For many people, retirement is a time for new adventures, a time when people finally have the time to discover a new passion or do something they have always wanted to do. For others it’s just a time to slow down, relax and escape the everyday stress of the workplace.
Such is not the case with 63-year-old Thomas Ackerman of Lynnfield, who is chasing a dream and bringing the science of fitness to another level.
Ackerman, who retired this past February as CFO at Charles River Labs in Wilmington, has been training for months, hoping to be named the Fittest on Earth at the Reebok 2017 CrossFit Games which began Wednesday at Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisc. Ackerman is one of 20 athletes competing in the Masters division for athletes over the age of the 60.
This is his third time competing in the Games, which features four days of intense competition.
“My best finish was in 2014 when I finished third,” he said. “It was great, I beat a bunch of guys who were really, really good, so it was very rewarding. I have exercised and worked out all my life the traditional way at fitness centers, most recently Latitude, but I got hooked on CrossFit about four years ago, which is an incredibly different way of exercising, which offers the opportunity to compete, and I just love it.”
Ackerman said he got hooked after working out with his son-in-law, Capt. Andrew Cohen, about four years ago.
He joined Gymja CrossFit in Woburn, where he discovered a new world while training with coach Leslie Stebbins.
“There are many local places that have weekend competitions and I learned that it was so much fun and very social with everyone working toward a common goal,” said Ackerman. “I’ve leaned out my body fat, but the biggest thing I have gained is I have really improved my mobility, my range of motion. When I look at others my age, that’s the one thing I see they don’t have, that flexibility and range. Because I have always worked out, my cardio was always pretty good, but it’s the variable movement as opposed to the up-and-down type of static movement that you get with conventional workouts that is the difference.”
CrossFit is a high-intensity core strength and conditioning program using varied functional movements that incorporate the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, rowing, running, cycling swimming and more.
To qualify for the Games, Ackerman had to survive two rounds of rigorous and time-consuming workout sessions. The competition began in February with a five-week “Open” series of workouts. The workouts had to be observed by a certified CrossFit trainer or “judge” at a CrossFit location.
Ackerman said the workouts were metabolic and focused on movement, running, gymnastics and Olympic lifting, some of which had time limitations.
The top 200 competitors in each division advanced to the next phase, which was held in late April/early May.
“You had to complete four more workouts in one weekend from Thursday to Monday and also submit a video as proof of your performance,” said Ackerman. “After that, you wait until the top 20 are posted, and I was lucky enough to be in that group and qualify for Wisconsin.”
Hundreds of thousands of athletes competed in this year’s event, which was whittled down to 40 men, 40 women, 40 teams, 80 teenagers, and 240 masters, who compete in five age divisions. The CrossFit Games claim to rank the world’s fittest and elite athletes, and then determine which among them is the Fittest on Earth.
Ackerman said his strongest suit is strength and endurance, particularly in barbells.
“A lot of the workouts I feel I can maintain my top level of performance longer and deeper than some of the other competitors in my division without a noticeable slow down,” he said.
The Games feature an element of surprise in that the exact nature of most of the events is not disclosed until the night before the first day of competition. As such, the athletes are forced to engage in a series of challenges for which they could not prepare for in advance.
“It’s hard to estimate how you will do as it will all depend on which events are offered, however, and other than the three workouts that have already been released, you just don’t know what events you will be competing in,” said Ackerman. “They like to create a buzz about the nationals by holding back on making the workouts public, kind of as a teaser to generate more traffic on their website, and so far just three have been released, one of which is a military style obstacle course that they added last year. They even used a real Marine obstacle training course, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
When not working out at Gymja CrossFit, Ackerman, who grew up in Revere, enjoys traveling with his wife Cynthia, a Lynn native, working out at Latitude and spending time with his family — son Matthew, an IT specialist at Charles River, who also resides in Lynnfield and daughters Kate Ackerman and Cara Cohen. Kate is a school teacher in San Diego and is married to Reed Crawford, while Cara is currently in Atlanta with husband Andrew, who is in the Army and stationed at Ft. Benning, and their two children, 19-month-old Logan and 3-month-old Jack.
“Working out has so many social benefits as you see the same people and friends, so I really enjoy having more time to do that,” said Ackerman. “We also like the social aspects of traveling and will be going to Italy in September.”
Ackerman said he also enjoys playing golf and sports a 20-handicap.
“Training takes up so much time, so I haven’t played golf as much lately, but hopefully I will be able to play more after the Games are over.”
Ackerman left Tuesday for Wisconsin accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and coach, Stebbins.
The Games will be broadcast on the CBS and CBS Sports Television networks. Viewers can also follow Ackerman’s progress live online by visiting the official website of this year’s Games, www.gamescrossfit.com.