shouldn’t rapidly go from "zero to a hundred" at the
beginning of the outdoor exercise season, according to Sara
Ziegele, doctor of physical therapy at Froedtert & the
Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center. But Ziegele
says even people who carefully build up their levels of physical
activity are prone to injuries — injuries she treats for
different sports on a regular basis.
It is a
sentiment that has endured for centuries — the noble pursuit of
endurance itself. Athletes are our modern-day warriors. Many push
themselves past the widely accepted limits of pain and are rewarded
with millions of dollars. But many more put their bodies through
severe training regimens and the accompanying agony merely to satisfy
a self-enforced goal.
"A bit of
that is what’s the carrot at the end of the stick?" says Brent
Emery, a cycling silver medalist at the 1984 Summer Olympics who
co-owns cycling and fitness shops in Milwaukee and Menomonee Falls.
"Why are you even there?"
Emery, now 57,
has raced competitively for 43 consecutive years, continues to train
for and enter 100-plus-mile cycling events, and has raced in 20
countries on five continents. "You have to put yourself in a
frame of mind that overrides the temporary discomfort," Emery
says. "What is pulling you to the finish line? What is the
endurance athletes are motivated by the sheer personal challenge of
accomplishing something they never thought they’d be able to
accomplish, or more inspiring still, proving to others who doubted
that they could succeed.
comes in many forms. It’s vastly different for different
people," says Emery, who is most driven by the goal of remaining
his doctor’s star patient. "My doctor tells me nobody my age
has good health numbers like I do. There’s a reason for those good
numbers. It’s called exercise. I like to stay healthy. I choose not
to feel lethargic. I’ve competed for 43 years, and I’d like to do
it for another 30."
has only been alive for 20 years, much of that time spent in athletic
endeavors. She played volleyball and soccer and ran track at Waukesha
West High School, excelled in all three sports, kept up her training
when she entered UW-Milwaukee, but felt like something was missing
until she competed in the Spartan Race in Chicago in September of
always trained really hard," Clifford says. "When I
transitioned from high school to college, I’d kill myself in the gym
and for what? When I did the Spartan Race, I thought, this is perfect
Perfect, if you
like leaping over flames, crawling under barbed wire in the mud,
climbing over walls 4 to 8 feet high and carrying tires, rock-filled
buckets or sandbags over obstacle courses ranging from a mile to
marathon distances. Clifford did so well in her early races that she
was signed by Spartan to be on their national team, competing in
events across America.
is different. It’s a lot higher intensity than other sports,"
says Clifford, who has suffered stress fractures in her foot and
"nagging injuries I can push through" during her intense
preparations. Such "preparations" include pushing a
300-pound tractor tire (a "present" she requested from her
parents for Christmas) and scaling a wall in her backyard.
really mentally stubborn person," Clifford says about dealing
with pain in her training and competitions. "When I really want
something, injuries don’t hold me back from anything. I try to
mentally push myself through that."
"training every day," gearing up for the Spartan World
Championship in Lake Tahoe, "the Holy Grail of Spartan
races," in October and the World’s Toughest Mudder event in Las
Vegas later this fall. She aims to be one of obstacle course racing’s
best competitors and an ambassador to grow the sport.
apply to UW-Milwaukee’s nursing school for the spring semester,
where she’ll get a clearer clinical understanding of what she’s
putting her body through. "It’s totally worth it,"
Clifford says. "I’m totally obsessed with it. I love it."