An ‘Ultra’ Passion for Fitness

Amelia Zupan and her trainer, Matt Aikin.

Amelia Zupan and her trainer, Matt Aikin.

Amelia Zupan joined the Crunch Fitness, in West Hollywood, Calif., in June of 2012. At the time of joining she never would have imagined that, in a few months, she’d be running an ultra marathon through the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest with her Crunch personal trainer, Matt Aikin.

Zupan’s journey started when a friend suggested she join Crunch Fitness. “A friend of mine went there, who had really great things to say about it,” explained Zupan. “I was about to turn 30 and thought, ‘I need to get my game face on.’”

Zupan’s first impression of Crunch Fitness was a positive one. “The general manager gave me a tour and he was super nice,” recalled Zupan. “It just seemed like everyone was super welcoming. After the tour, they gave me a free personal training session, and set me up with Matt. I ended up really liking his style — it was very functional.” As a result, she signed up for more sessions.

The Crunch/UVU Games – Los Angeles

It was during her sessions with Aikin that Zupan first heard about an exciting event Crunch would be hosting with UVU (You Versus You), a performance running brand. Crunch and UVU had partnered to sponsor the Crunch/UVU Games. Four winners of the games (two members and their trainers) would be sent to Brazil to participate in the UVU Jungle Marathon. “I told Matt, ‘that sounds awesome!,’” said Zupan.

Aikin believed that Zupan would have a good chance at winning the Crunch/UVU Games in Los Angeles. Members were required to compete in the games alone, without their trainers. They decided to start training for it right away. Sticking true to Aikin’s style, Aikin had Zupan do a lot of functional moves, such as pull-ups, squats, rowing and battle ropes, to prepare. When the challenge started in L.A., Zupan said she felt over prepared. “Matt trained me really well,” said Zupan. “Every exercise I did during the challenge, Matt and I had done more of in training.”

The over preparation paid off. Zupan competed in the first heat of the event and crushed the competition. She blew through the 11 mini-challenges, including a three-mile run and kettlebell challenge. “Matt is an extraordinary trainer, and a great motivator,” said Zupan. “He was with me every step of the way, cheering me on.”

When Zupan realized she and Aikin would be headed to Brazil to tackle the UVU Jungle Marathon, she was elated. “I just freaked out,” she exclaimed.

The UVU Jungle Marathon

In October 2012, two weeks after the Crunch/UVU Games, The UVU Jungle Marathon took place in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. There were two marathon options — a seven-day race that covered almost 155 miles, and a five-day race that covered almost 100 miles. Because Zupan and Aikin hadn’t even run a traditional marathon, they decided to tackle the five-day race.

Participants in the race were given an itinerary each morning, outlining where each checkpoint would be, and how many miles they would hike, and run through muddy waters, dense forest and over hills, in often humid conditions. According to Zupan, she and the others had to carry everything on their backs, including their food, water and the hammocks they slept in at night.

Zupan said the first and second day were the easiest. The biggest challenge occurred during the third day, when Zupan’s feet started to feel the abuse they’d taken from hiking and running 15 to 17 miles per day. “Coming from a sports background, I knew how to push myself,” said Zupan. “But I wanted to chop my feet off! They hurt the entire time.”

However, the beauty of the Amazon Rainforest helped to distract Zupan and Aikin from the pain. Zupan described lush greenery, exotic insects, high cliffs and low-hanging canopies. “The jungle was gorgeous,” said Zupan. “We looked at it as not just a race, but as an experience.”

The experience ended after five days, and almost 100 miles later. According to Zupan, crossing the finish line with Aikin was exhilarating. “Once you cross the finish line, any pain you felt, you don’t feel anymore,” said Zupan.

After the ‘Ultra’ Race

The experience for Zupan, provided by Crunch and UVU, made Zupan a loyal member of Crunch Fitness. It also forged a bond between Zupan and Aikin. The duo completed a 5K together in December 2012, and the two recently met up for another personal training session. “Matt kicked my butt,” she joked.

However, she said a “butt kicking” was necessary, as she’d like to continue tackling adventure and obstacle races. “I’m very much attracted to the obstacle and adventure races,” said Zupan. “They’re just more interesting.”
Part of the allure stemmed from Zupan’s sports background in soccer and volleyball. Adventure races are known for their team atmosphere. “I very much like a team atmosphere,” she said.

How could you create a team atmosphere in your facility? Consider creating a group in your club that takes “field trips” once a month to nearby parks or landmarks. A change of scenery can help bond your members to an experience, fostering camaraderie, and therefore boosting retention.

 

By Rachel Zabonick

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