John Carlson: A Visit To The Fittest City

People wearing shirts like this tend to be go-getters. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonPeople wearing shirts like this tend to be go-getters. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

We were up in Madison, Wis., for Nancy’s family reunion when I decided it would be the perfect place to film a Martian invasion movie. That’s because you wouldn’t need any extras to play the “people running their butts off in terror” scenes.

The folks up there always run their butts off, just for the heck of it.

It was kind of unbelievable. We drove into the city past some little lake and there on the shore was a big sign reading “Madison: Home of the fittest people on earth.” Sure enough, the only people not running were the ones bicycling, roller-blading, kayaking, pole-vaulting or presumably underground spelunking.

Sitting in my car, I suddenly felt guilty about the bacon, egg and cheese biscuit Nancy had heartlessly forced me to devour for breakfast, and self-consciously poked at the roll of belly fat bulging over my seatbelt. Within Madison’s city limits, nobody jiggled. Excited Madison children lined up for goodies at snack stands with names like Mister Broccoli. It dawned on me that I was passing entire city blocks populated by people hauling around less blubber than was smooshed into the 38-inch waist of my own Wranglers.

As if the city didn’t have enough healthy people already, it was hosting the CrossFit Games.

We have CrossFit in Muncie. It’s a fine outfit for health-conscious folks working themselves into the sort of shape that those of us more likely to compete in the Slovenly and Slothful Games can even imagine.

But the CrossFit Games contestants?

These dudes and lady dudes were the fittest of the fittest of the fit, like the guy pictured above. We saw him in a restaurant, but whatever he was doing there, it definitely wasn’t eating things. His waist looked like he’d have trouble getting a prune past his belt. Broad shouldered, trim and muscular, these folks were easy to pick out, even if they weren’t wearing shirts promising to pound the poop out of their fitness goals.

When we finally got to our bed-and-breakfast downtown, I plopped onto a balcony chair to watch the cars whiz by below. It wasn’t even raining, and half of ‘em had canoes strapped on top, just in case. And out of, say, ten thousand cars I saw pass in two days, exactly one driver’s face was buried in a fast-food wrapper, and one guy was sucking on a cigarette.

Another interesting thing was how funny the people passing below looked. It took me a while to figure out what was bugging me, but then it struck.

“Holy cow!” I hollered to Nancy. “These folks only have one chin!”

And another thing, all the women had great legs. Of course, the men may have had great legs, too, but hey, who the heck cares? Anyway, it didn’t take long to figure out how these gals got their glorious gams.

First, they were constantly walking everywhere.

Second, believe it or not, all the streets in Madison go uphill. It beats me how the city fathers figured this out, since that seems in defiance of a law of physics or some thing, but somehow none of the streets go downhill. Ever. I know this because I walked on some. This was during a luncheon excursion in which all the super-slim Madisonians passing me by were engaged in non-labored conversation while hoofing it up steep inclines.

At one point, it even began to rub off, and I engaged Nancy in a moment’s non-labored conversation while hiking straight uphill.

“Hey,” she asked me. “What was the name of that rock band that scored a major hit with the song  ‘Buddy Holly’ back in 1994?”

“Wheeze …” I answered.

“Oh, yeah, Weezer!” she hollered. “Thanks, honey.”

Unfortunately, after that my lungs kept right on wheezing and squeaking like they were stuffed with fresh cheese curds. But finally we got to this restaurant called Graze, where I was just about to pass out, before being rejuvenated by an energizing beer and a butt-kicking cheeseburger with no apparent cra …, um … quinoa in it. After lunch we reversed course and headed for our bed-and-breakfast, and damned if that street still didn’t take us uphill.

This seems impossible, and I still haven’t figured out how they do it. Doesn’t everything that goes up have to come down?  But I’m pretty sure this special geographical anomaly has been arranged to keep everyone in shape.

I have, however, figured out that when Madison says it’s the home of the world’s fittest people, it’s probably not kidding.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.