What’s your workout?

Sacramento is a haven for fitness disciples. SN&R decided to share some of their best routines.

Dr. Ann Gerhardt, medical director at Sutter Health Heart Transplant Program, is a devout “commuter walker”

Dr. Ann Gerhardt, medical director at Sutter Health Heart Transplant Program, is a devout “commuter walker”

photo by wes davis

Amid the varied traditions of the new year, behold the resolution.

This year, it might be a vow to seek out an improved relationship, return to school or begin the search for a new job. The want of blissful family gatherings is a worthy quest. And with few exceptions, restraint is a noble goal.

But weight loss, working out and the pursuit of physical fitness—these will always be among the most popular resolutions. For many, the new year’s resolve winds up on soon-to-be broken wish lists.

Yet the Sacramento region is also a haven for unwavering fitness disciples. For them, exercise is not only welcomed, it’s not to be missed. Runners run, rain or shine. Predawn Jazzercise classes are packed. Cyclists commute along the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail in the dark with headlamps as required beacons—figuratively and literarally—while on the road to fitness.

Just in time for a new year, we offer a roundup of workout routines from some area notables.

Ann Gerhardt

In general time frames, Dr. Ann Gerhardt is in her fifth decade of four diverse forms of fitness, the latest as a “commuter walker” with environmental concerns.

“With all the pollution, global warming and all the cars and traffic, I just don’t like to drive unless I have to,” says Gerhardt, medical director at Sutter Health Heart Transplant Program. “I probably drive two days a week, maybe. But if there’s a way to walk or ride my bike or utilize public transportation, that’s what I do.”

Gerhardt, 60, who lives with her husband Jim McElroy in Midtown Sacramento, played basketball for a decade beginning at age 15. She transitioned into endurance sports as a runner and kayaker in her mid-30s and competed in long-distance running races and multi-sport events like Eppie’s Great Race.

When injuries curtailed her running, Gerhardt began a competitive walking career. The unique-looking sport is often misunderstood, but Gerhardt benefited from the full-body workout while participating in distances extending past the marathon. She eventually became a USA Track & Field walking official.

In recent years, with her medical expertise expanding from a private practice to responsibilities at different medical facilities, Gerhardt developed an unofficial Sacramento-area fitness grid. She knows, for example, the number of flights of stairs and step count of area hospitals.

When out-of-town work requires departure from the Sacramento International Airport, Gerhardt walks from her home about 1 1/2 miles into downtown and then takes Yolobus. When Gerhardt is working in Midtown or East Sacramento, she walks or sometimes rides a cruiser bike to as many as six locations in a day.

“I usually carry a heavy pack,” says Gerhardt, who often travels with her husband, also 60 and a weekend ski instructor near Lake Tahoe. “It’s a good practice for when we travel. We go the Andes or the Swiss Alps, we don’t rent a car. We’re out there hiking or walking hut-to-hut.”

While no longer competing, Gerhardt’s current fitness regimen has worked well for another reason. While competing, she had more of an appetite. As a commuter walker, she’s fit but eats less.

“I’ve lost 1 inch and 8 pounds,” she says. “It’s not intentional. I just find myself eating less.”

While exercise is often viewed as a means to reducing stress or otherwise purposely interrupting a daily routine, Gerhardt’s busy medical world often means her commuter walking requires a physician’s version of making good use of time.

“Oh, I forgot to mention that when I’m walking, it’s also the time I have to return [medical] phone calls,” she says. “Or it’s when I can practice my Spanish.”

Deirdre Fitzpatrick

Before she had children, Deirdre Fitzpatrick thought of herself as a busy woman. But now, as a mother of two, the news anchor and reporter for KCRA 3 describes her former life, in part, as “squandering hours.”

Fitzpatrick, a long-time endurance athlete whose accomplishments include 12 marathons, including the Boston Marathon, and an Ironman Distance Triathlon, works unusual hours—even by daily-deadline-journalism standards.

“I’m up at 2:15 a.m., way before my kids (ages 6 and 2), and I work until noon,” explains the morning anchor, who has worked at KCRA since New Year’s Eve 1997. “After that, I have a limited time frame. My husband also works early, so we have to plan a tight daily schedule.”

Fitzpatrick, who prefers to say she’s “30-something,” strives to exercise five days a week and prides herself on being prepared and working out promptly. She carries her running gear in her car and has been known to go for a training run right after an assignment on location.

