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Taking The Guesswork Out of Fitness and Performance Enhancement
Evolution of a Passion Part 1:Finding My 1st Passion
December 4, 2012Posted by on
I screwed up. It’s an ongoing screw up, too, which makes it worse. I’ve built up a bit of a following of this blog, but I’ve made the assumption that everyone knows who I am and how I got here. Unfortunately, I’m not recognizable by just my first name like Madonna or Pele, so it’s probably safe to say that there are people out there who read this blog that aren’t totally sure what I’m all about. It’s probably time to tell a little more about me, as it may help explain why I keep this website in the first place. If you don’t care, that’s fine, just come back in a few days and there’ll be some awesome ways to get bigger and stronger. For everyone else, grab a coffee, sit back, and dig in for a few stories, a few laughs, and maybe a few new ways to look at some things.
I grew up obsessed with what was then the WWF. My grandmother used to take me to all the events at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine. She got me all the pay per views on television, which back then were just 4 each year: Summer Slam, Wrestlemania, The Survivor Series, and The Royal Rumble. I loved Hulk Hogan, so naturally, she bought me a workout set that came with 2 plastic 10 lb dumbbells, a Hulk Hogan bandanna, and a cassette tape of the Hulkster himself talking me through a few workouts, while reminding me to say my prayers and take my vitamins.
This progressed to a plastic, sand filled, 110 pound weight set. I didn’t have a bench, so I put the cover on my toybox and bench pressed off it. I hung the poster that it came with diagramming different exercises and did them all in my bedroom, all with the aspirations to become as strong as the massive wrestlers I idolized on television.
When I was 9 or 10, some buddies told me that my school had a wrestling team. Naturally, I went with them after school to the first practice, rocking my thick glasses, husky jeans, and a bad haircut, thinking it was the beginning of a career of leg drops and bodyslams. When I walked into the wrestling room on that fateful day, to tell you I was shocked doesn’t even begin to explain how shocked I was.
There were no ropes or turnbuckles, just a mat and a bunch of kids sitting around before practice started talking about “cradles” and how they hoped to “learn how to ride legs this year,” all of which was completely foreign to me. When I asked what a cradle was, actually, an 8th grader picked me up in one and put me in the trash can. That was the beginning.
I sucked. Even though I had been “lifting weights,” I was weak, slow, and uncoordinated, and I went 3-11 that year, winning 2 of the 3 against the same kid, who may have been the only kid in the area who was weaker, slower, and more uncoordinated than me. I liked the hard work in practice though, and learning new moves was fun. Every day after school I went to my friend Seneca’s house and we pushed all the furniture to the side of the room, cranked The Offspring album Smash and he and his older brothers, who were state champions, took turns absolutely beating the shit out of me. They told me I needed the ass whoopings in order to get better, and I believed them, although part of me really just thought they wanted someone to beat on. Before long, wrestling became my obsession. It was all I talked about and all I wanted to do, so it became what people associated me with. Wrestling became something I was proud of, and it gave me an identity. Plus, it was my first year of junior high and I knew 8th graders through wrestling, and while they wouldn’t hesitate to kick my ass, they wouldn’t let anyone else kick my ass, so I had that going for me, which was nice.
After that season, I found out about Coach Reese’s barn. It was filled with mats that were open to everyone and it was there that I began to see firsthand the direct correlation between hard work and success. Seneca’s older brothers had been wrestling there forever, and they were state champions. Their friend Ben, who would turn out to be a mentor and eventually like a brother to me, was also a state champion who was there all summer long. It was always the same core group of guys there, and it was no surprise that they were all the guys from that area who were the most successful. The barn was filled with college wrestlers, high school state champions who would soon be college wrestlers, and my chunky middle school aged ass. I paid the price, but I kept showing up and grinding.
The hard work slowly was paying off though. By 8th grade, I was a captain, a little more athletic and lean, and this time only lost 5 matches, while winning 20 something. My teammates and coaches expected me to win most of the time now, and I was able to be a leader for the younger kids now. The real take away for me, looking back at those early years, was that the amount that I won was a directly correlated to not only how much time I put in, but also what I put into the time. A lot of kids would always come to practice, but not all of them focused on what the coaches asked us to do, and they’d do what middle school kids do-screw off whenever they got a chance. I worked like crazy because I hated to lose, and the harder I worked, the less I lost.
