Best of C-VILLE 2017: Health & Fitness

Best Kids' Park: Greenleaf Park (Photo: Becky Venteicher)

You take care of yourself. No, really—you take care of yourself. Between cycling, hiking and regularly visiting your doctor for eyes, teeth and tight knots, you’re treating yourself to a lifetime of wellness. Here’s where you turn to keep it all humming.


Greenleaf Park

Runner-up: IX Art Park

Honorable mention: Pen Park

Kids have all the fun. And not just because they don’t have to pay bills or sit in traffic—it’s because they have cool places to play, like Greenleaf Park, where readers say they take their little ones for fun in the sun. Its 14 acres includes a picnic shelter, half-basketball court and—most importantly—a touch-sensitive spray ground with a mushroom fountain and water pole. (And, for the big kids, there’s a soft-surface trail for hiking along the creek.) At IX, kids can explore an array of interactive art pieces (and the big Love Butt).


Charlottesville Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Runner-up: Laughing Dragon Kung Fu

Honorable mention: MMA Institute

In Japanese, jiu-jitsu means “the way of gentleness,” and in practice, this form of martial arts is a nonviolent, defensive combat technique. At CBJJ, the instructors help students balance their skills in grappling and striking, but also offer krav maga self-defense classes from their 6,000-square-foot headquarters in McIntire Plaza. In the runner-up spot, Laughing Dragon offers the Chinese arts of kung fu and tai chi to both kids and adults.

Miller School alum Laurent Gervais, the school’s star rider, competes with the Aevolo Cycling Team. Photo: Phillip Robb

That’s wheel cool

A boon for local cyclists from the Miller School

Last year the Miller School of Albemarle’s endurance cycling team had a big season: It won the state championship and its star rider, Laurent Gervais, signed with Aevolo Cycling Team, a professional under-23 squad directed by Michael Creed, who is a former professional cyclist at the World Tour level.

Hailing from Canada, Gervais, who accumulated numerous podium and near-podium placings in several top-level professional events during his senior year, says he came to MSA specifically to pursue cycling. Described as extremely skilled on the bike and more of an all-around rider than a one-trick pony, the former senior is just as comfortable in a 40mph technical sprint as he is during a 40-minute climb through the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, what differentiates him from the pack is this: “He has the ability to read a race and put himself in the right place at the right time,” says head MSA cycling coach Andy Guptill. “And that can’t be coached. It’s a rare gift and one that’s extremely difficult to acquire.”

Overall, the sport of interscholastic endurance cycling is a growing one, with only 15 states in the U.S. currently calling themselves home to competitive leagues. Founded in fall 2015, the Virginia League is one of only two on the East Coast and features 18 teams (around 256 riders). In pursuit of additional competition, MSA travels to some of the country’s largest events. “We want our varsity riders to have the opportunity to compete against the top junior cyclists in the U.S.,” says Guptill. “Results at these races are what professional teams and college coaches are looking at, so it opens doors beyond high school for our cyclists looking to continue in the sport.”

In Gervais’ case, he caught the eye of the Aevolo Cycling team’s director this past fall in Vermont, where he competed in the professional field and took a remarkable fourth place, beating many of the nation’s top professionals. “Aevolo is one of the premier U-23 teams in the world, so signing with them is a huge honor,” says Guptill. “Laurent will be teammates with other talented cyclists his age from around the world and will benefit from one of the sport’s best directors, Mike Creed.”

While Gervais’ accomplishments are astounding, they’re only the latest in a long lineage of MSA cycling success stories. “Our cycling program has a rich history with numerous state and national champions in the disciplines of road, track and mountain biking, and we’ve graduated four cyclists into the professional ranks,” says Guptill. Adding to those accolades, the school’s endurance program is recognized as an official Center of Excellence by USA Cycling, the national governing body of the sport, and is the only school-based team to have earned this recognition.



Jane Neldon

Runner-up: Jennifer Daniel

Honorable mention: Anne Pike

When it comes to massage, one back rub doesn’t fit all. This year, readers say Jane Neldon delivers on customizing each treatment to an individual’s needs and preferences, from degree of pressure to previous and current injuries. The Commonwealth Massage Therapy owner is skilled in therapeutic massage and bodywork, as well as oncology massage. Jennifer Daniel, in second place, eases tension and stress from her East Market Street studio.


