Insane workout creates community

Micah Spry first noticed his athleticism in high school on the track, and has since channeled his boundless energy into leading Insanity workouts at the Boar’s Head Inn Sports Club. Photo by Martyn Kyle Micah Spry first noticed his athleticism in high school on the track, and has since channeled his boundless energy into leading Insanity workouts at the Boar’s Head Inn Sports Club. Photo by Martyn Kyle

I was driven to Insanity by my wife. “I don’t know,” she said in all seriousness, “there’s just something about it that I think you might like.” I thought she knew me better. Exactly which part of a high-intensity workout was I going to enjoy? Don’t get me wrong; I’ve never had anything against people who exercise regularly, and many of my friends do, although none of them are my best friends. This, combined with my general lack of self-discipline and inability to stick with things, resigned me to the fact that this would be yet one more failed attempt at self-improvement. Tori said, “I think you’re really going to like the instructor.”

Insanity, a maximum interval training regimen developed by fitness guru Shaun T., is offered at the Boar’s Head Inn Sports Club five times a week. I had joined the club in the hope that because my office door is less than a three-minute walk away, I would surely go regularly. Alas, it served largely as an expensive steam room, summertime lounge pool and an ever-present reminder of my deeply flawed self.

Then I tried Insanity—and met Micah Spry.

Immediately on entering the training room you notice the surprising range of age and athleticism of the participants, from those in their 50s or 60s to enviably fit undergrads and even a high school student or two. All of these different people are chatting away and greeting one another with hugs. Everyone seems strangely happy to be there. Suddenly—with a blast of dance beats and a bullhorn—the most athletic person I have ever seen explodes through the door with a big grin, literally bouncing from person to person, greeting each one by name, and giving him or her a spirited high five (I mean, who high fives?). When he reaches what has since become my perennial spot in the back right corner of the room, he looks me directly in the eye and says, “I’m glad you’re here.”

The aptly named Micah Spry grew up in rural Manning, South Carolina, the only child of Ruth Spry, a single mom who worked in the local Campbell’s Soup factory and raised him with the help of extended family and his godmother, Laura. His physical gifts quickly became apparent, but it was not until his junior year in high school that he ever formally competed.

“I used to just run all the time. I kind of had this Forrest Gump thing going,” Spry recalls. “So, one day my friend Bill Johnson said, ‘Dude, you’re fast. You should go out for track.’ I didn’t really know what I was doing. Basically my thing was to be out in front with everyone else behind me. That was my goal.”

Spry’s strategy worked with stunning results, as he rose from obscurity to become the South Carolina state champion in both the long jump and 100 meters, which he could run in 10.4 seconds. Usain Bolt won Olympic Gold in Rio last summer by running little more than a half second faster, with a time of 9.81 seconds.

Spry received a full athletic scholarship to Shaw University, a small school in North Carolina. A series of injuries hampered his college track career, so he turned his attention fully to his studies, majoring in therapeutic recreation and physical education. After graduation, Spry returned to South Carolina, but finding few opportunities there, he joined the Army in 2001 at the age of 27.

“My mom couldn’t understand why I would sign up when I already had a degree. But I figured that I’d spend a few years in Germany, or maybe South Korea, and then get out.” But everything changed on September 11, 2001—Spry’s 28th birthday—and before long, he was on a plane to Afghanistan.

Spry returned to the U.S. in 2007, after serving two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. After a month back home he told his mom he was moving to Charlottesville, where his cousins, George and Gary, owned a catering business. Once here, Spry began to realize he was carrying more baggage than he thought.

“I had a lot to deal with when I got back, but in many ways I didn’t acknowledge what was going on,” he says. “I came to understand that I was dealing with PTSD, but I didn’t really know it and hadn’t heard much about it, so I wasn’t running to the V.A. But I started finding myself doing things that I knew weren’t quite right. It was affecting my relationships, my work, my behavior.” Eventually Spry sought and received help for PTSD, and became deeply involved in the Wounded Warrior Project.

He came to the Boar’s Head as a facility attendant, stocking towels and doing general locker room maintenance. Soon he was working with kids in the rec room, and the staff was impressed not only by his physical gifts but also by his enthusiasm and remarkable interpersonal skills. He was invited to obtain certification in a new exercise regimen called Insanity, and there he found his calling. Insanity is designed to bring the heart rate up for intense short periods, followed immediately by a quick recovery. Divided into four “blocks,” the workout alternately focuses on plyometrics, strength and stability, agility and coordination, and abs and core. There’s a science behind it, but if you talk to anyone in the class, the conversation moves quickly from the workout itself to the sense of community in the room.

“It’s changed my life, and it’s all a testament to Micah,” says Nellie Crowder, a dentist who has faithfully attended the class for nearly a year. “It’s like you can’t imagine yourself not doing it—it hurts so good, I guess you could say.” Crowder has even shortened vacations so she doesn’t miss a class.

Spry laughs when asked if he is aware of the impact he has on others: “I tend to downplay it, but yes, I do realize I’m helping people. When people show up to class that’s my evidence that I’m making a difference. And when I hear people telling me that they’re planning vacations, kids’ activities, etc. around the class? That’s something I never would have expected.”

Spry spends his evenings prepping and planning for classes, and even sets his own curfew—he wants to make sure his students “get 110 percent” from him.

“And really, I think I get as much or more from them than they get from me,” he says. “Insanity keeps me sane, I guess you could say.”

Contact Jon Lohman at living@c-ville.com.

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