“Sometimes, I change quickly, take off my makeup, put my hair in a ponytail, and I get out the door, and no one recognizes me,” Fitzpatrick says. “If I have 45 minutes before I have to get my son from school, that’s it. I have 45 minutes.”

Now beginning her 15th year at KCRA, Fitzpatrick has lofty athletic goals in the first few months of 2012. She qualified to run the Boston Marathon in April, but five weeks before, she’ll participate in the uniquely named Way Too Cool. The 50-kilometer (31.1- mile) trail event begins in Cool and progresses on rugged Sierra Nevada foothill trails.

“I used to think nothing of going up to the Auburn area by myself,” says Fitzpatrick. “But now as a mom, it’s probably not something I’m going to do alone. But I can’t wait to do it.”

Taro Arai, executive chef at Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar takes to the golf course about once a week.

Photo by wes davis

Taro Arai

As anyone who has dined in Mikuni Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar in the last quarter-century knows, Taro Arai has vast enthusiasm and appreciation for entertaining guests as the executive chef of the expanding sushi restaurant group.

But Arai’s seemingly omnipresent outgoing personality is arguably more evident on the golf course. He’s immersed into the game, playing about once a week while maintaining a 13-handicap.

“I don’t know,” says Arai, 41, who took up the game about 17 years ago in conjunction with the start of the restaurant’s annual charity golf tournament. “Is once a week a lot? I just feel that every time I’m playing, it’s such a privilege to be out in nature, enjoying the outdoors. How can I not be happy? I am living the American Dream.”

The author of the 2010 memoir Abundance: Finding the American Dream in a Japanese Kitchen, Arai says golf, like his other recreational passion, fishing, allows him to develop friends and business acquaintances he knows as a chef in a new light.

“You get to know someone on the golf course, their personality, and it’s just really enjoyable for me,” Arai says. “How can you not like it? It’s just the best place to be.”

Valerie Pelc fell in love with the sport roller derby and is among about 150 local women who compete in the Sacred City Derby Girls. “Sometimes it just feels good to get out there and skate your butt off,” she says.

photo by wes davis

Ask if golf provides stress relief from his work or adds stress, and Arai dismisses the suggestion.

“I don’t have any stress,” he says. “And stress at work? No, not really. I hear people cussing on the golf course. I don’t do that. I guess I have such low expectations of myself [as a golfer], if I make a par, I’m happy.”

Valerie Pelc

Softball and snowboarding, alpine skiing and synchronized swimming–the various health benefits and competition has sculpted Valerie Pelc’s active lifestyle.

But nothing the former Auburn resident who now lives in downtown Sacramento has tried is quite like her current cardiovascular endeavor—roller derby.

“I just fell in love with the sport,” explains Pelc, 25, who works in her family’s business Capitol Store Fixtures in Natomas. “I tried it before when a friend did it, but I was too young. … I put it on the back burner, so to speak. Then another friend tried more recently. When I heard about tryouts, I jumped right on it. I couldn’t get there fast enough. I just love it.”

As a result, since August 2010, Pelc has embraced the quickly growing international sport that now has about 2,000 leagues worldwide. She practices and competes in matches (called bouts) at least three days a week, each session about three hours. While adding Pilates (her sister is an instructor) and other exercise into her regimen, Pelc recreates an estimated 14-15 hour per week.

“We have a saying, ‘It’s cheaper than anger management,’” says Pelc, whose team and others in the league train in a warehouse on North C Street downtown. “It’s not that we are angry people. But sometimes it just feels good to get out there and skate your butt off.”

Pelc is among about 150 women who compete in the Sacred City Derby Girls, the Sacramento league founded in 2006. Sac City Rollers, a complementary women’s organization, attracts another 100 participants.

“It’s an amazing workout,” says Pelc of the roller derby routine that mixes high-speed and strategic laps around a short, flat wooden oval track. “I think I’ve lost about 20 pounds since I started.”

Unlike the roller derby popular throughout the country dating more than 40 years ago, the current version Pelc describes as a more legitimate sport. Bouts aren’t scripted. Random acts of violence, the gist of the former exhibitions, are illegal, as are kicking and punching.

