Life in Strength & Fitness – The Best Rollercoaster

I started my journey in strength back high school in Lansing Michigan around 1991. Often I have thought my life to be a series of fortunate meetings and events. It just so happened, in that basement weight room, at Lansing Catholic High School, Olympic weightlifting coaches Dave Peterson and Fred Lowe were coaching on a regular basis. If memory serves, these guys had nothing to do with the school, they used the weight room to train. So with the dumb luck I immediatly started learning the Olympic lifts, how to squat and pull properly and had my programming tuned in better than I would have known at the age of 14.

That being said, as a 5’11” 130lb kid, I was more interested in getting huge than any specific weightlifting goals. I did fairly well competing in weightlifting, just had more interest in getting huge and strong. So every day I would head to the weight room and do my Olympic lifts, then pull my latest issue of bodybuilding magazine with the guys I wanted to be like. Nasser El Sonbaty, Dorian Yates, and Lee Haney seemed to jump off the pages of the magazine. I would dig through and do every exercise I could find in these magazines.

Fortunately it is very hard to overtrain as a young high school kid. I joined football, we were super bad, and I was, and am, super slow. Even then, I was one of the slowest guys on the team, I think I ran about a 5.2 40. Later in life I started referring to myself as a tractor, not fast, but can do a lot of work.

As time progressed throughout High School I got better and better at Olympic Weightlifting and kept getting stronger overall. I did not, however, put on the size I would have liked. I graduated at 180lbs, still feeling skinny.

In college at Western Michigan I met Matt Magnum, who had started a powerlifting club, and we started training together. Over the next few years I finally started putting on some size and trained my lifts up to a 600lb squat, 400lb bench, and 500lb deadlift. Throughout this time I still dabbled in Olympic Weightlifting, though I did not take it all that serious.

This started a time of stagnation. In 1999 I moved from Michigan to Miami Florida for a strength and conditioning internship with football. In 2000 I moved to El Paso Texas for a strength and conditioning graduate assistantship. These were awesome times, and terrible for training. Huge number of working hours and workouts were more of an afterthought.

In late 2000 my girlfriend and I moved to Columbus, Ohio. There I worked at Lifetime Fitness and started looking for an Olympic Weightlifting Gym. I started training at Dan Bells Place and started competing in Olympic Weightlifting again. This time I just power cleaned and power jerked everything. It went pretty well. I was getting pretty strong. One time at a competition one of my hands just popped off the bar after my clean. The weight was like 385lbs. I wrestled my hand back onto the bar and made an easy power jerk. I had a very strong power jerk. While training at Dan Bell’s place there was a guy there that did strongman. This is where I found my passion.

My girlfriend became my wife and we bought our first house. Once there I ordered a bunch of equipment from Dave at EliteFTS and I decked out my garage. I had weights,  power rack, 2 different steel logs, 5 different stones, tires up to 900lbs, a glute ham, a reverse hyper, fat bars, safety squat bar, a cambered bar, bands, chains. Basically everything a growing boy needs to get strong. Strongman equipment at the time was basically all custom made. No equipment companies made it. In 2001 I custom designed a Yoke with 2” and 3” cross bars. This Yoke could be set up to do pull-ups with a 2” or a 3” bar and doubled as a squat stand. I had huge J-Hooks made so I could practice pressing with the logs without having to tax my low back on days where it needed some rest. I was starting to come into my own. I had my own style of Conjugate training method, built around the strongman events. This was a lot of fun and would constitute a whole separate article.

Finally I learned what Tight meant. My squat was stuck around 600lbs for years. Then one day in the early summer of 2002, I figured out what it meant. My squat went from 600lbs to 760lbs over the next 3 months. I pushed it to 825lbs. My bench grew to 625lbs. I could clean and press a 315lb log 16x in 60 seconds, I could Yoke 1000lbs pretty good.

I had a great crew that came to the garage, we all had excellent results. We all did well in strongman competitions. I worked my way up to doing some Pro-Am contests. My wife and I traveled all over the country, she kept my cooler with food and drinks for the day and made sure I had everything I needed throughout the competitions.

I did very well in pressing and “tractor strength” events. Then something happened. I was a 5’11” 330lb guy. Suddenly the guys I was competing against were all 6’6”+ and 350-400lbs+. I held my own ok in the pressing events. Sure did not keep up in the speed events like the toke and the farmers walk. My short 30” inseam legs did not keep up with the strides the big guys took. I remember the first time doing the stone load on the taller platforms. The big guys could roll the stone up their belly and put it on the platforms. I had to shoulder the stone and press it onto the platforms. At a Pro-Am in California I strained my low back during a chain drag event and that sent me home thinking about the next stage of my strength career.

