These folks don’t dodge their workouts — and some of them have significant reasons to do so. Let their stories inspire you.
Word by Carolyn Kott Washburne — Photos by Matt Haas — Styling by Michelle Warren — Clothing provided by InStep, Macy’s, Moda3 — Gear provided by Run Fit MKE — Spa services provided by Azana Salon and Spa
Occupation: Spa consultant, Nail Bar Milwaukee salon and spa
At 5’2” and 106 pounds, Van Nguyen is a tiny bundle of energy who, by her own admission, is very competitive. “Once I start something, I get obsessed with it,” says Nguyen, who lives in Wauwatosa and works on Milwaukee’s East Side.
In the past, she did half marathons, but today her sport is Spartan obstacle course racing. “It’s basically running through mud carrying heavy items,” she says. Every year Nguyen tries to do one race at each level, the most punishing being Beast (30-35 obstacles over 12-14 miles, often taking three hours).
To get in shape for the races, Nguyen works out at a club three times a week for one to two hours, working different muscle groups. And because some of the obstacles require good grip strength, she rock climbs several times a week.
“Spartan racing is like solving a puzzle all the time,” she says. “It keeps you present.”
Occupation: Chief human resources officer, Racine Unified School District
Since childhood, Julie Landry has loved being active. In high school, she played basketball, ran track, and was a cheerleader. As an adult – and a mom – with a high-stress job, she makes fitness a priority. Today, Landry exercises at least four days a week, and during the warmer months, six to seven. She runs, bikes, swims and takes Zumba classes. She completed her first Iron Girl Triathlon last August.
“Exercising is especially important for women of color,” says Landry, who lives in Glendale, “because we typically don’t take care of ourselves.”
Landry is encouraging other women of color to get moving. Eight others are now training with her for this year’s Iron Girl; she has a Facebook page, Milwaukee Fitnatics; and she takes a team each year to the Fight For Air Climb up the U.S. Bank Center tower.
“You only have one body,” she says. “You can’t take it for granted.”
Occupation: Semiretired environmental engineer, novelist
When you have a heart operation as a child, you learn early on that fitness is important. At 6, Prill had surgery to correct tetralogy of Fallot, a rare heart condition.
“The doctors I’ve seen … said it would be a good idea to exercise,” says Prill, of Bayside. He began weightlifting in college and moved to aerobics and half marathons.
Today, he works out six times a week, using weights and doing aerobics. He bicycles in warm weather.
In 2007, Prill had a stroke, and a year later a second heart operation. When doctors asked, “Do you exercise?” Prill was happy to be able to say, “Oh, yeah.”
“Everyone should figure out what’s comfortable,” he says. “Any exercise is better than none.” He says he likes to share his story, to tell folks “they can go through serious medical issues and still be alive and active at 65.”
Occupation: Independent living coordinator, IndependenceFirst
At age 19, Harvey Ross was shot in the neck by his girlfriend’s father during a domestic dispute, paralyzing him from the neck down. He recalls, “I was so depressed, I begged to be unhooked from the machine so I could die.” After six months in rehab and having regained partial use of his hands, Ross sat at home, smoking pot, leaving only for doctors’ appointments.
Then one day Ross’ mother confronted him: “Is this all you’re going to do with your life?”
After that, Ross bought a weight cuff to hold free weights and began working out at home. He then joined a club and designed his own exercises using their machines. Today, he works out six days a week for three hours. He has played competitive wheelchair rugby and now plays recreationally.
“The world doesn’t owe us anything,” says Ross. “It’s up to you how you live your life.”
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom
Jamie Fraundorf has always loved sports. As a youngster, she played school and rec department tennis and basketball, and even played soccer on a team with boys. “I was kinda scrappy, a tomboy,” says the Pewaukee resident. In college, she played on the UW-Milwaukee women’s soccer team.
Now she is the busy mom of three sons, 13, 12 and 6. Her middle son has autism, so Fraundorf and her husband make sure he gets to a lot of “sensory relief” activities, such as swimming and horseback riding. For herself, Fraundorf finds time to play in competitive tennis leagues and does several runs each year, including half marathons.
“I’ll train with other moms,” she says. “The social part helps.”
Occupation: Freelance writer
When adversity strikes Lindsey Ramsak, she strikes right back. In 2008, she was diagnosed with MS. “My stubborn streak got incited, and I poured myself into horseback riding,” says Ramsak, who lives in Bristol.
In 2011, she was thrown from a horse. She had a dozen fractures – “collar – bone, ribs, shoulder, you name it” – and a collapsed lung. An ER doctor told her she could have died.
But she didn’t, and when she came back from the accident, she began walking, then running.
In 2013, she entered the first of several 5K races, and today she is training for the Chicago Marathon, often doing canicross (cross-country running harnessed to dogs). Ramsak eventually got kicked out of the MS clinic because of eight years of unchanged MRIs, but she still has symptoms. Her feet feel numb, and she gets sudden-onset fatigue.
“Because I’m able to move, I want to keep moving,” she says.
Occupation: Health and fitness coach, MISPIBO (MindSpiritBody)
Fitness Age: 34
When Ambrose Wilson-Brown graduated from college in 2005, he couldn’t find a decent job, so he was either unemployed or worked odd jobs.
“I was frustrated and depressed,” admits the former high school and college athlete who lives in Walker’s Point. “I didn’t think to work out or eat healthy. I lost strength and speed.”
He loved coaching, though, and one day he realized he needed to set an example. “I decided to get fit for a purpose,” he recalls. And he did. His daily routine includes yoga, breathing exercises, meditation and 75 to 90 minutes of stretching and activation exercises. He eats lean foods and enjoys power smoothies.
Today, Wilson-Brown is a holistic health coach with a variety of clients, including some he works with remotely. He also helps middle and high school students in Milwaukee Public Schools. “I want to spark their purpose,” he says, “so they can empower others.”