“I wasn’t large by any means,” says the 4-foot-11-inch Pelc of the fitness benefits of roller derby. “I just prefer to be at a certain size for my personal comfort level. My weight can fluctuate because of the season of roller derby. But I just love it so much, I’m just always there, and that helps.

“It’s mostly a lower-body workout, because, obviously, you’re skating on your legs. But we off-track exercise, too. So it works on all of our bodies. But my legs are fantastic. I used to be a swimmer, but my legs weren’t as good then as they are now.”

Mike Savage

As an endurance athlete, Mike Savage prefers early-morning training. If it’s dark and cold or windy and rainy or any combination of inclement weather, it doesn’t matter. He’s in. Running at 5 a.m. defines what the Sacramento County Superior Court judge calls “free miles.”

“Running is so much a part of what I do now, it’s just sort of a natural thing,” says Savage, 52, of Rocklin. “When you’re training for a 100-miler, I learned a long time ago, I’m going to be sleeping and lot less, and I’m going to be running in the dark a lot. When my son was younger, I didn’t want to take time away from him, so I either ran after he went to bed or before he got up.

Mike Savage, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge, runs three days a week in 6- to 10-mile doses

photo by wes davis

“I’ve just sort of kept to that. They’re not totally free miles, but that’s how I look at them. It’s easy to sort of knock out miles when it’s dark. I have gotten used to getting up at 4:15 [a.m.] and being on the trail a 4:45 or 5, and getting those miles in. As long as it’s not pouring. That’s where I draw the line. Any other thing, freezing cold or a little bit wet, I don’t care about that, I will get out there and run.”

A decade after he took up long-distance running for weight control, Savage, 5 feet 10 inches, 160 pounds, is immersed in the rigors of trail running. Most often, he tackles races from 50 kilometers (31.1 miles) to 100 miles.

Savage describes himself, among ultrarunner-types, as a “minimalist.” He often runs three days a week in 6- to 10-mile doses. On weekends, he endures a several-hour run or a medium-distance effort incorporated with a bike ride.

“There’s no doubt about it,” says Savage, describing the benefits of his choice of exercise. “[Judges] sort of watch a river of real human suffering and other problems constantly in front of our eyes. There are people in such distress and misery and making horrendous choices repeatedly.

“I think for me, running absolutely does sort of help me clear out all that junk. I have a very keen sense of freedom, and I feel so blessed that every morning that I can have a choice to go somewhere beautiful. It’s free of charge. It costs a little pain and suffering and takes a little bit of dedication. But I am able to get up and see the animals and the trees. I am so appreciative of that. I am around people who walk around in chains and who walk from cell to cell. Every day that I’m out there, I am crazy happy about it.”

After high-school football and basketball careers, Savage was too small to play in college. As his legal career progressed, a friend in the Sacramento district attorney’s office suggested running.

Savage began to train, competed in a half-marathon (13.1 miles) and he subsequently was hooked on running. But he was also then persuaded by another friend to do some “real running” in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Savage ran his first marathon in his 2001 at age 42 and then transitioned into ultra-distance events—races longer than a 26.2-mile marathon—a few years later. He’s completed about 70 marathons and ultras.

By 2005, Savage had progressed into 100-mile runs and completed the Western States 100—the well-known century from Squaw Valley to Auburn. He’s participated in at least one 100-miler every year since, and in August, has plans to run in the high-altitude Leadville 100 in Colorado.

“It’s my lifestyle now,” Savage says. “I love it. I don’t know how I would do without it.”

Joey Garcia

When a friend died unexpectedly a few years ago, Joey Garcia inherited a young golden retriever. It was a less than ideal new relationship. Garcia had two cats and wasn’t particularly fond of dogs. Conversely, Jake missed his deceased owner and was unruly.

But over time, the duo became best friends. And Jake’s energy has prompted a change in Garcia’s lifestyle. Although she’s been a yoga practitioner “off and on” since 1979, the 51-year-old Sacramentan wasn’t keen on outdoor exercise.

“Through my dog, I have discovered once again the joy of being outside,” says Garcia, the life coach, facilitator and author of SN&R’s Ask Joey advice column in for 15 years. “I think I have tended to be a very interior, inside person, both in terms of meditation and prayer. But I read. I love watching movies. I love writing poetry. I’m indoors a lot.”

Now, however, Jake and Garcia walk daily, rain or shine, usually on the levee and trail system accessible via River Park, near her home. Garcia, who’s also the founder of www.riseupbelize.org, is particularly passionate about walking along the river.