By this time the UFC was getting more and more popular. I loved the idea of fighting and loved watching the UFC. These were the days of Frank Mir, Randy Couture, BJ Penn and Chuck Liddell. I thought, I am strong, I can do that. SO I took the next year, cut from 330lbs to 205lbs and 4% body fat. I was doing BJJ and Muay-Thai every day, along with strength and cardio workouts. This was the first time in my life I did anything but try to get bigger. 

I remember when I just got into BJJ. I thought I would be decent since I was stronger than everyone there, by a wide margin. Little did I know that my strength would not be helpful until I learned what to do. The first month or 2 I was paired with a “regular guy” who must have been in his 50’s. It felt like I tapped out 100 times every day. Oddly enough, trying harder did not help. It took learning to move and flow before I only tapped out life 50 times a day.

Over time I started getting pretty good (I thought) and was feeling pretty confident. One day, when sparring, I got in a clinch and was kneed in the face 3x. As it turns out, I am not that tough. I loved the training, it was getting bashed in the head I took issue with. Figuring that I did not need fighting to make a living and I wanted my brain to stay clear, I kept training and hung up the idea of competitive fighting.

In 2006 my wife and I moved to South Carolina and my fitness enthusiasm started waning. This began my adventure in the fitness equipment industry. My experience here was excellent, we focused on equipment for athletics. I put the pedal to the metal and helped push a small business forward, hitting all the peaks and valleys of being involved in a small business. Here I had a very brief stint in the Highland Games. And then…..

In 2009 we had my son and then I really started pushing since my wife was now going to be a stay at home mom. My fitness and exercise were replaced with work. Work, from about 4am until I fell asleep at night. 7 days a week, this became my sole focus, for years. Then we had my daughter in 2012. During this time I pushed myself and learned as much as possible as quickly as possible about small business, finance, marketing, sales, manufacturing, distribution, customer service, product development, operations. Anything I could get my hands on I read, anyone I could learn from I learned from.

Now, I am not an easy person to work with. I have how things should go in my head, I write a plan and push and make those things happen. I can be abrasive, direct, pushy, and argumentative. These are fine traits, unless you are not in charge and have a different vision than those that are in charge. Needless to say, there are some burned bridges in my history. I have learned to adjust my management and discussion style using these experiences as learning experiences.

In 2013 I moved my family to California to help found a fitness equipment startup. Still no workouts. Here I learned more about manufacturing and sourcing. I learned about international sourcing and production. I learned more about the commercial fitness market. I was more settled and better at planning and organizing. I better understood business finance, operations, ERP systems and management. In 2017 we moved the company from San Diego California to Las Vegas Nevada, my family and I were on the move.

In 2019 I decided to get fit again. Over the course of this year I adopted a more bodybuilding style and started doing a series of Yoga moves every morning and before workouts. I cleaned up my nutrition and trained early in the morning. I weighed about 280lbs and was very out of shape. My yoga poses ripped me apart in the beginning. Here I took the training I had done in the past and applied tracking load and density training. At this time I was training about 3 hours every morning. Over the course of the next year I cust from 280 down to 220. Not bad for a guy in his early 40s who had been basically sedimentary for the past decade.

Once again, I am a very challenging person to work with. At this point I had some ownership in the business and was very happy about that. We had some internal challenges during the Covid times and I ended up selling my shares out of the company.

My wife wakes up one morning in February 2021 and says, “We should get a camper and travel around for a while. We need the time to decompress and get our heads right after a couple years of crazy times, both personal and professionally.

Not much later our house was on the market, we got rid of our cars, and bought a truck and a 42 foot 5th wheel. My big workouts became a thing of the past.

We started traveling in May of 2021, over the next 360 days we would visit 27 states, countless cities and attractions, meet all sorts of amazing and fun people. Also over this time, we learned that our country is one of the most diverse culinary places in the world. We tasted and loved the local foods everywhere we went, we went to every local farmers market we could find and cooked on our grill and in our little camper kitchen.

When you are traveling like this and adventuring, and eating, some weight gain can happen.

Now we have settled in Western Michigan, near where my parents retired so they can experience time with their grandchildren. We seem to have some full circle, My wife and I were both born in Kalamazoo, Mi. We grew up here and now we are back here. 

We have come full circle, moving from Michigan in 2000 through Miami, FL – to El Paso, TX – to Columbus Ohio – to Columbia South Carolina – to Atascadero, CA – to Redondo Beach, CA – to San Juan Capistrano, CA – to Chula Vista, CA, to Henderson, NV – through 27 states – and now back to Michigan.

In coming full circle we seem to be starting our new life together much the same as in the beginning. I have a couple of business projects I am starting, and it is time to start the strength and fitness journey again. This time, making it truly part of our lifestyle. Time to be consistent, in our health and in business. This time we do it together, as a family. My wife and I, with our children. 

This is the first time we have done everything together, both business & fitness. Let the adventure begin.

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