Spring Creek Golf Club

Runner-up: Birdwood Golf Course

Honorable mention: Farmington Country Club Golf

Ranked No. 55 on Golf Digest’s 2017 list of the top public courses in America, Spring Creek also gets your vote for the best in our area. The par 72 course in Gordonsville boasts 18 holes of bent-grass fairway framed, as the magazine notes, “by a dense forest of hardwoods and massive sculpted bunkers.” The Boar’s Head’s golf course, Birdwood, takes second with a course on 500 acres that was once part of one of the earliest land patents in the Virginia colony.

At Gradum Academy, kids get their kicks and up their game. Photo: Amy Jackson

Eye on the prize

Soccer stars help youth train for the big leagues

CEO Price Thomas and deputy director of coaching Emily Perrin call the shots at this science-driven youth soccer school. Folks at Gradum Academy use cutting-edge technology to evaluate and prepare aspiring collegiate and professional players or, according to Thomas, “the kids who are serious about soccer.”

The trainers know their stuff. Both Charlottesville natives were brought up through the ranks of local soccer league SOCA. Thomas, a four-year starter at William & Mary, competed professionally in Turkey and Germany upon graduating. And Perrin, most recently an assistant soccer coach at the University of Pennsylvania, played on the collegiate level at the University of Vermont and UVA.

When Thomas returned from Europe, he says he started “keeping [his] finger on the pulse of how our youth are trained” and noticed a gap in the market for talent in this area. So for four months, he agonized over how to provide young athletes with the extra training they require to become elite players. Deciding on an approach that integrates sports and science, Gradum Academy was born.

“Being in charge of something is equal parts hilarious, fun and extremely terrifying,” says Thomas. “The other good part is being able to be connected to the game in a way that has tangible results.”

He capitalizes on “objective measurement” to train the young soccer players, meaning he evaluates them scientifically and statistically in a field that often measures success by opinion. Consultants at the academy provide each player with her own analytics, including levels of exertion and heart rate fluctuations, and also record training sessions and matches to study the footage. This makes it possible to review player positioning and movement patterns, and introduce the athletes to self-analysis.

Though they’ve only been in business since April 2016, Thomas says his crew has already helped several athletes commit to collegiate-level teams. He plans to help the newest group of kids with recruiting by making highlight reels for each player and reaching out to prospective coaches.

Athletes can train for any duration and may join Gradum Academy in their early teens, or as soon as Thomas is sure the young player is ready for the commitment. “You don’t have to make a decision about your sports career before you can grow a mustache,” he adds.

Though his interests are rooted in his own love of the game, Thomas ensures, “It’s all about the kids.”


Blue Ridge Cyclery

Runner-up: Bike Factory of Charlottesville

Honorable mention: Blue Wheel Bicycles

It’s obvious that Shawn Tevendale is into cycling—since the Blue Ridge Cyclery owner opened the shop, he’s been a sponsored athlete himself, he regularly hosts cycling competitions and he founded the Charlottesville Racing Club, the main goal of which is “the preservation, development and promotion of the sport of bicycling.” In other words, he’s really into bikes. Bike Factory of Charlottesville takes the No. 2 spot with test rides, cost-saving maintenance tips and free first tune-ups.


Justin Tooley

Runner-up: Claire Mitchell Roessing

Honorable mention: Dar Malecki

After more than a decade as a personal trainer at ACAC, Justin Tooley opened The Gym, which for the last six years has kept readers in shape through group classes, one-on-one sessions and even pre- and post-workout meal planning, and puts Tooley in the No. 1 spot this year. treadHAPPY co-owner Claire Mitchell Roessing hustles into second place, creating custom training plans for runners looking to get into shape, run a 5K or even tackle a marathon.

The force is strong with these kids, who practice self-defense at Saber Force Academy. Photo: Martyn Kyle


The Force is with them

Martial arts academy trains real-life Jedis

In a galaxy not so far away, there’s a martial arts school where aspiring Jedi knights use lightsabers to learn real-world combat and self-defense skills. Or as Courtney Monroe, co-owner and co-founder of Saber Force Academy, puts it: The illuminated swords empower inner heroes to become skilled in a variety of martial arts, including kung fu, Japanese swordsmanship, Filipino martial arts and Western swordsmanship.

