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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Go wild ... in your living room! Go wild ... in your living room! (June 13, 2001)

Palo Altan's fitness videos provide outdoor inspiration for indoor workouts

by Peter Gauvin

Across America, inside vast expanses of cubical farms and boardrooms, thousands of desk jockeys and other cooped-up worker bees share a common longing -- and an entirely wholesome one at that: A desire to get outdoors to nurture the spirit and challenge the body.

With workloads, traffic, family commitments, urban sprawl and untold other obstacles conspiring to get in the way, escaping the concrete jungle can seem an impossible feat.

For those who can relate, Palo Alto resident and entrepreneur Jennifer Varno is offering an interim alternative that aims to bring some of the wilderness to your VCR: fitness videos filmed in great outdoors.

Varno, a certified fitness instructor with a certifiable passion for outdoor adventure, is the founder, CEO and on-screen wilderness workout guide of Go Wild! Fitness.

Shot in some of America's most beautiful landscapes, from the high desert grandeur of the Eastern Sierra to the rocky coast of Maine, Go Wild! videos feature Varno leading all-terrain, full-body workouts and sharing her infectious enthusiasm for keeping fit in the biggest gym ever created.

The Boston transplant fell deeply in love with outdoor training about 10 years ago when she moved to the Bay Area and got involved in trail running competitions and triathlons. Years later, it occurred to her there was a sizable vacancy in the fitness video market: People like her would never buy, let alone use, a workout video featuring a leotard-clad, makeup-caked, silicone-enhanced Hollywood starlet doing leg lifts, counting out "one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four."

So, a year ago, the 33-year-old "jumped ship" from her full-time job as creative director of corporate branding and development at Emerson-Hayes, a downtown Palo Alto ad agency, to pursue her outdoor-workout video idea. Financially, it's been scary at times, she admits, and she initially maintained some freelance projects to help pay the bills. But about six months ago, she jumped into Go Wild! with both feet.

"There's nothing else out there like this," Varno says. "Most other fitness videos are about babes and bikinis, focusing on perfect bodies ... basically eye-candy. Our videos are aimed more at your spiritual side, toward people that like the outdoors and adventure."

The video workouts run approximately 45 minutes. While Varno, clad in comfortable outdoor clothes, splashes through a stream or bounds down a trail, exercisers at home follow along.

To produce the videos, Varno enlisted the services of a film crew led by director and executive producer Lili Schad, who made her mark shooting ski films with Warren Miller. Schad recently produced a documentary film on Maverick's, the infamous big-wave surf break near Half Moon Bay, which garnered both critical and popular acclaim. Schad also produced and directed "Let the River Run: A Journey Through Glen Canyon," a film that won the Grand Jury Award at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival.

In Go Wild!'s videos, she uses swooping shots of the landscape and fast-paced "steady-cam" running to make viewers feel like they're in the setting.

It is Varno's first experience in front of a camera, yet some would say she's a natural. Focusing on the spirit of being outdoors and blending the workout to fit the landscape, Varno uses as equipment whatever nature throws her way. That might mean performing calf-raises on a downed tree limb, lunges on a mountain ridge, or pushups on a boulder.

Mentally, it's easier to do exercise outdoors than in a gym, Varno says. "I tend to get bored really fast on exercise machines and that boredom and sterileness make the workout harder. Outside, you feel more like a kid playing."

In addition to providing outdoor inspiration for indoor workouts, Varno hopes her videos will motivate people to get in shape for their next adventure and supply them with a bounty of ideas to make outdoor workouts more interesting and challenging.

"I'm not expecting anyone to use (the videos) all the time. It's for people who like to exercise outdoors when they can, but for various reasons aren't able to."

Her target audience is broad, from trail runners recovering from injury, mothers kept indoors watching the kids, to over-worked tech exec/weekend warriors who can't get outside during the week. Even the most dedicated athletes are sometimes kept indoors by inclement weather, darkness, clogged roads, or waning motivation. Varno is also aiming her workouts toward residents of metropolitan areas who don't have close proximity to open space.

Although Varno has plans to shoot future videos in remote locations -- from Death Valley to the wilds of Alaska, from California's redwoods to New England's autumn splendor -- her promo video features territory familiar to many locals: the trails along Skyline and at San Gregorio State Beach.

Varno's own fitness background is perhaps more distinguished than most. A self-described "middle-of-the-pack runner," she's competed in numerous challenging events, from a marathon through Death Valley to the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, and many put on by Stinson Beach-based race organizer EnviroSports. But she says her interest in fitness is primarily grounded in personal fulfillment and a love of being outdoors, rather than stop-watch training and cut-throat competition.

"What I want to do is get people out in the wilderness, getting muddy, getting dirty, exploring," Varno says. "I want to encourage people and get them psyched."

Of course, she also wants to make a living doing it. Toward that end, Varno plans to have the first video on the shelves this summer, then another one in the fall, and one each season after that. She figures the Bay Area, with its higher-than-average percentage of outdoor enthusiasts, is the ideal place to "create the buzz" before branching out nationwide. The videos will be available through Bay Area outdoor equipment retailers, as well as directly from Go Wild! Fitness. They will retail for $19.99.

Worker bees might consider it a wise investment in physical fitness and urban sanity. Contact Go Wild! Fitness at or by calling toll free 1-877-GOWILDF (1-877-469-4533).


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