As a kid, many of us dreamed of being a champion of some sort, with visions of holding a trophy above our heads while an adoring crowd cheered our name. Quite a few local athletes have made that dream come true, and are well known around town as experts in their chosen sport. You've read about them in the Vail Daily many times before, but have you ever wondered what health and fitness regimens they practice to be better than the rest? Their advice might not automatically grant you a medal, but they could leave you at least feeling and looking like a winner.
Here are some tips from those at the top of their game when it comes to skiing, cycling, running, hiking and more.
Local skiing star Sarah Schleper has competed in four Olympic Games, won the U.S. Championships, and also won at the FIS World Cup.
After Schelper retired in December, she took a break from training for awhile. Schelper's now back to working out after taking a boot-camp style class that inspired her to get in great shape again. When it comes to diet, Schleper tries to follow a raw food lifestyle after reading the book "Crazy Sexy Diet" by Kris Carr.
"I really like her philosophy of eating mostly raw foods, lots of vegetables, nuts and legumes," Schleper said. "I want to try and skip on all animal products, although I do eat fish and milk and eggs."
Schleper finds that eating sushi and alkaline foods gives her the boost she needs while skiing.
"I always feel like I ski better after I eat sushi," Schleper said. "It's the seaweed superfood, the omega's in the fish and the lightness in the rice.... Sports nutrition is becoming more and more advanced. They are finding that keeping your body alkaline helps with inflammation, and keeping it energized."
Now that she's no longer competing, Schleper will be the head coach and program director at Echo Mountain, dolling out plenty of advice for those looking to improve their skiing groove.
"I always try to tell the athletes I work with to learn their bodies," Schleper said. "No one will know their body like they do."
Jake Wells is a professional cyclocross racer, a National Champion mountain biker and an elite level road racer. He's also a personal trainer at Dogma Athletica in Edwards and a cycling coach.
Wells has adopted a gluten-free diet to help him be more aware of what he eats.
"I don't know that (a gluten free diet) has directly helped my performance," Wells said. "But I think when you introduce a dietary change like that, it forces an extra level of consciousness and makes you think a little bit more about what you are fueling your body with. Also, as an endurance athlete, finding a no gluten option for carbs, such as rice or potatoes, can be a little easier on your stomach."
When it comes to training, Wells thinks there's one thing many athletes and active people forget about.
"I think an area that is often overlooked is rest," Wells said. "Going easy or taking a day off allows your body to recover and grow from the work you have been doing. It's easy to get into the mentality of only having a short amount of time, so (people) go out and ride too hard, day after day... It's one thing to be fit, but if you are not mentally rested and fresh enough to push yourself, then the motivation to train can quickly go away."
Mary Ellen Gilliland
Mary Ellen Gilliland wrote the book on hiking, literally. As the author of "The Vail Hiker" and "The New Summit Hiker," Gilliland has not only made it to the top of a plethora of peaks, but helped make it easier for others to get there too. While many consider the view from the heights to be better reward than standing on a podium, hiking in high altitude can still be a grueling experience and requires a certain level of fitness.
Although the summer hiking season is nearing an end, Gilliland advises fellow altitude ascenders to keep right on trekking through the winter.
"Exercise year round, so you don't have to get in shape for hiking every spring," Gilliland said. "Cross-country skiing in winter keeps me in shape for summer hiking because it includes hill climbs for maintaining lung performance, maintains downhill muscle strength and generally builds stamina."
Gilliland said there are ways to develop your hiking skills every day, even during regular walks by focusing on the length of your stride.
"Practice making each step forward a longer step, until long steps become a habit," Gilliland said. "Don't talk while climbing hills; it causes breathlessness, which makes you feel like you can't accomplish your goal. Every day add length and increase strenuous challenges in your workout just a little bit."
On Saturday off-road triathlete Josiah Middaugh won the Xterra USA Championship, adding a fourth and final victory after previously winning the Xterra East Championship, Xterra West Championship and the Xterra Mountain Championship. As a trainer at Dogma, Middaugh often teaches his tricks of the trade to fellow triathletes.
Middaugh thinks putting your dollars towards a personal trainer is more cost-effective than buying the latest fancy equipment.
"A little bit of direction and accountability can make a big difference," Middaugh said. "I would recommend investing in a coach before investing in expensive lightweight equipment."
While it would be nice if there was a simple shortcut to becoming a champion, all the athletes we talked to agreed that devoting your time and having the drive to achieve your fitness goals is the most important piece of advice they could give.
"There is not one secret to the top," Middaugh said. "It's a combination of motivation, hard work and the right direction."
But who knows? Trying some tips from the pros might make that dream of holding a trophy high happen just a bit faster.