Some days you’re pursuing the summit and others, you’re just persevering until you can fall into bed. Here’s how four people are conquering their own “Everests.”
Every day, every single one of us faces challenges that require us to tackle them head-on, with no way around them but up. Some days, we give it our all and push farther than we thought we could. Other days, we just have to hang on and persevere.
On October 13, several hundred people will attempt to summit the equivalent of Mt. Everest at a new endurance event called 29029. (Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet high.) To do so, they will climb one mountain 17 times in three days or less.
24Life is following four of those people: Chris Roussos, CEO of 24 Hour Fitness; Micki Stary, Senior Director of Group X; Amanda Russell, celebrity fitness expert and contributor to 24Life; and Matt “The Bear” Novakovich, professional Spartan athlete. These four powerhouses also happen to be like the rest of us, with family and work obligations—and metaphorical mountains that might seem much steeper and harder to climb than a physical mountain. We asked them to share their own personal daily Everests, and how they overcome with grace and fortitude.
CHRIS ROUSSOS, CEO, 24 HOUR FITNESS
The new CEO leading more than 20,000 staff who help nearly 4 million members—and balancing family life.
Since joining 24 Hour Fitness in May, Chris Roussos has been on a mission to make the gym chain the best it can be—visiting every one of more than 400 locations across the country and providing hands-on support to many. He’s also a husband, father of three and fitness fanatic. “My ‘Everest’ goal is not specific—it’s ongoing: to continue to grow personally, professionally and spiritually as a husband, father, friend and leader to ensure I’m effective in serving others and helping others accomplish their goals,” says Roussos.
Balancing his family in Dallas (his youngest is 14) and leading more than 20,000 team members, Roussos is aware that every moment he spends doing something needs to be effective—that there is no time to waste. When he’s training that includes picking up dropped towels and re-racking a few weights others have left out, while he’s at it.
“I continuously check to ensure that I’m be very effective in whatever I’m spending my time on to ensure a successful outcome,” Roussos says. “My travel schedule during the week is an ongoing challenge to balance all the demands of being on the road, being present with my team members in the markets I’m in—and at the same time, working with our executive leadership team to lead the entire business. That coupled with check-ins with my wife and finding time to get my workouts in does put some strain on the calendar during the week.”
For Roussos, mindset is crucial, and the mindset that works best for him is “a must-win mentality that failure is not an option.” He continues, “This type of thinking combined with a ‘grind’ mentality is unstoppable. I can’t stop, won’t stop.”
While it could seem exhausting to ride, train and run—and run a national business, Roussos explains that for him, it’s all a marathon. “The reason I like endurance events is because they require the same prep I use to attack every day, week and month. I get my mind around the goals and objectives, ensure tremendous preparation and effective work and execute the plan. I do this daily in my work and every aspect of my life.”
AMANDA RUSSELL, INFLUENCER, MARKETING EXPERT AND FITNESS ENTREPRENEUR
Finding the discipline to recover.
In her small Canadian home town, Amanda Russell was known as the girl who ran—rain, shine or blizzard. She was deemed too small for the basketball team, and dance classes were too expensive, so Russell was steered towards track. She didn’t exactly enjoy the running part: “I didn’t naturally like the act of running, but I learned early on that it was an opportunity to a bigger world, and if I could run certain times, I could ‘win’ a US Division 1 scholarship—equivalent of ‘winning the lottery’ to me.” Russell adds, “Give me a goal with a defined metric, and I become laser-focused, obsessive even, on getting there. That was the beauty of running: It’s not subjective; it doesn’t require money or resources. A time is a time anywhere in the world, on a track.”
The track star won that scholarship, broke records and made automatic qualifying for Olympic trials, until it all came to a screeching halt with a highly unlikely injury that changed her entire course—and left her unable to run, unable to keep her US visa and virtually alone in the U.S.
Russell experienced an identity crisis. She says, “I suffered a terrible, almost unheard of stress fracture in my femur and I was told I would never run again and possibly always walk with a limp. In one week I went from being a record-holding, Nike-sponsored, Olympics-bound athlete, to an immobile 20-year-old who, in one week, lost not only my ability to run, but also my career, my sponsors, my US visa, my Olympic dream and what felt like a lifetime of work. It felt like a death, and a part of me really did die that week, but had that not happened, I would not be here today.”
For Russell, who’d learned to persevere, it was a turning point that revealed her passion. “It taught me that fitness is about so much more than exercise or performance.” Russell has parlayed that understanding into an ongoing series: an entire online fitness resource of workout programs, exercise videos and articles and partnerships under her Fit, Strong and Sexy brand—all of which have earned a loyal following thanks to Russell’s unwavering belief in the positive power of social media communities.
She says, “You see, failing on the scale that I did stripped me of any ego, ultimately setting me free to understand true passion, greater purpose and the perseverance it takes to find it, even when the path is not clear or conventional.”
