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Executive sessions

Palm Harbor's Ironman Institute lets corporate VIPs enjoy the luxury of the Westin Innisbrook Resort and check on their most valuable asset: their health.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

PALM HARBOR -- As worldwide head of human resources for Rayovac, Mark Joslyn knows that years of climbing the corporate ladder can leave executives overweight and stressed out, putting them at high risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

"I've seen plenty of people who are in their 40s and 50s having heart attacks and strokes," he said. "Mostly they are men, executives, under a lot of stress, and working long hours. Many live out of a suitcase, drink and smoke cigarettes or cigars. They play a little golf and think that is exercise. The business environment reinforces this lifestyle."

That's why, on a Wednesday last month, Joslyn flew from his home in Madison, Wis., to Tampa Bay, where he spent two days undergoing a head-to-toe medical examination and athletic evaluation at the Ironman Institute in Palm Harbor.

About six months ago, Westin Innisbrook Resort, the Ironman Institute and Morton Plant Mease teamed up to create the Executive Enhancement Program. The cost of Joslyn's stay at the resort and two-day session with the institute's doctors and other sports medicine specialists was about $2,500. Joslyn thinks his health insurance will pick up some or all of the costs.

Ironman Institute executive director Rob Perry says the program focuses on the "corporate athlete."

"By corporate athlete, we mean someone who can go into work and give a peak performance," he said. "You can't be mentally, physically or emotionally fatigued without it having an impact on your ability to run a business."

"We give the corporate athlete a plan for lifestyle modification so he or she will have the knowledge and resources to be at the top of his or her game," he said.

* * *

The Ironman Institute, 33920 U.S. Highway 19 N, is tucked away in Harbor Park Office Center on the northwest corner of U.S. 19 and Nebraska Avenue. The $1-million, 7,000-square-foot facility houses sports psychologists, world-class personal trainers, dietitians and physicians.

The institute is affiliated with Ironman Properties, a Tarpon Springs company founded and owned by the family of Dr. James Gills. Gills is a prominent eye surgeon, president of St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute, and a triathlete.

Unlike Gills, fewer than 5 percent of the institute's regular clientele are triathletes. Rather, they are people who are trying to improve their everyday mental, physical and emotional performance. They come to the center for personal training, nutritional counseling or medical tests. Ninety percent come from the Tampa Bay area.

Joslyn is an example of how the institute is branching out to offer VIP treatment to executives -- some of them serious athletes, some not -- from throughout the country.

For Joslyn, 38, this seems like a good time for a thorough checkup.

He has a wife and two young sons. He has been with Rayovac Corp., a battery and lighting company with about 3,500 employees in 19 countries, since 1998. Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., he swam and played soccer in high school and college. In the past 12 years, he has competed in many triathlons, grueling endurance races consisting of swimming, biking and running events.

He has also finished three Ironman triathlons, each requiring a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike trip, and a 26.2-mile marathon run: Canada in 1992, Germany in 1997 and Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1999. One day he hopes to compete in the Big Kahuna of them all: Ironman Hawaii.

But lately Joslyn has gained about 15 pounds and his training has dropped from about 20 hours a week of running, swimming and biking, to a few hours a week. He is 5-foot-9, weighs 172 pounds and has 16.9 percent body fat -- respectable for a man his age but considered high for a triathlete.

"After I trained for the last Ironman, I just lost my motivation," he said. "I was having to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to work all that training in, and it became very difficult with my job and family life."

As a human resources executive, Joslyn recognizes that the cost of replacing an executive is "very high." It is in his company's best interest to keep both him and his fellow executives healthy.

"We typically pay headhunters $50,000 to $100,000 per executive and then pay the new person's relocation costs, which are another $75,000 to $100,000," he said. "The disruption costs are even higher because it takes time to fill the void left behind when a key leader is lost."

So on this day and the next, Joslyn will receive what could be the ultimate corporate perk: a medical exam with all the trappings of an executive retreat. He will stay at the Westin Innisbrook Resort and be chauffeured to the nearby Ironman Institute. There, he will work with a top triathlon coach, undergo a personalized physical exam and have a mental health consultation.

"This takes the sting out of medical exams," Joslyn said. "Rather than have to run around to a bunch of different doctors and wait for hours, I can take care of all my medical tests in one day. And the fact that I get to stay at Innisbrook is a huge incentive."

* * *

On the morning of his first day, Joslyn sits on red racing bicycle that he brought with him on the plane. It is mounted on a frame so it remains stationary during the test. He is wearing a yellow-and-black Rayovac bike jersey, black biking shorts, biking shoes, a breathing apparatus, which looks much like a snorkel, and a nose clip. The breathing apparatus will measure the content of his breath while electrodes monitor his heart rate.

