I was on my way to interview a world class athlete. She had won every world championship contest that she had entered except one. She has 12 gold medals and one silver medal to her credit, all in a sport that I didn’t know much about.
As I drove down an industrial alley to her gym, there were buildings with auto repair, painting and interior work on one side of the alley. On the other side was a collection of memory invoking dinosaurs from 60 years ago with the name Dodge and Chrysler barely visible on the rusted trunks and hoods.
I approached the chain link fence at the end of the alley. I asked a man who was under a canopy to shade him from the sun as he worked on his boat motor if there was a gym someplace around her. He pointed to another storage building and said, “If you’re going in there you’re going to sweat.”
I entered the garage door to the storage building expecting to see a sign proudly announcing the home of an Olympic caliber champion athlete. I thought there would be an army of trainers watching every movement of this world class athlete. I was wrong.
There were no mirrors on the wall, no air conditioning, no fancy locker room, no rubberized flooring, just the cement like you’d find at home. The metal rafters were visible as I entered the room. It was obvious that this was a place to be serious and work.
I stood in front of an industrial sized fan which moved the air around in the easy bake like oven storage unit. I saw a woman swinging from the rings across the room as effortlessly as Johnny Weismuller in the Tarzan movies. She landed in front of me and stuck out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Heidi Williams.”
When I first meet Williams I thought that this is the daughter of the lady I came to see. Williams is supposed to be 60 years old but this energetic fitness guru looked a generation younger than that.
She took off her vest with a 15 pound weight on the front and back of it. Even Stevie Wonder could see the amazing sculptured shoulders and arms of this high energy fitness phenomenon.
Matt Galley, the Charlotte High School girls weightlifting coach, has worked out with Williams when he was the owner of Crossfit Warpath. The first word he used to describe Williams was “Beast”. “I mean that in the most positive way. She is unreal. I wish I could look half that good at her age.”
The next hour and a half flew by like a New York minute as she showed me her gym. Williams built the workout stations by herself over a year and a half ago and had just installed a “Gibbons” machine that had just arrived from Canada.
The Gibbons is a monkey bars type of apparatus that you have to take a dowel out of the cradle and slip it into the next ring to complete the course. A rhythmic motion is needed to perfectly slip the wooden bar into the next ring. Anything less than a perfect move leaves the participant hanging like a monkey at the zoo.
Williams showed me the “stairway to Heaven” she built that she claims is more like a stairway the other way from Heaven. Picture an open set of stairs in which you pull yourself up from the backside and traverse over to another set of stairs and then lower yourself back down. In the endurance races this obstacle is usually over water and if a contestant falls they have to start over again.
If you don’t know what kind of lady would be so driven to put herself through such a strenuous workout day after day, then you’ve never met Williams.
Williams is the youngest of six kids from Connecticut and came from a very active family. She was a competitive runner, swimmer and gymnast growing up. At the age of 54 she decided to try something new.
She entered her first obstacle race with her high school son and four of his friends. Williams finished first and has been hooked ever since. “Once I ran that first race, I’ve been hooked on Extreme Obstacle Course Racing.”
Williams has run over 400 races in the past six years. She fulfilled one of the items on her bucket list three weeks ago in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when she ran in the Red Bull 400.
It is a race that contestants have to run up a ski jump. For those who have never had the opportunity to race down a snow covered hill with narrow pieces of wood attached to your boots, imagine running UP the big drop off at an amusement park roller coaster. Now you get the idea.
Williams, who owns “The Strand” beauty salon in Punta Gorda, took off for Australia and ran the 24 hour, 11.8K enduro race on Saturday, June 8. It is a course set up with between 30-60 obstacles and the person who runs the most laps in a 24 hour period is the winner. She came in second place.
Later this year Williams will travel to Peru for another endurance run. It is a four day race through the desert. The first day is a 30K run followed by 60K the second day. That night she will sleep in the desert and will run through the hot sand for another 30K on day three. On the fourth day the contestants who remain will finish the race as they run into the ocean.
Williams has entered Extreme Obstacle Course Races across the world. She was in eight countries last year as a part of her races.
In October Williams will run in the World Championship 24 hour endurance race in London. She will compete against 400-500 other competitors. “I’ll probably be the oldest one entered, but I don’t worry about the age thing. As long as I can compete against younger athletes I’m happy,” said Williams.
The World Championship race is a four day run on four different courses all with different obstacles on them. Williams entered the World Championship last year for the first time. Incidentally, Williams came home with the gold medal for her first place finish.
“I was very fortunate to do as well as I did because there are some fantastic athletes there. I was chosen for the “Dream Team” and had a film crew follow me on the run. That was quite an honor,” said Williams.
“I like to win, but as long as I do my best, I am happy. When I win it is just icing on the cake. There was something really special about winning the World Championship and standing on the podium with the American flag and representing my country.”
“Really special” fits Williams too.