While her own mountain involved climbing her way back up from a debilitating injury, Russell recognizes that facing your mountain your way is what matters. Case in point: Russell’s training for 29029 will differ from that of her teammates. “I know my body very well, and I know what I can and can’t handle. I know that I can’t train for this as competitively as I would like. In fact, my training is refraining—and honestly, the discipline to refrain is hard. It’s the hardest mental training of all.”
For Russell, teamwork will make it possible to climb a literal—and figurative—mountain. “Nobody in this world is self-made. It’s thinking about it like you’re on a team. And when you’re on a team, if you want to win, you don’t try to be all the players. You find other people that are really good at what they do. When you come together, that’s when the magic happens.”
MICKI STARY, SENIOR DIRECTOR, GROUP X
Cheering on 8,000 instructors who lift up thousands more each day.
For anyone who knows or meets Micki Stary, it’s not at all surprising that she was an All-American cheerleader and state qualifier in the 400M relay. “People always ask, ‘How do you have this energy?’ It’s innate. Truly, I was born this way,” she says.
A high school athlete and life-long gymnast, Stary’s role at 24 Hour isn’t too far a stretch from where she started: Stary is responsible for cheering on the more than 8,000 group exercise leaders and instructors who teach at gyms across the country on a daily basis. A daunting task? Perhaps. But in Stary’s mind, it all comes down to teamwork. “I’ve always been a team competitor. Always. I want to lift and encourage others.”
But even the Senior Director of Group Exercise struggles with the same obstacles as everyone she coaches—and the people they coach: making fitness a priority and a consistent practice. “We struggle every day—and we [work] in fitness! I’ve struggled for years. And we’re normal people and sometimes you just need the little push,” says Stary.
How does someone who is constantly cheering for others put herself in a mindset to conquer any Everests that come her way? With that same attitude: “I’m beyond grateful! We talk about obstacles or challenges, but they’re so little and menial, because there are so many other people that deal with so much more. So I feel it always comes down to attitude and gratitude.”
Stary might have been born cheerful, but as a mother of two boys who are both away at college, a husband in law enforcement and a fair amount of travel in her schedule, she doesn’t take work-life balance for granted. She makes a point of a daily run with her husband. “It’s quiet and it’s our time to either connect and get energized in the early morning or decompress after work. I literally have to make sure that I’ve got that time with him just to go.” And of course, she notes, they both get a run into their day, as well.
MATT “THE BEAR” NOVAKOVICH, PROFESSIONAL SPARTAN ATHLETE
Pursuing his passion and upholding family obligations.
Matt Novakovich loves uphill battles. “I ran the steeple chase in college, then became a pro cyclist that thrived on the climbs.” Naturally, for Novakovich, that led to bagging vertical feet on mountains. He’s completed six events similar to 29029 and set a shared record for a 28,000-foot climb in just over nine hours. That record is shared with two other athletes because weather conditions interrupted the event, so Novakovich has his sights on a record for climbing 30,000 feet in 12 hours, and 50,000 feet in 24 hours.
For his family, Novakovich’s pursuits are part of the daily routine. He owns and runs a successful roofing company in Anchorage, Alaska, and has four kids and all the commitments that come with extended family. His 8,000-feet-a-day regimen means a couple of stints on the NordicTrack or in his local mountains—with no guarantees that he can log two hours straight, so the workout has to be broken up throughout the day. Fortunately, climbing happens to be a family affair: One week in September, Novakovich, his fiancé and three of his four kids logged a combined 61,000 vertical feet in eight hours. While 19,000 social media fans are rooting for him, he says, “My fiancé might be cheering me on,” when he pursues records at 29029.
But just because he happens to be a member of the Spartan Pro Team doesn’t mean that Novakovich doesn’t have to figure out what to do when his oldest daughter looks like she might be coming down with the flu. At 42, he also cites age, time and the opportunity costs of pursuing his passion as factors in the choices he makes.
When it comes to pursuing goals, Novakovich shares Stary’s perspective about consistency: “If you want to succeed in a relationship, work on being nicer; if you want to be more spiritual, then read the Scriptures more; if you want to be a better dad, spend more time with your kids; if you want to climb mountains longer and faster, then climb more mountains.”
And after 11 million feet in six years and more than 500 endurance races, Novakovich, like Russell, find that mindset is crucial to perseverance: “Six hours in, knowing you have 18 hours to go … that’s what crushes most people.” In the toughest moments, Novakovich reflects on the past and his knowledge that time and again, his body can and will recover. In fact, 29029 will follow his competition in the Spartan World Championships and help him taper nicely for the season.
It’s no surprise that “The Bear’s” big Everest of a goal is … climbing Mt. Everest.
Follow all four 29029 participants on their journeys:
Photo credit: Courtesy of 29029