I’m not entirely sure why I’m starting this blog up again, or writing this entry. I guess I want to share my own journey of fitness, maybe you’ll enjoy reading it, maybe you’ll relate, maybe it will help you in some way. That said, forgive me, I’m not an English major.
I played sports in high school, soccer, basketball, and baseball. I didn’t train for them, I didn’t care. I just showed up to practice and games. Once I graduated, I cared even less about my health and fitness level. I joined the military, and that didn’t change my outlook on fitness. Honestly, I cheated during the basic training mile run. It might have been a mile and a half, I don’t remember. But I do remember skipping a lap. The proctors didn’t notice. I remember acting like I was really out of breathe once I crossed the finish line. The Air Force(when I was in) required Airmen to take a fitness test once a year, the “ERGO” test. Basically, they monitored your heart rate while you rode a stationary bike. My resting heart rate was either too high to even START the rest, or my heart rate would elevate so quickly, they would have to stop the test. I’d get reschedule, but with the same results. I was in the military for over 4 years before I ever got “caught”, and put on a fitness program. Still, I didn’t take it seriously, I knew I was getting out, there was no point in making the effort.
Looking back, I had every opportunity to get in shape. The base had a great gym facility, and more than a few times my friend Fred would come knocking on my door, asking if I wanted to go to the gym with him. At the time, I wanted to just sit on my computer and eat junk instead of working out. I watched Fred transform from a skinny kid, into a beast. Fred benched 400lbs, I’ve only hit 340lbs, but I understand how much work he put into it. At one point while I was in, I didn’t realize how fat I was getting, and I dieted, losing around 20lbs.
Once I got out of the military, things didn’t get much better. I still never exercised, still ate junk. I moved around a few times, New York to Colorado, to North Carolina, then back to Colorado. While living in New York with Doug, he worked out often, and would ask me. I toyed around with his Bowflex(pieces of shit machines), but less then a handful of times. When I lived in North Carolina the first time, I started doing construction work. Framing, timber frame homes, and log cabins. I gained some muscle just working Monday through Friday, but I still didn’t watch what I ate.
There are some conversations, or bits of conversations that have stuck with me my entire life. When I was in 6th grade(or some grade close), I remember being in the shower locker room and going up to a guy I knew, Doug. I talked to him, and a guy named Scott for a few seconds, then turned to walk away. I remember as I walked away, one of them, probably Doug(asshole), whisper something to the effect of “Did you see how fat he was?”, and they both laughed. Doing construction, Robert once told me that I wasn’t “fat”, I was “husky”.
It’s worth mentioning that I’d never take my shirt off in public. I hated swim days in school because I didn’t want to take my shirt off. I started skipping swim days. In High School, while hanging out at my friend Ray’s house, a girl I had an ENORMOUS crush on, Kirstin, asked me to take my shirt off. She said she “heard I had a nice chest”. I don’t believe for a moment that she actually heard that, maybe that was her making her “move”. I refused to take my shirt off. While working construction in North Carolina, Robert would ask me how I could stand wearing a shirt when it was so hot out. I made up some dumb reason as to why I wouldn’t. The truth is, I was insecure.
Doug moved to North Carolina for a short stint, and we got a weight bench. I started lifting with Doug, not very much though. I bench pressed 225lbs, but I’m sure it was only because there were two girls I was trying to impress watching me do it. I would hit a speed bag sometimes, again, I didn’t watch what I ate. I began a vegan for a few years, so I got a little thin, but certainly not in shape.
