AUSTIN (KXAN) — What gives your heart strength? I’m not talking about healthy food and exercise. Yes, that is important, because it helps keep the heart physically strong. But, what helps power your heart with the strength to beat harder, faster and longer than you thought was possible? For me, it’s community. The last 15 months taught me that the only way to go farther is if we walk together.
For a group of 30 athletes in Austin, the community they cultivated is helping them travel beyond their physical and mental limits.

“It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, for sure, hands down, so the fact that I can even complete it is amazing,” Angie Romo said while embracing the sweat from a strenuous workout.

Angie Romo takes a break after completing a Hyrox practice run. (KXAN Photo/Jose Torres)

This group of women and men are training for Hyrox, an event known as the World Series of Fitness. It’s making its debut in Austin on Saturday, May 22. You won’t believe what they must do. They have eight demanding exercises and in between each challenge, they must run a kilometer, just a tad more than half a mile.

Hyrox challenge rundown

It starts easily, with a 1K run to the first challenge, a 1,000-meter SkiErg. Just imagine working your arms, core and legs all at the same time. But, if you want to stay in the lead, you need to go fast.

Here comes the easy part, run another 1K to recover.

Then you’re pushing a sled full of weights, something light, 165 pounds. Then, yep, another 1K run to pull the same sled, but this time it’s a little easier — just 110 pounds.

1K again and we reach the halfway point: burpees! But you’re doing this for 80 meters. You’re thinking, ‘How fun,’ right? Make sure your laces are tight.

We have another 1K, and head to the rowing machine and row 1,000 meters.

CJ Finley leads a group of 30 people at Squatch Frontier Fitness in east Austin. (KXAN Photo/Jose Torres)

Then back to the pavement for another 1K and pick up a pair of 30-pound kettlebells and walk fast for 200 meters.

OK, the finish line is in sight. Let’s crush another 1K and then pick up a 22-pound sandbag and torture ourselves by carrying it around our neck while doing lunges for 100 meters.

OK, now we’re getting close to the end. The final 1K run and, get ready for this … grab a 10-pound ball. Yay, 10 pounds! Your arms will be happy. Grab the ball, get into a squat, and as you get up, throw the ball. Now repeat this 100 times.

Did I mention judges will be there to make sure your form is on point for every challenge? The wrong form means you get to do it again.

“Whenever we started this training, we were all suffering. We were all dying, and now we’ve really progressed over the weeks just by being consistent and showing up,” Ross Tschirn said as he recalled the last six weeks of training for Hyrox.

Ross Tschirn hopes to finish his Hyrox run under an hour and 20 minutes. The winner in Dallas finished with a time just over 58 minutes. (KXAN Photo/Jose Torres.)

Why do they do it?

I met up with the group on a Saturday at Squatch Frontier Fitness, a week before their big day. It was eye-opening to see that even the most athletic and shredded person faced at least one struggle.

“This stuff really exhausts me, my muscles, and everything,” Joe Lindley said while looking down at the weight ball he was throwing nonstop. Out of 100, he stopped at number 32 when I approached him.

Joe Lindley is gearing up for a trek that will take him 55 days of cycling cross country to spread awareness for mental health. (KXAN Photo/Jose Torres.)

Joe is about to undergo another amazing challenge. Next month he’s getting on his bicycle and riding coast to coast, starting from North Carolina and ending in California. In this 55-day trek, he will make stops and talk to strangers about mental illness and share his journey of ADD and anxiety. Joe believes that mental health is dependent on the community.

“Here it truly is, a better you, a better us mentality, where everybody rising tide, raises all ships,” Noah Huisman said.

Noah is new to Austin. He’s from Minneapolis and took a trip here to visit a friend. He thought he was just staying for January but instead decided to plant roots in Austin. It turned out to be a good move because the community he found helped him realized something was missing.

“I’ve been limiting myself and avoiding competition. Hyrox for me is more of like an internal flipping of the switch. Where can I take more risks, more bets on myself, go all-in on myself.”
Even for the former college football player, Saturday’s challenge won’t be easy.

Noah Huisman is new to Austin and decided to stay after spending a month in the city. (KXAN Photo/ Jose Torres.)

“The hardest one is the burpee broad jumps. There is no way around that one. I just absolutely despise that one,” Huisman said. “I step up to the line, I got 80 meters of burpee jumps, but just like anything in life, you don’t have to do 80 meters, you just have to do one at a time.”

The men have some friendly competition.

“The longest run I’ve done is 130 miles. I did that around the (Swiss) Alps. And now this year I’m going to run my first 50-mile race,” Tonya Gray said with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes.

She’s ready for Hyrox. Tonya believes her strength will be the running challenges and that will give her a leg up on the competition. Tonya is new to fitness; she went from zero to 60.

“I was going through a hard time in my life, and I took on fitness as a way to deal with it, instead of turning to drugs or alcohol or eating,” she said. “I decided to take that energy and put it into fitness.”

Watch out boys, today, Tonya is snatching trophies. The day after we met during the group’s training, the 49-year-old took home first place in the overall women’s division of the Spartan Half Marathon race in Austin. First in her division, 14th overall with a time of 2:19:05.

Tonya Gray won the women’s division of the Spartan Half Marathon. (Courtesy Tonya Gray)

Hyrox lessons for life

Leading the Hyrox training in Austin is a man passionate about life.

“It makes me feel alive. Unfortunately, I lost people in my life too soon, and getting your heart beating is one of the ways to get your blood pumping,” CJ Finley said while talking to me about his motivation.

For CJ, fitness is not about the big muscles, it’s about awareness. His father-in-law suddenly died of a heart attack during a spin class.

“One day he was here, one day he wasn’t,” he said. “So, my wife and I decided to create a brand that ultimately inspired us to live each and every day like it is our last, and hopefully inspire other people to do the same. Give them hope. Give them belief. Give them the tools to bring their dreams to life because that’s what we really have in this life.”

When he teaches a fitness class, he first starts by asking people to think about that person who is no longer able to move or is no longer in their lives.

“So when times get tough, you are out of breath, and you want to give up — you’re not just doing it for yourself, you are doing it for that person that cannot do it anymore,” he said.

Most of the group wants to finish this fitness challenge in around one hour and 18 minutes. For some perspective, the Dallas Hyrox champion did it in 58 minutes and eight seconds.

A few of the athletes in the group, including CJ, competed in Dallas, so they have a good idea of what’s ahead on Saturday. I wanted to know for a guy who is mentally and physically fit, is this easy?

“No. Anything worth it in life isn’t easy,” CJ Finley said.

CJ Finley got a tattoo of a heart beat as a reminder to make every beat count. (KXAN Photo/ Jose Torres.)

So, this Saturday, the group will walk together to the Austin Convention Center and keep their heart beating with movement and community.

Jose Torres is a morning news producer with KXAN. His blog will bring stories of hope and determination from others who have fought through their own health struggles and life challenges. He looks forward to sharing those conversations in future blogs.