“Jake wants to go every day, and my neighbors laugh that when it’s pouring rain, we’re out there walking,” Garcia says. “They literally laugh about this. We’ll be on the river, and we’ll be in the neighborhood, the weather doesn’t matter.”

With walking (sometimes for several hours) part of her daily lifestyle, Garcia has also now returned to other types of fitness she dispatched years ago, most notably running and cycling.

“I have asthma. So my lungs are much healthier. I’ve noticed it when using my inhaler. I’ve never been any kind or uber-athlete. I used to go to the gym and go to spin classes and all that sort of thing.”

“I am a naturally slim person, but I’m not someone who wants buy an outfit to sweat in. It’s not my personality. I love the idea of recreation as a unique experience to recreate ourselves. That idea is so essential, and yet we are so far from it.”

Garcia has also realized walking rekindled her appreciation of nature.

“Going to the gym was a really weird phenomenon,” she explains. “I felt like I was trying to fit into a culture. But when I am walking my dog along the river, I am fitting into the world. When I am in nature, there’s a sense of being part of something, not separate from it.”

And Garcia, laughing, adds: “Healthwise, it’s been wonderful for me. I don’t know. I guess I’m just in love with my dog.”

Capitol Public Radio broadcaster Gary Vercelli incorporates yoga into his daily routine. “You’re not only building strength and flexibility,” he says, “you’re sending oxygenated blood to your internal organs.”

photo by wes davis

Gary Vercelli

A longtime Capital Public Radio broadcaster, Gary Vercelli is among the fitness devotees for whom the new year means the continuation of a lifestyle in which physical and mental exercise rule.

Vercelli knows the chaotic Southern California freeway system as well as anyone. But the tragedies of gridlock, road rage and reckless driving were oddly kind. In the accidents he was involved in as younger man, Vercelli only suffered whiplash.

Vercelli left Southern California decades ago for Sacramento where he’s built a long tenure as jazz maestro in broadcasting. Yet all those years ago, before the now 61-year-old audiophile arrived on the Sacramento State campus and began to work at the then largely unknown FM station, his body hurt and he didn’t know what to do about it. The answer was and remains yoga.

“What drove me to yoga was pain,” Vercelli recalls. “Just like anyone who has lived in Southern California for any length of time, I had a few whiplashes. I tried massage, chiropractic and drugs in different modalities. A friend said, ‘Why don’t you try yoga? It’s something you can do for yourself, rather than running to the chiropractor every five minutes.’”

Vercelli, who in 2010 surpassed 30 years in the Sacramento radio market, incorporates yoga in his daily routine—as a practitioner and teacher.

“I got really serious about yoga in 1991,” says Vercelli, who has studied yoga in India with Iyengar as his chosen method. “I was really attracted to it because of its precision of alignment. I recognized, that even though I first came to yoga because of my injuries, I was not even aware of my poor posture.

“I’ve seen my body change a lot over the years as a result of yoga. And it’s also helped me come to realize a connection to my breath and how breath changes when you are in certain life situations.”

Nearly a decade after beginning his serious approach to yoga, Vercelli began to teach yoga at American River College. He’s studied with several internationally renowned yoga masters and received his teaching certification in 2003.

“[Iyengar yoga] is a little less aerobic than some of the more popular yoga systems,” Vercelli explains. “But what I like about it is that it emphasizes the use of props, like belts and blocks and blankets. It makes yoga accessible to people with injuries and physical challenges. I feel like I am able to teach a mixed-level class, with seniors, beginners and more advanced students.”

With his students at ARC and in his long tenure practicing yoga, Vercelli stresses a major difference between yoga and other forms of fitness. Weightlifting, for example, works on the body from the outside in. Yoga is also the reverse, working the body from the inside out.

“You’re not only building strength and flexibility,” Vercelli details. “You’re sending oxygenated blood to your internal organs. You’re doing kind of a toning to the liver, to the spleen, to the abdomen, to the heart, as well as building muscle.”

Vercelli, who’s on-air on KXJZ during evening shifts, practices yoga every day. He complements it with walking.

“Sometimes in the challenging world of media, there doesn’t seem to be enough time,” Vercelli says. “But if I don’t at least do my afternoon inversions, I feel like it negatively effects my performance the rest of the day.”