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IB’s Fittest Exec winners show grit, determination — and humor

Fittest Executive Challenge winners Kristine Ashe, Mark Burish, Mary Woolsey Schlaefer, Jessica Anderson, and Jeff Haupt. Not pictured: Ted Straus

Fittest Executive Challenge winners Kristine Ashe, Mark Burish, Mary Woolsey Schlaefer, Jessica Anderson, and Jeff Haupt. Not pictured: Ted Straus

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As outdoor activities and regular exercise regimens slowly morph into the relentless pursuit of kringle and other gastronomical derring-do for most hardy Wisconsinites, IB’s Fittest Executive Challenge winners are still basking in the glow of their autumn triumphs.

Six top executives were honored during the In Business Expo & Conference on Oct. 23: Kristine Ashe, vice president, Park Bank (Most Improved Woman); Ted Straus, executive vice president/COO, Suttle-Straus, Inc. (Most Improved Man); Mark Burish, founder/director/shareholder, Hurley, Burish and Stanton (Man Over 50); Mary Woolsey Schlaefer, president/CEO, Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. (Woman Over 50); Jessica Anderson, owner, Fleet Feet Sports Madison (Woman Under 50); and Jeff Haupt, owner, Red Card Media, LLC (Man Under 50).

“I received some very interesting reactions when my friends learned I was competing. The facial expressions ranged from, ‘really, you?’ to ‘good luck with that.’” — Ted Straus, Suttle-Straus, Inc.

For these active executives, fitness is not just a summertime hobby — it’s a lifestyle. And for our Most Improved winners, it’s a renewed focus that’s transformed their lives and aided their careers.

“During the challenge, I was often asked, ‘How do you feel?’ and ‘Have you noticed a difference?’” said Straus. “My response was often, ‘Everything is just better.’ My energy and focus improved dramatically. By incorporating morning workouts, I would arrive at work without the morning blahs and I could hit the ground running. I don’t recall a single day where stress impacted me negatively. Eating better and regular exercise provided that edge that I think we all look for as leaders.”

For Ashe, who lost 40 pounds during the challenge (see IB’s feature on Ashe and her husband Paul’s shared fitness journey), the experience was similar, and it allowed her to be more present and focused at the office.

“It’s definitely been a stress reliever, and just [allows me to] give more focused attention to what needs to happen, the well-being you feel,” said Ashe. “I take a lot of pride in where I work and I enjoy the people I work with, and it just makes my whole countenance happier. And I feel that I can engage in conversation and be present through different issues versus just being stressed out. … So my life has definitely improved, and my work, too.”

This year’s Fittest Executive Challenge kicked off with 30 challengers — including IB’s own Jan Wilson — representing a wide range of industries. The Most Improved contestants started off with a baseline health evaluation conducted by Meriter Health Services, and the winners were determined by the percentage improvement in various health categories.

For the Fittest Exec categories, competitors were evaluated at the end of the contest period. Their cholesterol and blood glucose levels, resting heart rate and blood pressure, body fat percentage, and flexibility were all measured, and they were also given strength tests and a treadmill exercise test.

While most people would consider taking on an executive role to be workout enough, many of our Fittest Exec competitors consider staying fit to be an integral part of their jobs.

“I count fitness as part of my work responsibilities,” said Schlaefer. “My goal is to be as effective and well rounded a leader as possible. Building stamina and physical strength makes me a more energetic, positive, confident leader. So when I take time to work out, I don’t think, ‘This is taking away from my work.’ I think, ‘This will help me bring more to my work.’ That frame of mind helps me prioritize and find time for fitness just as I do for other critical work responsibilities.”

Indeed, that’s a lesson that many of our challengers would like to impart to their employees. Maybe they’re not quite ready to start a Japanese-style forced-calisthenics regimen, but the importance of wellness in an age of rising health care costs and alarmingly low employee engagement levels can’t be stressed enough. 

For Haupt, that translates into one refreshingly simple philosophy — no excuses.

“Staying in shape is one of the easiest things you can do, and saying you don’t have time for it is just an excuse,” said Haupt. “I have and continue to allow a flexible schedule to let my employees work out during the day. If you are results-driven, the time away from the office won’t matter, and employees appreciate the flexibility. A healthy staff is an effective one.”

As IB’s Most Improved Man, Straus has developed an even greater appreciation for the importance of wellness in the workplace, and being a positive example to his employees was part of the fun.

(Continued)

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