Now, back to Colorado. In Colorado is when I decided to become a Firefighter. I’d been watching a lot of Rescue me at the time. I told my sister, and enrolled in the Fire Academy. I barely trained for it. I knew I’d have to run, and I was expecting to go through basic training all over again. The first day of the Academy, we ran, and I had to stop. Afterwards, the Chief asked who it was that stopped running. I raised my hand, and admitted it. He sternly told me to get on a program. I did, but still I didn’t take it seriously. I would run a little bit, but most of my exercise came from the academy, looking back, it was a joke, it was nothing, but I wasn’t in shape. I eventually got to the point where I didn’t have to stop, and I’d stay back with the people who were still struggling, so they didn’t have to run alone. Or maybe I just couldn’t keep up with the head of the pack, I don’t know. I bought a Smith Machine and put it in the living room of my tiny apartment, it rarely used it, and soon, never. After the academy, I decided to finish my degree in Fire Science, and things went downhill from there. I sat at my computer almost all day long. I only went out to go to the grocery store, and to take Emma outside. I was lonely, depressed, insecure, and ballooned to 196 lbs. At 5’9(I’ll swear I am), that’s a lot of extra pounds on my frame. It wasn’t until my friend Jay called me and told me that I should move back to North Carolina, because the Asheville Fire Department was going to be hiring soon, that it hit me. I took a hard look in the mirror, and was honest with myself about where I was health and fitness wise. I hated what I saw, I loathed what I had done to my body.
I began with limiting myself to 1200 calories a day. I started walking Emma around the lake by my house, that was roughly 2.6 miles around. I always walked at night, when it was dark, and nobody could see me. At the time I had a bout of insomnia, sometimes not sleeping for 36-46 hours straight. I’d walk late at night, starting with one lap around, which eventually led to 3-4 times a night. At 1200 calories a day, I started losing weight very quickly. Slowly, I started jogging around the lake. I bought a 40lb weighted vest, and began walking around the lake wearing it. in 4 months, I dropped from 196 pounds, to 155 pounds. When my sister saw me again(she had been gone for over a year), she said I looked anorexic. She was close, I was bulimic. That’s the first time I think I’ve ever admitted that. I say this now because not only is throwing your food up a terrible way to go about losing weight, but limiting yourself to that few calories, and walking or jogging that much, is simply not healthy. I cheated getting “in shape”, and I regret it looking back.
I moved to North Carolina, and I started really running and training. I made my own workouts up, and for hours on end, I would pull a 45lb plate up a hill with a rope, throw it back down, sprint back up, and repeat. There were variations to these workouts, but that was essentially it. The day came for the physical test with Asheville, and although I passed, I barely did. I was devastated. But, I was honest with myself, and knew I didn’t put in the work that I needed to. This was the moment that things turned around for me.
I began searching craiglist for any sort of equipment I could find to workout with. I slowly got a respectful gym in my basement, and began doing this crazy thing I’d heard about called Crossfit. I loved it at the time, but now, to me, it’s a really good way to snap all kinds of shit in your body. I would go to Crossfit.com and whatever the Workout of the Day was, I did. However, I HATED having to drop the weight that they were asking you to do. I decided to stop doing Crossfit, and start strictly lifting weights, I told myself, “Just until you can do what was prescribed, “as RX”, for the Crossfit Wod.
Lifting became an addiction. I would lift weights during our two 15 minute breaks at work, and during the 30 minute lunch. When I maxed on the bench press for the first time with my friend Bill, I think it was at 235lbs. At the time, I had 2 numbers in my head. 300lbs(though recently I’ve come to find out in reality the number would have been 290), and 405lbs. Those numbers are 5 more lbs than my friend Robert has bench pressed, and Fred. There is no better test of upper body strength than the bench press, and I have a terribly bad back, so I can’t backsquat or deadlift seriously.
I gained knowledge about lifting, how to gain strength, what exercises targeted what muscles groups, variations on set layouts and for what purpose, what protein, carbs, and fats actually did for you, and a host of other information. I constantly watched(and still do) fitness channels on Facebook. I’ve had a slew of injuries in the roughly 3 years I’ve been lifting weights, and I’ve taken time off here and there; sometimes for a few days, sometimes for weeks, sometimes months.. My latest break was last December, until February. In that time I lost about 40lbs from my bench press, though I’m working my way back up to it.