Cyle Sage, the institute's triathlon coaching consultant, and sports psychologist Dr. Michelle Schuele, the institute's director of lifestyle management, conduct the test to measure Joslyn's oxygen intake as he spins on the bike. The information they receive will provide Joslyn with specific heart rate zones and workout times for future training.

At first, Joslyn pedals at a slow, comfortable pace. His heart beats 108 times a minute. As his spinning becomes more intense, beads of sweat appear on his forehead. After about 15 minutes, he is clearly fatigued. He is pedaling at about 24 mph. Sage and Schuele coax him on for two more minutes. His heart rate rises to 187 beats per minute.

The monitor reveals that Joslyn's maximum peak oxygen consumption is excellent.

"He is highly fit for his age," Sage says.

Although he is short of breath and his quadriceps burn, Joslyn is clearly uplifted. He changes into his jogging outfit.

At nearby Palm Field, Sage analyzes Joslyn's running gait to help him improve his technique, speed and performance. Sage has served as the athlete development director for USA Triathlon, the sport's U.S. national federation, since 1999. The U.S. Olympic Committee has recognized him for his coaching success.

"You're throwing your knee too far forward," Sage says. "Keep your knees under your hips and always slightly bent."

He instructs Joslyn to run like he is pedaling a bike. To an observer, the gait appears rather uncomfortable and deliberate.

"We have to retrain his muscle memory," Sage says. He tells Joslyn to run on the balls of his feet. "Think of an animal. Animals don't have heels."

Next it's off to the Long Center in Clearwater for swim-stroke analysis. While Joslyn does a few laps, Sage swims next to him, analyzing his strokes, kick and body roll.

"You have a great body roll, but too much splash. Your legs are separated too much when you kick," Sage says.

Sage also tells Joslyn his stroke technique is outdated.

"Now we're teaching a different pitch of the hand and to pull straight back," Sage says.

Later that afternoon, Joslyn returned to the Westin Innisbrook and enjoyed an early dinner on the terrace overlooking the golf course.

* * *

After 12 hours of fasting, Joslyn starts Day 2 with blood, urine and hemocult tests.

Dr. John Dormois, a cardiologist who at 54 runs 5 miles a day, will give the physical and treadmill stress test. Everything appears normal, except for a slight heart murmur, which is noted.

Philip LaHaye, a physical therapist who competes in Ironmans, performs some strength tests on Joslyn. He proclaims Joslyn to be in excellent shape. For every decade after 30, a person loses 6 to 8 pounds of muscle, but Joslyn's training has paid off.

He has some difficulty though when asked to balance on one leg with his eyes closed. And, his shoulders are pitched slightly forward due to some pectoral muscle tightness. He has some soreness in one shoulder.

LaHaye recommends some stretching and strengthening exercises. He tells Joslyn if he follows the recommendations, "You will be fit, but not over-trained. Your workouts will become effortless and you will feel like you are on Cloud Nine."

Next Joslyn is driven to the Morton Plant Mease Turley Center in Clearwater for hip and knee X-rays. Morton Plant Mease has become partners with the institute to provide the clients with little or no wait for the exams.

After the X-rays, Joslyn has the electron beam CT heart scan at Morton Plant Mease Diagnostic Center. This test, which is about six minutes from start to finish, will detect any calcification of plaque in the arteries.

Technician Kathy George tells Joslyn he will have to hold his breath for 46 seconds while his heart is scanned. Joslyn's heart rate spikes at the thought.

The scan will provide Dr. John Fisher, the radiologist, with about 360 images of the heart. A numeric score is given according to the degree of calcification. The lower the score the better.

The news is good. Joslyn scores a zero.

After lunch, nutrition consultant Sheila Dean analyzes Joslyn's diet, which, she says, is a little high in calories and protein. She suggests Joslyn supplement with a multivitamin, and vitamins C and E.

"But be careful to not rely on supplements," she says. "People need to get their nutrition from diet, not the drugstore."

Once again Joslyn sees Schuele, who will review the results of his Myers Briggs personality preference test. (Joslyn was sent the test weeks before.) She shares with him some stress management techniques and goal-setting strategies.

Joslyn's final exam is with Dr. Allen Hughes, an orthopedic surgeon who competed in the Hawaii Ironman in 1997. He detects a moderate degree of instability in Joslyn's left shoulder. He is given a program to strengthen his rotator cuff.

Happily for Joslyn, there were no big surprises. He says the highlights were the triathlon-specific coaching, the dietary coaching and the session with the sports psychologist.

"I think the program will go over very well," Joslyn said. "Executives don't usually like going to the doctor, but they do like to be pampered and stay in really nice places. They can play golf or go to the beach. I think this will be a great way for them to take the time to do what they need to do for themselves."

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