Fit for two: Execs embark on a shared fitness journey

There was an extra person in Kristine and Paul Ashe’s relationship for a while, and neither of them was very happy about it. But they worked hard, and they’re both doing much better now.

No, it’s not what you think. Their marriage was just fine. But they did lose a lot of extra baggage, and now their prospects are brighter than they’ve ever been.

That’s because they found the time to work together, as an inseparable team, on a big project — her as a contestant in IB’s Fittest Executive Challenge and him as her fellow traveler and dogged supporter.

“We tease each other,” said Kristine Ashe. “We’ve lost a person between us. He’s lost almost 100 pounds, and I lost 40. It’s a great thing, and he feels great.”

“When you don’t feel good and you’re not taking care of yourself physically and aren’t eating right, you’re a little more lethargic. So my life has definitely improved, and my work too.” — Kristine Ashe

Actually, both of them are feeling great — or much better, at least, than they did when they took up the challenge back in the spring of this year.

Of course, it’s no surprise that they succeeded in accomplishing their goals once they set their minds on getting fit. Ashe, a vice president at Park Bank, recently took home the top prize in the Fittest Executive Challenge’s Most Improved Woman category. Meanwhile, her husband, the community meal director for Madison’s Luke House, was her constant companion on her fitness journey, and made her 4 a.m. wakeup calls just a bit easier to bear.

But as leaders in their respective workplaces, they both knew how to get motivated — and to chart a clear path toward success.

For Kristine, that simply meant applying the same skill set that has made her a successful executive to her fitness regimen.

“It’s kind of like an interesting work-flow and project management [task] — how do you go through these different steps to accomplish a goal?” said Ashe. “Looking at work, what the situation is, and trying to use all the resources, doing the research and being willing to work, and doing step-by-step work flow and analysis. Seeing what works and what doesn’t and trying again, and just being willing to work through a process. That’s helped, and I think it’s brainstorming with other people, those kinds of techniques. What are best practices? Developing steps that you can consistently use to improve a process.”

For Ashe, there wasn’t anything particularly magical or groundbreaking about her fitness regimen. Her research led her down some healthy paths — including portion control and a consistent exercise program (through Hybrid Fitness in Fitchburg) that incorporated circuit training. She also made it a point to drink more water and eat healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables.

“I got a heart-rate monitor and I started determining [the number of calories burned] when you’re exercising, and when you look at how hard you work to get rid of calories and your own calorie intake, it really makes you think more about what you put in your mouth.”

You could say her personal fitness revolution has been a revelation of sorts in the workplace as well. Ashe says her new dedication has given her more energy and affected her in other ways.

“It’s definitely a stress reliever, and just gives you more focused attention to what needs to happen,” 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 healthier, and I feel that I can [more easily] engage in conversation. It just helps me be present through different issues versus just being stressed out. When you don’t feel good and you’re not taking care of yourself physically and aren’t eating right, you’re a little more lethargic. So my life has definitely improved, and my work too.”

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As someone who’s lived on both sides of the fitness divide, Ashe has some trenchant advice for fellow executives who may feel that they just don’t have the time to get in shape.

“Again, we all have the same 24 hours in our day; it’s just a matter of choices,” said Ashe. “Everybody’s got choices. We choose what we do with our time. I guess I would say [to other executives] that my choice has been to work this into my program because, in the long run, I feel like I have more time and energy to get that done.”

A team effort

Of course, without her husband, making those choices would have been a lot more difficult. Kristine credits Paul with helping her stick to her program and making those pre-dawn workouts easier to face.

“I admire anyone who could could get up at 4 o’clock in the morning by themselves,” said Kristine. “I can get up at 4 in the morning because my husband and I do it together. … [Paul] is a person who’s struggled with being heavier, and he’s had bad hips — arthritic hips. He had two hip replacements, and to come back after that and feel really good and healthy, it’s made a great difference.

“He said to me, ‘Besides marrying you, honey, this is the best thing we’ve done together.’ It’s a new lifestyle. It’s not a quick diet. It’s not something we’re going to do for a while. This is something we want to do for the rest of our lives so we can live longer and enjoy retirement.”

The couple’s new focus on fitness has also influenced Paul in his role as Luke House’s community meal director. The program, which serves lunches to the needy Monday through Thursday and dinners Sunday through Thursday, relies heavily on the volunteer efforts of various faith communities and others, and Kristine is an active participant.

“I think it’s helped him to think more consciously, trying to get healthier meals for everyone that he can,” said Kristine. “More salads, more vegetables, encouraging that kind of add-on to Luke House. I think it just changes your outlook a little bit more.”

Meanwhile, Kristine continues to encourage good health habits among her friends, her family, and her co-workers.

“At Park Bank, we’re very fortunate that we have wellness things in place and our human resources department tries to talk about proactively taking care of ourselves, so it’s nice to be a part of that vision,” said Ashe. “Other people see me and say, ‘What did you do, Kris?’ And I encourage people, saying, ‘Well, here’s what my journey was. I drink more water, I don’t use as much salt, I watch my portions, and I try to get some kind of physical activity, at least a half an hour to an hour a day.’ And I think it’s encouraged other workers in my specific department, and also throughout the bank. We’re all more conscious of trying to be healthy.”

But while she’s inspiring her co-workers, she’s all but amazing her fellow travelers at her gym.

“They tease me at the gym because I can now hold a plank … for 16 minutes, and they’re all freaking out. ‘How can you do that?’” said Ashe. “Well, I don’t know how I can, but I’m pretty good at that. Apparently because I’ve developed a stronger core, and so it’s fun to be able to say that.

“And I’ve got some grown children, they’re very proud of their mom. And they say, ‘What do you mean you can do 60 pushups? I can’t do 60 pushups.’ And so I have a lot more confidence and assurance and just peace of mind, and I’m just very grateful for this time in my life.”

A feature story on all the 2013 Fittest Executive Challenge winners will be posted on Monday, Dec. 23.

IBs Fittest Executive Challenge was sponsored by:

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