It’s an addiction now. I would be a lot bigger than I am, and stronger, but I always had in my mind how I looked fat, and still didn’t eat what I needed to eat. I’m passed that now, and I’m currently in my very first “bulk”, eating 3800-4200 calories a day, weighing out my food, counting all my macros, and being very disciplined about what goes into my body.
I realized that probably got very boring to read, but here is what I’ve learned, mentally, through this process.
First off, I get asked a lot how I do it. How do I get up early every day to lift weights, go to work, most days still workout during breaks and lunch, and sometimes come home and lift again. I really don’t have a good answer for this. It’s habit. At some point I probably had concrete reasons, and from what I can remember of what got me started, they are as follows.
I watched my father’s health decline. I watched him get numerous health programs that only grew as he aged. I never wanted to be undisciplined like he was with his body. That was a huge motivation for me when I started. As I held his hand as he died, crying, I remember wondering why he never took care of himself, and I wondered if he would have done anything different if he knew the pain I, and my family, were going through had he known how his end would come. I can only guess and hope that he would. I know I would. So I take care of myself.
I want to live a long time. Forever preferably. I don’t know what happens after we die, but I personally believe nothing will happen. I will die, and that it is. Believing that, I realize this life is precious. It’s painful, it’s beautiful, it’s confusing, it can crush you and make you not want to live(I’ve been there too, quite a few times), but I never want it to end. So I take care of myself.
I want to be the hardest working motherfucker in the room. Internally, I’m not a beast. Externally, I’m getting there. I enjoy hearing people complain about how tired they are, when I’m still going. When I woke up early to lift, and did more work in an hour and fifteen minutes than most people will do all day, hearing people complain makes me smile. I like to be a leader, and I lead by example, I don’t respect leaders that don’t. I like being around people who are the same. So, I take care of myself.
Obviously, I want to look good. So, I take care of myself.
Now, has it benefited me? What have I learned?
Superficially, yes. I’m not a fitness model, but I look a heck of a lot better than I once did. As any lifter will tell you, we’re never satisfied. If people say you’re big, you don’t see it. You just want to be bigger. You want to be stronger. It begins to get detailed, “I need bigger traps”, “my arms are pretty good, but my upper chest is shit”. Obviously not everyone likes a muscular body, and to each their own. In my experience, I seem to be doing alright. I used to never take my shirt off. Now, I don’t care. I prefer to never have a shirt on. I saw my neighbor at the mall(don’t ask why I was at the damn mall) a few weeks ago and waved at him. He didn’t wave back, so I backtracked and said, “I’m your neighbor”. He replied, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you without your shirt on”. I finally convinced my boss(it only took almost 3 years) to let me take my shirt off at work, though only at the shop. Pete often says, “Here comes half naked boy”. It’s not to show off, because believe me, I don’t think I have anything to show off. It just feels better, and maybe I’m making up for so many years of being “trapped”.
Mentally, yes. Looking good is such a small portion of lifting and being in shape. It’s not about that, and the people I know who truly love working out, whether it’s running, yoga, lifting, whatever the case may be, it’s about much more. It’s about setting goals, and accomplishing them. It’s about taming that voice inside of you that tells you not to do something, to put it off until tomorrow, not just taming, but destroying it. It’s about putting yourself through hell, and coming out the other side. It’s very difficult to put into words, but something happens to you when you start working out and taking care of yourself. It’s…a different world.
It’s about getting up when you’re knocked down.
It’s about never giving up.
It’s about realizing there is nothing you can’t have if you don’t work for it.
It’s about fighting.
It’s about getting out of your comfort zone.
It’s about progressing.
It’s about pushing.
It’s about sacrificing what you are now, for what you are becoming.
It’s about not being afraid of pain.
It’s about going through, not around.
It’s about passion, and heart.
It’s about what you owe yourself.
It’s about you. Why not you? Why can’t you be a beast? Why can’t you be in shape? Why?