On Friday, July 27, athletes from around the globe will converge in London for the XXX Olympiad. But here on our own sands, thousands of under-the-radar athletes are training every day of the week — often for hours at a time, usually when everyone else is still asleep, and without any fancy gold or silver medals to motivate them.
Forget, for a moment, the pending excitement of the badminton, fencing, and canoe championships half a world away. We poked around right here in South Florida and found fascinating athletes engaging in offbeat, "extreme," and street sports. They may not be Olympians, but their talents are remarkable nevertheless. Though some of them make a dollar or a thousand from their sport and could therefore be called "professional," most do it simply for the love of the game.
The 12 people featured in these pages share a few qualities. Aside from killer abs and optimal BMIs, each has achieved a level of renown in his or her sport. Their physical prowess? Considerable. Their natural talent? Impressive. Their dedication? Ridiculous.
Meet the masters.
Teen boys emulating YouTube videos is often a recipe for disaster. But that wasn't the case when Brad Short and some friends stumbled on videos of "free running" about five years ago. Fascinated, Short set about learning the philosophy behind the French movement of parkour, a mostly noncompetitive sport that involves moving around obstacles (walls, benches, shrubs) with combinations of jumps, flips, balancing maneuvers, rolls, and sprints.
"It's kind of like a martial art in that it's disciplined," Short says. "The sport [is helpful for] overcoming mental blocks and fears and building body awareness."
The Florida Atlantic University student — he's an exercise major, naturally — immersed himself in the study of form, control, and movement necessary for parkour. He recently competed in Davie at a "free movement" event sponsored by Vitaminwater, a big step for a fledgling sport. Like skateboarding, parkour is sometimes, shall we say, unappreciated by owners of shopping plazas or cops patrolling public spaces who wonder why some dude is doing backflips over the shrubbery. Short, however, says serious parkourers are respectful of private and public property and will leave a property if asked.
Short devotes at least two hours a day to conditioning and practice during the week and even more on weekends, carefully watching his diet to keep his body in peak condition. "You use your body in a completely different way," he says of the sport. "You're always told: 'Here's the sidewalk; walk on the sidewalk.' 'Here's a wall; you can't go past that.' With parkour, your mind is open."
Clarice Zayas, 29, Hollywood (formerly of Kendall until May 2012)
The words roller derby might conjure visions of tatted-up chicks on a hard-core schedule of boozing and brawling. Clarice Zayas, however, works her ass off to stay on top of her game. The registered dietitian trains three days a week on her skates and usually spends another three days hitting weights or working on her endurance off the rink.
"I'm a firm believer in cross-training," she says. The training is necessary so she'll have the speed, strength, and stamina required to compete in the increasingly demanding sport. "There's so much challenge; there's always something to work on," she says.
Like a lot of women captivated by the roller-derby reboot, Zayas hadn't signed on for an organized sport until derby. Always active but not necessarily a team player, she joined up with the nationally ranked Gold Coast Derby Grrls a little more than two years ago. Playing under the name "Kitten Not Submittin'," Zayas skates primarily as a jammer — the fast one who is charged with scoring points for her team by passing members of the opposing team on the track; the team with the highest score at the end of the one-hour match wins.
In a recent bout against one of the league's biggest rivals, she came away as the game's highest-scoring jammer. She also puts in time as a blocker, a complicated position that requires both offensive and defensive strategizing. "Every derby player is waiting for the moment when roller derby goes pro," she says, acknowledging that the sport is still saddled with a lot of misconceptions. "People think it's a race or that there are no rules," she says. "There is an objective."
Removed from ESPN's X-Games in 2005, rollerblading is the redheaded stepchild of the roller sports world. "There's nobody in it that's not really into it," Rob Squire says. "No one is carrying around skates as a fashion statement."
The rollerblading community is a tight-knit crew, giving Squire an international network of instant friends and couches to surf whenever he's struck with the urge to travel for skating, as he recently was for the Panhandle Pow-Wow contest in Jacksonville.