County, he and Heidi wanted to find a way for their daughter to enjoy the sport. When they discovered that Jordan Lake – with wide and calm waterways, perfect for crew practice – did not have a team, they started one with donated boats. Forest discovered the club in its second year from a Facebook ad.

The team rows throughout most of the year, with competitive seasons in the spring and fall. The team sent two boats to last year’s regional competition, one of which advanced to the national championship regatta.

“We’re only a 3-year-old club, taking on 10- or 20-year-old clubs that have so many kids,” Forest says. “Even our worst boats are toward the middle of the pack.”

Though Crosswinds is in Chatham, Forest says he is the only rower on the high school team from the area, with the rest of the roster coming from Wake County and Chapel Hill. (There are, Jim says, a few Chatham rowers in the club’s adult program.)

“I’m trying to get the word out,” Forest says.

Chatham champ

Our community has a thriving youth sports scene, and many play sports into high school. But few put together a string of accomplishments like Emery Moore, 18, did last summer and fall. In a span of a little more than three months, the Chatham native and Jordan-Matthews High School senior hit a home run to win a national championship in softball, a sport she’s played all her life, and then won a district championship in tennis, a sport that she picked up in high school.

Last July, Emery played catcher as one of the youngest players on the 19U West Chatham Debs softball team. Most team members had already graduated, but Emery had been playing with many of them for years.

Emery Moore has won championships in both tennis and softball since last summer.

“It was originally just a thing to do to get girls back together,” Emery says. After unexpectedly winning the North Carolina state tournament in July, the team moved on to the national championship tournament in Alexandria, Louisiana, in August – which came with challenges beyond the competition.

“It was very hot,” says Todd Brown, a longtime coach in Chatham who led the Debs and has known Emery since grade-school rec sports. “She probably got tired of me telling her to drink water. I told her that more often than I talked about softball.”

Emery was behind the plate for every game as the Debs made their way to the finals. The winner-take-all game went back and forth, and then into extra innings. Emery came to bat in the 10th inning and, on the second pitch, took a big swing. She wasn’t sure if it was going to be a home run because, well, she doesn’t have much experience hitting them.

“I just hit my first home run in [the previous] high school  season,” she says. “It felt good off the bat, but I didn’t know.”

The ball landed over the fence, and the Debs were national champions.

“I put my arms in the air and didn’t put them down until I got around [the bases],” Emery says. A teammate was streaming the game on Facebook Live to more than a hundred viewers back in Chatham, including Emery’s grandmother, Joyce Gunter, who virtually never misses her games at home.

Emery credits her older sister, Hayley, for instilling her love of sports early on. Along with softball, Hayley played tennis at Chatham Central High School, which inspired Emery to take up the sport as a freshman. She credits Jordan-Matthews Coach Lisa Morse, who trained her through her junior year, with helping her overcome her late start in the sport.

“She basically took somebody who didn’t know anything about tennis and made me a pretty decent player,” Emery says. Caroline Hudson took over as head coach this year with Dean Mathias, a former Wake Forest University player, as assistant. Those two, Emery says, had her playing better than she ever had for the district championship tournament. Though she was the Jets’ No. 3 player during the regular season, Emery cruised to the singles championship of the tournament. As she knocked off opponents in October, she could feel the experience of the summer paying off.

“I don’t think anything will be as nerve-wracking as Louisiana,” Emery says. “You never had a time to be stress-free, and I think dealing with that helped me.”

carry that weight

In early 2017, David Ray traveled to Iceland on business. The jet lag and the Nordic winter scrambled the software developer’s sleep clock, and when he returned to the States he found himself waking at 3 a.m.

He was already out of shape and had terrible eating habits, he says, and he realized he was in danger of spending these early hours snacking. Like with many people, his weight had gone up and down throughout his life.

“I was a lifetime ‘yo-yo’ person,” he says. “And two years ago I was pretty much at the wrong end of that spectrum.”

He found his way to F3, a men’s fitness group that meets for pre-dawn workouts, but was still rising long before those sessions began. And as his fitness improved, he began to wake up to a medical reality he’d been ignoring. Two years earlier, David was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease, a reality he’d done little to face.

“At the time I was like, ‘Whatever, let’s just keep living,’” he says. “But the best medicine, arguably better than anything out there, is exercise. And I thought it was time to get back on that horse.”

David Ray (sixth from left) says rucking forms a “camaraderie” that is absent from other workouts.

In summer 2017, a small group within F3 began meeting extra early – sometimes as early as 4 a.m. – to “ruck march,” a term derived from military lingo describing long hikes with a large, heavy backpack called a “rucksack” or “ruck.”

“They were like, ‘Come out and ruck with weights on and a backpack,’” David says. “My first thought was, ‘That sounds ridiculous.’ But it turned out to be a lot of opportunity to talk to people and a great mechanism for building relationships and physical fitness.”

In a year and a half since starting the early morning hikes, David has entered several organized rucking events lasting between 12 and 48 hours, with courses that might be 20 miles or more. He and a group of devoted ruckers from Chapel Hill and Durham went to New York City last fall for a two-day event through Manhattan.

“Irrespective of how long I’ve
been doing it, the first 30 to 45 minutes feels like nothing, and then after about 45 minutes, you start to feel like, ‘Holy cow, this is a whole-body workout.’”

It is a routine he sticks to, though Parkinson’s is never far from his mind.

“If my meds aren’t on point, my right arm does not swing autonomously,” David says. “And if your arms aren’t swinging,” he added, “then you’re compensating, and I always have to be cognizant of that.”

David, who dropped 50 pounds by mid-2018, says the rucking group helped him stave off more serious symptoms, all while connecting him with like-minded friends who challenge one another.

“A big part is becoming a better team member,” David says. “How far you can push yourself as a team and how far you can push yourself as
an individual.” 

Read the original article from the February/March 2019 Issue:

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