KHQ's Cory Howard puts his Olympic dreams to the test - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

KHQ's Cory Howard puts his Olympic dreams to the test

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Matt Silvers from Whitworth served as my coach for the tests. Matt Silvers from Whitworth served as my coach for the tests.
SPOKANE, Wash. -

"We need someone that doesn't mind being embarrassed." 

Those were the words our producer Morgan told me when pitching the idea for this story: "How do you compare to an Olympic athlete?" 

I'm not above embarrassing myself. In fact, I'm pretty good at it. (Examples on my Facebook page).

I like to consider myself an active person. I've competed... wait, "competed" is the wrong word/ I've participated in a few races. Sprint triathlons, half marathons, and Ironman 70.3 this summer. I like to stay active. But believe me, I had no delusions that I would come close to statistically being at the level of an Olympic athlete. Like I said, I just don't mind embarrassing myself. 

So after I agreed to be a fitness lab rat, I went up to Whitworth University and met with Matt Silvers. Matt is an Associate Professor at the university and would serve as my torturer... I mean, coach for the tests. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, Matt was already sprinting (a sprint for me, a jog for him) toward our car to direct us to the Health Sciences building. Matt is no stranger to athletics. He has a few (a lot) races under his belt, including Ironman, and has co-authored a couple of books. He knows what he's talking about. 

I tried to get Michael Phelps to come participate in this story to serve as my competition , but he never got back to me. At first, I figured he was scared, but then I remembered he was probably busy in Rio winning his 97th gold medal or something. So we didn't have an actual Olympian to compare me to, but Matt said we wouldn't need a physical person since we had data to compare my results to. Fair enough. 

We decided to put me through four tests. 

The first test was the easiest, but probably the most deflating: A body fat test.

What percentage of my body was pure fat? As I said, I like to stay active, but I also like IPAs. A lot. Which means my six pack usually prevents my six pack, you know what I mean? This was the least physically demanding test because it just required me to sit in what is known as a "Bod Pod" (also what I called my room in college. I didn't have a lot of ladies over. Related? Totally.). In the "Bod Pod," I sat in this contraption that resembled the one Sigourney Weaver used in Aliens. Easy enough. Matt said air pressure would measure my body fat after about five minutes. 

I don't know how this works, but when I was done, my results were quite reflective of my love for beer: 21% body fat. About 1/5 of me is just fat. Fantastic. To compare that to a Michael Phelps or a Usain Bolt is depressing. Matt said Olympians of their caliber would definitely be in the single digits for body fat percentage. The only thing that made me feel better was the fact that my luscious beard may have thrown off the machine a bit, which would add on up to 5%. Probably not that much, but 16% sounds better than 21%. I'm not fat. I'm hairy. 

Ok, the easy stuff was over. It was time to get on a treadmill. 

This was a test of endurance. The best way I can describe it, is to think of Ivan Drago from Rocky IV training in a lab. Remember him on the treadmill? Just like that, except with a mask like Immortan Joe from Mad Max:Fury Road strapped to my face. Matt explained, based on my prior race times, that we would start at 5.5 mph at a 0% incline and increase the speed by 1/2 mph every 30 seconds. Once I reached my top speed, he'd start increasing the incline by 2% every minute until I couldn't possibly run anymore. 

It started out easy. Like a nice jog. Soon I was up to 7.5 mph and I decided that was a comfortable top speed, knowing I was about to basically sprint up a hill. The first few incline increases were okay, but once we got up to 6% (the equivalent of Doomsday Hill, Matt said), I started to feel it. This is when I started to get serious. I had no other choice but to just look ahead and focus. I actually ran Bloomsday and there was no way I was running 7.5 mph up that hill. 

From there, it was a mental and a physical battle. But mostly mental. It would have been easy to tap out at 8% incline, but Matt made it very clear that the results of the test weren't going to be accurate unless I gave it everything I had. That "everything" maxed out when I hit 12% incline (in all honesty, it could've been 10%, but I basically blacked out at this point). I finally tapped in the 12th minute. 

So why did I just recreate the Russian side of the training montage from Rocky IV? To get my Max VO2. What is Max VO2? In the simplest of terms, it is a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. My results? 50.9 ml/kg/min. For my age and measurements, this was actually a pretty excellent result. Or at least Matt said it was. He could have just been trying to make me feel better. 

Compared to an Olympic endurance athlete? Not so much. 

Matt told me that Lance Armstrong, at his very worst following his chemotherapy treatment, scored a 60 ml/kg/min. That's someone who just finished chemo! Other Olympic athletes frequently score in the 70s, 80s and 90s. So basically, if I was competing against Olympians, while I was sucking in air just trying to stay alive, they'd barely be warming up. 

So endurance Olympic endurance sports are not in my future. What about sprinting? I could've told you before we even did this story that the answer is no (I'm just about the slowest person on the planet). But for the purpose of this story, I pressed on and agreed to take the sprinting test. Which oddly enough, involved a bike.

On paper, this test sounded easy. I would sit on a stationary bike and pedal as fast as I could with no resistance, then when Matt felt I was going as fast as I could, he would drop weight on the fly wheel that would gradually add resistance for 30 seconds, all while I pedaled as hard and as fast as I could. The goal being to test my anaerobic capacity, which is more or less the average output of power.

How hard could this be? Hard.

30 seconds felt like 3 minutes when he dropped that weight. Form went out the window. I wasn't allowed to stand up, so with my butt firmly planted, I instinctively threw myself into some sort of violent, heavy metal convulsion just to get through. Before the weight dropped, it felt like if I had a flux capacitor strapped to me, I would've gone back in time to 1955. When the weight dropped, I suddenly felt like I was pulling a dead elephant.

My average output was okay for a regular person (555 watts), but when I asked Matt if my results were closer to an Olympian or a hamster on a wheel, he didn't hesitate.

"Probably a hamster on a wheel."

So let's recap. I'm 21% fat, I can't run or sprint like an Olympian, but what about my lung capacity? As you can imagine, swimmers, divers, synchronized swimmers, etc., all need great lung capacity. The final test was basically a breathalyzer test, without the incriminating results at the end. Just results to dash my Olympic dreams.

For this final test, I would simply blow into a tube as hard as I could for as long as I could. I did it three times and my best score showed that my lung capacity was at 6.69 liters, which again, was above average for my age (126% above my expected results), but if I was going to be Michael Phelps, I would need to basically double that capacity.

As if having my dreams of being an Olympian crushed wasn't enough, Matt felt it necessary to bury my aspirations of being a magician as well with the breathing test. He mentioned that magician David Blaine trains hard to build up his lung capacity (Blaine once held his breath for 17 minutes), and found that beavers were his biggest competition during training. Beavers can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes! So I can't be an Olympian, a magician, or a beaver.

Dreams. Over.

By the time we were done with these tests, I was tired, out of breath, and maybe a little light-headed. I obviously didn't expect to finish these tests and find that I had the physical fitness of an Olympian, but I was glad I did it. Overall, aside from the shocking 21% body fat, I was pleased with my results. I finished above average in all of the tests for my age and gender. Sure, I won't be headed to the Olympics in 2020 for running or swimming, but that doesn't rule out other competitions like, umm, you know, uhhh,... ok, yeah I probably won't be competing in anything in 2020.

Perhaps I should look into competitive eating? Perhaps competitive drinking? Both? This weekend? Ok. I think I can beat Phelps at that. Lochte? No. Phelps? Yes. 

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