For Madison retailer, fitness is a personal and professional pursuit

Nearly 30 top-level professionals are competing in the second annual Fittest Executive Challenge, presented by In Business magazine. Who will earn the healthiest marks? Find out at the In Business Expo & Conference on Oct. 23.

This week, Jessica Lynn Anderson, owner of Fleet Feet Sports Madison, shares her experience participating in the “Fittest Women Under 50” challenge.

When I saw the opportunity to blog my “fit challenge,” I thought to myself, “I am a talker, not a writer.” Maybe that is why blogging may be good for me, so let’s try it. My story is long, but I think starting from the beginning is the best way to explain who I am now.

I grew up in a city of 20,000 people in Wisconsin. I was the oldest of three kids. My sister was only two years younger, and my brother arrived 18 months after her. My parents were very young when they had us, so we grew up fast and I had to be very responsible early on. They often had multiple jobs, worked overtime when it was offered, and helped my grandparents run a private country club.

I joke now that I missed a lot of sleepovers to help with dishwashing, but it was quite disappointing at the time. My grandparents worked hard serving people in and out of the country club, always putting others first. They worked every holiday. We always had a family member working at the country club. My mom and aunts waited tables, my uncle was the chef, and my great-grandmother baked pies until she passed away. My grandma ran the country club with my grandpa, and still has a smile on her face all the time. It’s contagious.

My athletic background is in cheerleading, after I decided not to do gymnastics anymore. It was simple; I enjoyed cheering on others. I can’t explain it, but I get goose bumps when others win a game or finish a race. I get nervous for my 5-year-old when he is doing a triathlon.

However, cheerleading was not good to me. Three ACL reconstructions by age 20 aren’t ideal. (Are they ever?) I loved cheering at the college level, and when I could no longer handle the pain, I helped coach cheerleading for a season. Since I was no longer a part of the team, I lost the drive to exercise and then lost all motivation to finish school. I had switched majors, unsure of the direction I should go. So I quit. I went back into the restaurant biz, made good money, got promoted, and moved. After nine months in Des Moines, then back to La Crosse, I thought about going back to school.

In 2000, I met my husband, Matt. He encouraged me to go back to school and helped me get back on track. (I wasn’t necessarily making bad decisions. I was just confused.) Ultimately, he’s the one who got me into running. My whole family ran. My brother won running titles and holds course records. My sister ran cross-country in high school. My parents were always active. My dad ran one really fast marathon. Why wouldn’t I try it? I hated that first mile, but that eventually became one and a half miles, then two miles, then I ran a 5K and got hooked. Matt’s co-workers talked me into the Madison Marathon, then the Chicago Marathon, and then we moved to California. And, yes, dropped out of school again.

I was on a roll and thought about running an ultramarathon. (“I am 25 and have fresh legs!”) My sister-in-law recommended Fleet Feet for my running shoes. I had not been fit for shoes before, and I had a great customer experience when I visited the Fleet Feet in Sacramento. The experience made me think about the interactions I’d had at the country club for 10 years. Even though I saw people on a regular basis and served them, I certainly wasn’t helping them achieve their goals.

Fleet Feet Sports helped me with shoes and training and encouraged me to go faster. I also learned a lot about commitment. Maybe school wasn’t the path for me. I had a vision and my city-planner husband was ready to make a move back to Wisconsin for me. We sold our house, signed our franchise agreement, got married, and said this is what we want to do forever: help others achieve their fitness goals, comfortably, with great gear and motivation — and most of all, if we were to have kids, let them know that a job can be fun, rewarding, and your passion. When we landed back in Wisconsin, it was the week of Ironman. It was the perfect reminder of why we were back in Wisconsin and wanted to open our store here.

I am a competitive person sometimes, but it drives my husband nuts. And I’m still cheering on everyone in a race. If I can talk during a race, it’s a good thing. I run and cheer at the same time now!

I’ve participated in over 15 marathons (Boston twice), dabbled in triathlons and multiple 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and, yes, a crazy-person 50-miler. I want to be active forever, so I don’t work out every day and am very cautious when doing so. These knees have already been under the knife too many times.

Truly, my reason for exercise is fourfold: I do it to keep my husband from going crazy. I do it so my kids can see I have challenges besides work. I do it for my health and social life. And I do it so I can motivate others.



Q&A with Jessica Lynn Anderson

Why are you participating in the Fittest Executive Challenge?

I am participating in the Fittest Exec Challenge because a competitor from last year suggested I try it. I felt it was a good fit for what I do every day: encourage others and help them reach their fitness goals. It is good to practice what I preach.

Tell us about your fitness regimen.

I have been active for most of my life, but as I mentioned earlier, I was the cheerleader. Now I exercise weekly, but every week is different. I’m not a fan of running in hot weather, so I’m going out two to four times a week and running three to eight miles each day. I also go to a TRX class three times a week and a BOSU-ball exercise class once a week. I did a 24-hour triathlon relay challenge with four others in late July. (It is a really fun event. We did it last year as an eight-hour relay.) I will be doing the Chicago Marathon again this year and then pacing the Madison Marathon in November. My mom is coming up to do the race in hopes of a Boston qualifier. She can do it and I want to help get her there. I am going to Boston in April 2014 with friends and hope to go with her in 2015 or 2016.

How has your workout changed?

My workout schedule has not changed much. I have tried to maintain it even during those hot and humid days, and I’ve been in the pool with my kids a lot. (I think that’s considered cross-training!) I have increased the intensity of my workouts and tried to be consistent in working out four to five days per week.

What are you doing to prepare for your evaluation?

To prepare for my evaluation, I am trying to get my competitive juices flowing and give it 110%! I am usually the one who paces others and helps them finish their workouts, and now I have to show them that I do my own runs, work my butt off at boot camps, and am trying to change my eating habits. (It’s not going so well.) I signed up for the challenge and now I have to prove that I have done the work.

How do you stay motivated?

I am truly inspired and motivated by the newbie. I love the Ironman, the marathon runner, the world-record holders, but it is the person who has made a major change and wants to add exercise into his or her life that motivates me. And, of course, my children. My son and daughter need me, and I think being healthy will help me be a better mom. I know that my staff and family would be quite proud to hear I am the fittest exec in Madison!

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