Monroe says his business partner, Thorin Blanco, “a Star Wars nut” who’s seen the original movie dozens of times, came up with the idea for the academy in the hope that combining choreographed lightsaber battles with traditional martial arts would draw wannabe Jedi warriors who wouldn’t have been interested in learning the techniques in traditional ways. If class attendance is any indication, Blanco was right.

“It depends on the time of year, but we’ve had as many as 51 people in one class,” Monroe says of the Friday evening sessions that cost $13 and run from 7-8:15pm in the Superior Martial Arts space on Zan Road. “But people can hang out as long as they want,” he adds. “There have been nights I haven’t left until 11.”

In addition to learning self-defense, students are taught to “treat themselves and others with the respect that a Jedi would,” Monroe says, adding that minds have to be one with bodies when wielding a lightsaber. And that’s why “we train people mentally and philosophically, as well as physically,” he says. “If you’re calm, collected and aware of yourself, there’s nothing you can’t handle.” Spoken like a real-life Jedi knight.



Runner-up: treadHAPPY

Honorable mention: Zoom Indoor Cycling

What’s the magic of MADabolic? It’s not just a workout, it’s a lifestyle. Or so say readers, who again this year turn to the Second Street studio for momentum, anaerobic and durability challenges to keep them sweaty (and svelte!). The studio’s interval training focuses on strength and endurance and you’re simply MAD for it. Runner- up treadHAPPY offers indoor treadmill classes and outdoor group workouts for readers wanting to achieve that coveted runner’s high.


Humpback Rock

Runner-up: Sugar Hollow

Honorable mention: Old Rag

The best thing about a hike? The payoff at the end. With Humpback Rock—a 45-minute, 740-foot climb to the top—the reward is the view. It’s 360 degrees of Virginia terrain, which you can scope from a daring outcrop that juts 3,080 feet above sea level (but watch your step, especially if you’re posing for selfies). Runner-up Sugar Hollow boasts two swimming spots—Blue Hole and Snake Hole—and multiple waterfalls that keep readers returning year after year.

Photo: Eze Amos

Flippin’ awesome

Basement game goes mainstream

Down, up, down, go! The word flipcup brings to mind college students on either side of a table in a dark basement cheering each other on while standing on beer-soaked carpet. Charlottesville Sports & Social Club flips the script on the game with its grown-up version: Teams of six compete on Thursday nights outside of Crozet Pizza at the Buddhist Biker Bar on Elliewood Avenue. Participants range from new graduates not yet ready for full-on adulting, to young professionals wanting to prove they’ve still got it. Leagues run year-round, and each team plays two to three games a night in a best-of-seven format to crown “the best drinkers with hand-eye coordination.” Our cups runneth over.


Kevin Sweeney

Runner-up: Katharine DeGeorge

Honorable mention: Ann Klecan

Just as you take your car in for an inspection, it’s good to get a pro’s opinion on how you’re running once in a while, too. Readers head to Kevin Sweeney, who’s been practicing family medicine for more than 30 years, for well visits and sick days. Katharine DeGeorge, at Crossroads Family Practice in North Garden, gets the second place spot. She serves all ages and levels of health, but is particularly interested in patients with obesity or weight management issues.


Albemarle Dental Associates

Runner-up: John Knight Jr.

Honorable mention: Aaron Stump

Here’s something to smile about: As much good as Albemarle Dental Associates does giving you crowns, veneers and dentures, the Old Ivy Road practice gives back, too, participating in toy drives, 5Ks and local charities on the regular. At John Knight’s office, expect a full scope of treatments with general, orthodontic, pediatric and implant dentistry.

Is it teaching or juggling that gives Mark Nizer the biggest thrill? It’s a toss-up. Photo: Amy Jackson


Juggling act

Local club keeps many balls in the air 

Mark Nizer didn’t move to Albemarle County for the views—or the history or the world-class university. “I heard there was a juggling club here,” he says.

And you can find the popular entertainer and national juggling champion in the Venable Elementary School gym (or at ACAC Adventure Central during the summer) every Wednesday, from 6-8:30pm, with the rest of the Air Raid Juggling Club. “I’m there because I love to juggle,” Nizer says. He’s also there to teach, and says, “juggling is one of the best gifts you can give somebody; I still get a kick out of giving this awesome present.”

