In realm of fitness, Joe Decker is king

World’s Fittest Man earned title by biking, running, kayaking and more Health & Fitness

June 08, 2003|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Sun Staff

Catching up with Joe Decker presents more of a physical challenge than ever.

Since becoming the World’s Fittest Man, the 33-year-old ultra-athlete not only trains daily for 100-mile runs, adventure races and strong-man competitions, but also schedules interviews and strategy sessions for his developing fitness career.

One sure way to find him, however, is to show up at dawn in the suburban park in Gaithersburg where he still holds an exercise boot camp.

A recent day begins with pushups, ab crunches and triceps dips executed to near muscle exhaustion on a cold slab of concrete. There are no mirrors, no lights, no high-energy soundtracks and no empathetic train- ers murmuring, “Goooooood jahbbbb!”

Decker’s version of tender persuasion is, “Keep it going, two three! Ten more, two, three!” Inspiration is watching this 5-foot-9-inch, 185-pound man lift 30-pound weights as if they were soda bottles.

Sometimes, Decker asks his clients to push a van up an incline. Sometimes he has them run hills, or scamper on trails through the woods. That’s the stuff he used to do as a farm kid in Cuba, Ill., long before there ever was a Guinness World Book 24-hour Physical Fitness Record.

“Did you know Joe’s the world’s fittest man? Why, he’ll even tell you himself!” jokes C.B. Dexter of Silver Spring.

A few years ago, Decker helped Dexter train for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Now Dexter enjoys ribbing his trainer about the attention he’s gained since earning the World’s Fittest Man title 18 months ago.

The title has generated new opportunities: Decker is co-author of a 350-page book, Four Weeks to Total Fitness: The World’s Fittest You, scheduled for publication in December.

He has also launched a fitness advice newspaper column in The Indianapolis Herald.

And who would have guessed that the man who flunked his first Army physical would join Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Matt Damon as one of People magazine’s 50 most eligible bachelors?

The strongest link

In the past year, Decker has also won $75,000 for charity on The Weakest Link quiz show and discovered he needs three agents for his various TV, book and endorsement deals.

“I still don’t think of myself as the world’s fittest man,” he says. “I don’t see myself that way. I see myself as this average guy that can do these incredible things.”

Here’s what Decker did, in 24 hours, to be named the World’s Fittest Man:

* Cycle 100 miles.

* Run 10 miles.

* Hike 10 miles.

* Power walk 5 miles.

* Kayak 6 miles.

* Swim 2 miles.

* NordicTrack 10 miles.

* Row 10 miles.

* Complete 3,000 ab crunches, 1,100 pushups, 1,100 jumping jacks and 1,000 leg lifts.

* As the crowning touch, Decker also lifted a total of 278,540 pounds — 228,380 more than the previous champ. (He accomplished much of this through repetitions on various weight machines.)

Before he began working out with Decker in 1999, Mike Yoder had never run further than a mile. Now the 38-year-old electrical contractor has completed several ultra-marathons. More important, he says, is that he has absorbed Decker’s can-do attitude.

A few years ago, he ran along with Decker near mile 73 of a 100-mile race. “It was amazing that he still had the will to keep going,” Yoder recalls. “To me, it just became an inspiration that taught me that anything’s possible. I applied it to every aspect of my life.”

Decker hopes that publicity about his physical accomplishments will provide a national platform to motivate thousands of others. Meanwhile, he will continue his endurance competitions.

Along with completing dozens of marathons, he has twice finished the 135-mile Badwater ultra-marathon, widely considered the world’s toughest. He has also competed in triathlons and such multisport events as the 520-mile Trans-Himalayan Raid Gauloises Adventure Race.

“I don’t do this sort of stuff for the publicity or for the media. Believe it or not, I like doing what people consider this crazy, insane-type stuff,” he says. “It helps me keep my sanity, helps me make things balanced in my life. I definitely know I have anxiety issues. I am an extremist. … Beating myself up like that helps keep me balanced.”

A grueling routine

Monday through Friday, Decker works out three times a day. After boot camp on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he lifts weights, keen on maintaining his ability to benchpress 400 pounds. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he runs — speed work, hills or tempo runs. Each afternoon, he runs, cycles, paddles, uses the rowing machine or the elliptical trainer.

Saturdays mean long runs — perhaps a 30-miler. Sundays, he takes time off to read, and maybe hop on a mountain bike.

His diet consists of “lots of lean meats, veggies, whole grains and all that good stuff,” along with a few chocolate peanut butter cups and steak or pizza on weekends. Despite his activity level, Decker says he gains weight easily.

“I have a metabolism that crawls along like old Father Time. On average, I probably only take in 2,500 calories a day.”

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