Going into high school, I took a step back though. Compared to the varsity guys, I was basically the same uncoordinated and weak little guy I had been as a 6th grader. I was a back up behind my best friend Dom, and the next weight class up was Brandon, who was a 2 time state champ and went on to wrestle in college. I could have a challenge match against each of them once every week, and whoever won would be the varsity wrestler that week. I got whooped routinely by Brandon but always lost by 1 point to Dom. I had temper tantrums each time, angry with myself for losing. I always thought if I had just worked a little harder I would’ve won. I’d go through practices as hard as I could, from the warm up to conditioning at the end. Every day before practice in high school we had to do as many chin ups and push ups as we could and record it. Some kids always did the same number, or would always stop on a nice even number, like 25. I tried to do at least one more every day, and always ended up on some kind of odd number, like 53. I just went absolutely balls out all the time. I was a 119 pounder but I was a weak little kid in a high school wrestling room and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t having success. I was working so hard and it wasn’t paying off. Of course, a lot of this was age, I just hadn’t developed yet, but that wasn’t something I could accept. I needed to find an edge. What I found was the weight room.
I busted my ass in the weight room. I was at the rec center and the high school weight room lifting weights so rusty you had to wrap your shirt around the bar so they didn’t cut your hands. That was my introduction to fat gripz. We pushed Ben’s truck up and down the parking lot of the high school over and over. That was my introduction to sled pushing. I ate like a horse. That was my introduction to bulking. I bought muscle magazines with any spare change I could muster up and did every program they had to offer. This was my introduction to program hopping. When I came in for my sophomore season, though, I had gained 20 pounds and had moved up to what I thought was a jacked 140 pounds. I was still a skinny kid, but the muscle I worked so hard to gain translated over to me making the varsity lineup.
That year, I qualified for the state tournament. I was one of the guys. I was winning. I walked around in my letter jacket that I couldn’t fill out yet with my chest as high as I could get it. I couldn’t get enough. At this point I thought wrestling defined me. I wanted to be the best there ever was, not just the best I could be. This success fueled my obsession with improving even more. Instead of Muscle & Fitness, I saved up and bought a Tudor Bompa book to teach me how to lift weights because intuitively I knew that the magazine workouts I was following weren’t the optimal way for me to develop into the badass I wanted to be. I was always so sore from them, my wrestling workouts sometimes suffered. Unfortunately, I was 15 and had absolutely no idea was Dr. Bompa’s charts, graphs, or terminology meant, so I continued to follow the programs laid out by Shawn Ray and Flex Wheeler in my basement using the new weight set and bench with the leg extension and preacher curl attachment that I’d gotten for my birthday.
I got a job that summer at The Racket and Fitness Center. It was a tennis and racquetball place that had a little Nautilus area upstairs. I snuck the guys on my wrestling team in and put them through workouts I created. It was the late 90’s and it was almost all bodypart splits, but when you take a bunch of kids going through puberty that hadn’t had much exposure to strength training before, they all got bigger and stronger. In reality, anything would’ve worked, but the point was they were there because of me. I was running groups of wrestlers through workouts and demanded what I thought was solid technique from everyone. After all, Joe Weider said it perfect form was mandatory, aside from the occasional cheat rep. I remember that we had a guy that used to lift his hips off the bench whenever he bench pressed, and I couldn’t figure out how to get him to stop, so I took a belt and cinched his ass to the bench so he couldn’t move off of it. Like I’ve heard Mike Boyle say, I was doing the best I could with what I had, where I was. The guys that lifted all that summer with me all were more successful the next year. I’m talking some guys that had previously been bad JV wrestlers just grinding themselves to the starting lineup and into the state tournament. It was awesome seeing these guys get better, and it felt incredible to know that I may have had a hand in the process. I’d say seeing those guys win felt better than winning myself at times, and it just made me realize how bad I wanted to coach when my competitive days were over…