Larry Benz - Kentucky 's Ambassador For Fitness and Well-Being

Larry Benz - Kentucky 's Ambassador For Fitness and Well-Being

Larry Benz - Kentucky ''s Ambassador For Fitness and Well-Being

By Margaret Schauer

During Northern California ''s Big Sur Marathon in April 2003, Larry Benz and his brother, Steve, encountered an unexpected moment of surreal delight. Winding their way to the top of a two-and-a-half-mile stretch on Highway 1, with the earth falling steeply into the Pacific Ocean and the mountains rounding against the sky, they spied a grand piano perched on the road. With a smile on his face, tuxedo-bedecked musician Jonathan Lee played the instrument for the passing runners, sending out crisp notes into the air in celebration of both the marathon and the majestic view.

The piano and its well-dressed player seemed out of place on the asphalt as runners streamed past, but at the same time, the scene was a perfect match for the gorgeous panoramic landscape. Undoubtedly, the musical vision could have easily caused some people, already dazed from the hill, to think they had reached the outer limits of dehydration. For Larry Benz, running with Steve during his brother''s first 26.2-mile race, it was all part of a spectacular, emotional day. Fatigue, mixing with the beauty of the ocean and the wildflower-dotted terrain, proved the marathon to be one of the most memorable for Benz. With waves crashing against the rocks while the Pacific stretched in a blue haze into the horizon, who wouldn''t be inspired to try great things?

As a veteran of 10 marathons, including the famed Boston marathon, it wasn''t the first time 42-year-old Benz had both experienced and witnessed that peculiar balance of weary-muscled elation. Just the year before, Benz ran a marathon in Cleveland with his other brother, Gary, who, like Steve, marked that marathon as his first. Getting both of his brothers into marathon running is indicative of Larry Benz''s fearlessness in trying great things - and succeeding. Recently voted Louisville''s fittest CEO, Benz''s positive energy, enthusiasm and commitment to healthy living spreads not only to his family, including his wife Patty and their three children, Aaron, Lauren and Jonathan, but also into Louisville, Southern Indiana and all over Kentucky.

Benz, the creator and CEO of Kentucky Orthopedic Rehab Team (KORT), one of the region''s top physical therapy and sports medicine practices, got an early start in physical therapy. As an undergraduate at Ohio ''s Bowling Green State University , Benz was the athletic trainer for the hockey team and football program. The Cleveland native went directly to graduate school in physical therapy at Baylor University in Texas , where he took part in an innovative program that combined Baylor with the U.S. Army. As part of the program, Benz had a commitment to the Army and became an officer in the Army Medical Specialist Corp as a physical therapist for five years. His last assignment was in Fort Knox , bringing Benz to Kentucky .

He loved working as a physical therapist for the Army, likening the Army physical therapy clinics to big sports medicine clinics with the soldiers as the athletes, flying out of airplanes and jumping off tanks. He met Patty, also a physical therapist, at Fort Knox and they were married in 1987. While Benz enjoyed the manner in which the Army allowed him to be an entrepreneur, he eventually decided to start his own practice in 1989 after his career goals differed from where the Army wanted to send him.

Benz began by moonlighting while in the Army for a physical therapist in Elizabethtown and then started doing his own contracting. He contracted with different hospitals and had jobs that were over two hours away from his home base and recalls that time as involving a lot of driving. Outpatient clinics were becoming more frequent, which fell into his and Patty''s true passion - orthopedic and sports medicine. Soon, they opened freestanding clinics and the first was in Louisville , near Caritas Hospital , around 1990. Earning an MBA from Ohio State University aided Benz in the success of his enterprise. As evidence, KORT recently opened clinics in Jeffersonville and New Albany , bringing the number of offices in the region to 30. Benz, continuing his studies in physical therapy, will soon earn a doctorate from Massachusetts General Hospital .

Always interested in health and fitness, Benz and his wife also founded Genesis Health Systems, a specialty niche medical spa, about three years ago. Born from a desire to help physical therapy patients make lifestyle adjustments to keep them injury free, Benz began examining the science of nutrition and fitness. With the help of a few consultants, he developed the Lifestyle Exercise And Nutrition program, which entails an education-driven nutritional and exercise plan designed to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle changes.

KORT clinics, busy with orthopedic care, spurred the Benzes to move Genesis into a freestanding center. Benz says of his clients, "The folks who had the best success tended to be baby boomers who realized they needed to make changes to keep from looking like their parents did at their age. Then, we looked at what other services we could offer, and began providing skin care with either pharmaceuticals, laser services or micro-dermabrasion." Genesis also has a high-tech personal training studio, therapeutic massage and will soon offer Pilates, in addition to the weight loss plan.

Besides KORT''s physical therapy clinics and Genesis'' health spa, Benz also serves on the board of Girls on the Run; a charity dedicated to introducing youngsters to good lifestyle habits.

"This is where our efforts should be focused, on giving good nutritional advice and good lifestyle habits to young kids, teaching girls the value of exercise and nutrition and giving them better self confidence," Benz says. "It follows along the passion I have for getting kids fit and giving them the long-term tools to stay fit, stay healthy, have better self esteem and self confidence." His dedication to Girls on the Run partly comes from seeing the great benefits of the organization''s techniques and exercises from when his 11-year-old daughter, Lauren, was in the program a few years ago.

Benz describes Girls on the Run as "A very grass roots effort done by a lot of great people on the board as well as great donors. KORT sponsors a 5K run every year and all of our athletic trainers and a lot of our employees are there, cheering on the girls and working at the event. The really great job that the folks at Girls on the Run do is recruit volunteers to go to after-school programs to work with the kids. We are trying to expand into the inner-city schools."

KORT sponsors both the annual 5K event for Girls on the Run and the second duathlon in the Kentuckiana HealthFitness series. The company has a number of employees who are triathletes, including Bill Eisner, who recently qualified for the Hawaii IronMan event. KORT also provides pro bono services to the community by having athletic trainers cover events from the high-school level to the professional, such as the Louisville Fire. Emphasizing Benz''s commitment to healthy living, all of KORT''s employees are encouraged to work out and have access to the equipment as well as discounts on things from fitness equipment to vitamins and supplements through Genesis, and consultants have come in to teach the employees about wellness and LEAN lifestyles.

A frequent traveler, Benz works out while on the road. Whether at home or abroad, he exercises aerobically four to five times a week and does strength training on a periodization basis of three to four months at a time with six weeks off. Benz believes in the importance of mental exercise and engages his mind by memorizing things such as Scripture verses or working crossword puzzles. Additionally, he concentrates on spirituality, involving his faith as well as spending time with his family. A University of Louisville fan, he and his family attend as many games and events as possible. He also enjoys golf as a stress-reliever.

Benz offers this advice for those seeking a healthy balance in life: "Consider the big picture and keep things simple. Sweat profusely three to five times a week for 30-40 minutes at a time, and if your goal is to lose weight, do some strength training and think leanness and not skinniness . Success in one area will lead to success in another area. If you''re successful at staying fit, you will be successful in your family and in your business. All these areas more than cross-pollinate, they catalyze and fertilize one another."

For someone who falls out of the habit of fitness, Benz says, "Revisit your core values and keep in mind it''s hard to maintain motivation alone. Remember that maturity means dependence, not independence."

Margaret Schauer, a swimmer and aspiring triathlete, is currently completing her master''s of fine arts in writing degree at Spalding University .

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