You'd never know it by looking at her, but Julie Foucher is the "Fifth-Fittest Woman on Earth." Weighing in at a trim 130 pounds, the 5-foot, 4-inch 23-year-old battled her way to the fifth-best spot among women at the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games
, held last summer at the Home Depot Center in California.
For three punishing days, competitors lifted weights, climbed ropes, walked on their hands, huffed sandbags, did squats, pushed sleds, sprinted on sand, and battled stingrays during a 210-meter dip in the Pacific. When all was said and done, Foucher (pronounced foo-shay) ended up fifth overall in a field littered with the globe's most elite athletes.
What's even more amazing is that Foucher claimed the exact same spot the previous year. Oh yeah, and she only took up the sport a little over two years ago.
Foucher isn't just wicked fit; she's wicked smart, too. The Ann Arbor, Mich., native and University of Michigan graduate is a first-year med student at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University
, where she is working towards a Masters in Clinical Research.
Foucher, who moved to Cleveland this past summer, says that she has been pleasantly surprised by the general health of her fellow residents.
"You hear all the time that Cleveland is an unhealthy city," says Foucher over coffee at Starbucks on Cedar Hill. "Everyone that I’m surrounded by all day seems interested in health."
Granted, she spends the bulk of her time in hospitals and gyms, but it's still nice to know that Cleveland is making an attempt to shape up. And for those who are, Foucher naturally recommends CrossFit. In addition to being a great method to improve one's strength, endurance, flexibility, agility and speed, it's also a wonderful way to make friends.
"In general, people in the CrossFit community are very supportive of each other," explains Foucher, who trains at least 10 hours per week at CrossFit CLE
. "I think that whenever you really push yourself in a group with other people, it's inevitable that you'll develop a connection with those people."
There is something about the high-intensity nature of the workouts, she adds, that forms bonds in ways that other forms of group exercise can't match. "It's really physical, but it's also really mental."
Between school and training for next year's CrossFit Games, Foucher clearly isn't blessed with much free time. But over the past summer, she made a point of getting to know her adopted city. And so far, she loves what she sees.
"Cleveland gets a bad rap," she says. "There is so much character, so many cool little things to discover. I have never once been bored here."
In addition to neighborhood festivals, Indians games, and concerts at Blossom Music Center, Foucher cites trips out east to visit wineries as some of her favorite activities. "I didn't even know we had wineries here!"
Closer to home, she frequents the restaurants and coffee shops around Cedar-Fairmount and Cedar-Lee. She is also a fan and frequent visitor of Ohio City, with Great Lakes Brewing
, Market Garden Brewery
, and the West Side Market
all earning high marks in her book. "The West Side Market is one of my favorite places in Cleveland," she says.
For those of us who penciled in "Get in Shape" on our lists of New Year's resolutions, Foucher advocates for CrossFit. Great for all ages, body types, and levels of physical fitness, CrossFit literally was designed as a one-size-fits-all approach to personal fitness. While the regimen is universal, the intensity and severity is scaled upward based on an individual's strength and conditioning.
"If you look at the people who excel at CrossFit, you'll see a wide range of body types," she says. "Being big, being small… Everything has its advantages and disadvantages."
Foucher's tips for getting started:
1) Location, location, location. Try choosing a gym that's convenient to get to as you will be more likely to make all scheduled visits.
2) Sample multiple gyms before you commit. Most gyms offer free introductory sessions. Go to a few to experience first-hand the personality of the coaches, the condition of the gym, the style of the classes. While there, ask other members what they like (or dislike) about the program. "Every gym is unique," says Foucher. "It's about finding the one that best fits you."
3) Know that you are not alone. Every gym, class and program has beginners. Many gyms have ramp-up programs geared specifically to newbies that will teach you the movements and gradually bring you up to speed.
4) It's not about how you look; it's about how you work. "No matter who you are, what body type you have, the class will support you as long as you push yourself hard and want to get stronger."
5) Just do it. "Going to CrossFit just a few times a week can make a big difference in your life."
Photos Bob Perkoski