In addition to being good exercise (“My heart rate is scarily low,” Nizer says), juggling makes you smarter. Studies have shown that “you’re turning on part of the brain that you’re not accessing, and you continue to do that with each new trick you learn,” he adds.

The Air Raid Juggling Club, which is free and open to all ages, seems to have only two rules: Have fun and share what you know with others. It was formed to spread the art of juggling to the community, Nizer says, and he never tires of “seeing a switch go off in someone’s head when the flow kicks in. I know it’s something they’ll have for the rest of their life.”


David Hamer

Runner-up: Bart Weis

Honorable mention: Suzanne Dennis

It’s the extra details that mean so much, especially when it comes to your smile. In addition to other orthodontic services, Dr. Hamer, a Charlottesville native (in fact, he was in the first graduating class at Western Albemarle High School), is an Invisalign Elite Provider, which means he’s in the top 5 percent of the nation when it comes to experience and expertise giving you a bright smile (without anyone else knowing). In the No. Tooth spot, Bart Weis provides comprehensive treatment from his Jefferson Street practice.


Albemarle Dermatology Associates

Runner-up: Charlottesville Dermatology

Honorable mention: Bridget Bryer

File this one under “the more you know”: Adults carry around eight pounds of skin (give or take), which protects us from extreme temperatures, harmful sunlight and harsh chemicals, and prevents infection. In other words, it’s worth treating with care. You turn to Albemarle Dermatology Associates for surgical, medical and cosmetic needs for your outer layer, from acne prevention to checking out atypical moles. The specialists at Charlottesville Dermatology take the red ribbon, with services for both adults and children, general cosmetic enhancements and top skincare products to keep you glowing long after you leave their office.

Fry’s Spring Beach Club’s competitive synchronized swimming team qualified for the 2017 Junior Olympics in California. Photo: Migz Media Group

In synch

Local synchronized swimming team makes a splash

Eggbeater kicks, torpedo sculls. Cranes, side fishtails and flamingos. These are just some of the moves the Charlottesville Swans Synchronized Swimming Team executes with finesse, nary grazing a toe on the bottom of the pool. The team’s 34 members, most of whom are in middle school, practice a few hours a week under the tutelage of coach Samantha Elhart, who, along with a few specialized coaches, guides the girls through Pilates and gymnastics as well as swim and synchro training at either the Fairview Swim and Tennis Club or the Fry’s Spring Beach Club. Now in its fifth season, the competitive team has done well—the Swans qualified 12 routines for the 2017 Junior Olympics held in Riverside, California, where they donned flashy suits and makeup and, per competition requirements, slicked their hair back with Knox unflavored gelatin.


Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville

Runner-up: Piedmont Pediatrics

Honorable mention: Northridge Pediatrics

There’s no end to the number of ailments that may befall your little one—colds, asthma, eating disorders—and as a parent, it’s your job to respond accordingly. Readers know that Pediatric Associates has their back when it comes to course-correcting. And even though the practice has three offices (with a fourth planned for 2018), it goes a step further with 24/7 patient care access on its website. In second place, the six docs at Piedmont Pediatrics give readers peace of mind.


Jacob Goedken

Runner-up: Cox Chiropractic

Honorable mention: James Tickel

If Jacob Goedken’s practice looks a little different than most chiropractors’, that’s because it is. He practices Airrosti treatments, which are designed to get you back in fighting shape in as few as three one-hour visits. In fact, last year, Goedken averaged a treatment plan of three to four visits over two and a half weeks. When more traditional care routes average 16 to 36 visits to fix an injury, readers give two thumbs up to Goedken’s speedy approach. In the runner-up spot, longtime favorite Cox Chiropractic works out the kinks, head to toe.


Primary Eyecare

Runner-up: Jaime Easton

Honorable mention: Crozet Eye Care

Navigation has long been a main focus for the folks at Primary Eyecare. Its founder, Michael DiGirolamo, served as an engineer in the U.S. Air Force prior to studying optometry, and the practice is the official eyecare provider for professional race car driver Kyle Marcelli. Readers have been seeing the DiGirolamos (Michael’s son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Janice, own the business now) since they relocated from California in 1987. In the runner-up spot, Jaime Easton helps readers see things clearly from her practice in Zion Crossroads.