Zach and Heidi Harsin used to run together, step for step, when they were dating.
“He would slow down for me then,” Heidi smirked. “When he was trying to win me over.”
Now that Zach has the girl — they married in January — he only plays nice for the first mile or two. The newlyweds have built their livelihoods — personal and professional — around fitness.
They own Body Innovations gym in Lincoln, and, although they're focused on work during business hours, it was their time together at the gym that kickstarted their romantic relationship.
“This is how we fell in love,” Zach said.
They met in March, almost two years ago. Heidi, 31, was a guest panelist at the Nebraska Wesleyan University Business Summit. She talked about opening, owning and running Body Innovations, and Zach approached her about an internship.
They worked together that summer, keeping the relationship purely professional. In the fall, though, they started seeing each other romantically, too.
For several months, they kept their relationship to themselves.
“It wasn't difficult to draw the line,” Heidi said about working with her then-boyfriend. Zach, 23, became a co-owner at Body Innovations in January last year.
Even Zach and Heidi Harsin's engagement photo had a fitness theme. They announced the wedding date on race bibs. B. GALLERY PHOTOGRAPHY
When the couple is at the gym, teaching classes or personal training, they focus on their clients, not each other.
Some gym members were shocked when they heard about the engagement last September — they didn't even know Heidi and Zach were dating.
Even now, it's nearly impossible to tell the two are married when they're at work. On a Wednesday evening, while Zach trained a client, Heidi taught a boot camp class. When he changed a song playing over the speakers, presumably to one he liked better, she laughed, and he smiled before they turned back to work — the only hint of romance, easily missed.
Close friend Gabrielle Happold was in on the secret from the start, though.
“They are electric together,” said Happold, who exercises at Body Innovations. “They're so easy-going and comfortable together. It's been a year and a half, but it feels like they've been together eons. They just go together.”
The two teach group exercise classes, work with personal training clients and organize a half-marathon running group. They put on two running races — the Harvest Moon Hustle and the Jingle Jog — each year, too.
“The passion we share, it really is a lifestyle,” Zach said.
Even Heidi's wedding ring reflects their energetic ways. There is no “holy cow, look at that rock” solitaire on her left hand. It's a thick band of several smaller diamonds, more suitable for someone so active.
They're both competitive. The couple's first race together was the Beer and Bagel Run in Ashland, Neb. They'll both run the half-marathon in Atkinson, Neb., Heidi's hometown, this spring and a half Ironman in Wisconsin this summer.
They often train at the same time, but not always together. It's easier to keep the same pace on a bike and in the pool than on the running trail. Zach's faster, remember.
“He makes me want to push that much harder,” Heidi said, not against him, but against others in her age group.
For the Harsins, exercise is what relationship expert Brier Jirka calls a “core value.”
BRYNN ANDERSON / THE WORLD-HERALD
“Having similar interests is extremely important, specifically when it comes to fitness,” said Jirka, who works at Methodist Hospital in Omaha. Running a marathon or competing in an Ironman is a committed sport, much different than playing intramural softball on the weekends, she explained.
“You have to have a partner who understands and is respectful of that.”
There's even less stress on the relationship when both partners prioritize exercise, Jirka said.
Sue Harsin, Zach's mom, said her son has always been physically active.
“No moss will grow under that boy's toes,” she said. “He just keeps moving.”
So she knew he would choose someone who was as passionate about health and fitness as he was. She knew that “someone” was Heidi when the couple visited Blair, Neb., Zach's hometown, for Christmas.
“You could tell looking at them ... they bring life into a room together. They really do,” his mom said.
Zach proposed over Labor Day weekend after they boated on the Niobrara River, picnicked and watched the sunset. They took engagement photos a few weeks after he popped the question. In one, the two are holding race bibs that read “toeing the line” with their wedding date printed in place of a bib number — Zach's idea. Their friends were thrilled.
“I absolutely loved that. ... It was perfect for them. That guy doesn't miss a beat,” Happold said.
A few weeks before their wedding, Zach surprised Heidi with new business cards with her new last name and a road ID bracelet, which displays important information in case a runner gets into trouble on the trail.
He listed himself as the emergency contact and inscribed a message on the bracelet: “To my life-long training partner.”
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