Lessons Learned

Over the last 8 months as we began building Sisu Strong Training Facility out here in Utah it became very clear that this wasn’t going to be a normal deal.  I promised myself that I would stay true to where my passions were as a coach, but that I wasn’t going to try and fit it into any real particular mold.  The goal was to let SSTF turn into whatever it turned into because I knew it would be amazing.

I definitely never imagined how unique it would be though.  Our OG’s out here were Nick Thompson, Rich Larsen, Sophia Foresta, Joey Foresta, and Cody Kelley.  It pretty much came about by meeting them and asking if I could train them.  Why they said yes, I have no idea.  I can only assume that it was my amazing good looks and boyish charm.  

From there we slowly began to build an amazing team of athletes that we have been able to work with.  The one thing I didn’t see coming was that we would quickly become involved with some amazing adaptive athletes.  I also never imagined the impact these athletes would have on my personal issues of satisfaction with where I was physically.  I began finding it very hard to find time to consistently train and that was causing me to shrink about 20 lbs, lose a ton of strength, and fall into a spot of being pretty bummed with the way I looked.  I don’t have a huge self image issue, but for some reason this was getting to me quite a bit.  I would go train when I got the chance and then get bummed that I was so far off from where I was that I wouldn’t even finish my workout.  It was becoming a vicious cycle that was affecting me on all sorts of levels.  I knew that for me to feel better on my dirtbike being 20lbs lighter was a bonus, but that was still hard to wrap my head around because I liked being the big guy.  The more athletes we began to work with, the more I began to come to terms with my silly image issues because I also knew that I was helping them reach their goals.  No matter what, we will never look the way we want.  The people we see on TV and say “man, I wish I looked like that” go home every night and see flaws just like you and I do.  Probably even more so.  Then pop in Kolleen and Tyler.  These two quickly put stuff into perspective for me personally.  Kolleen is a below the knee amputee and Tyler is a parapalegic from T-6 down.  Here I had two athletes that I knew no matter what they said would always look in the mirror and just like me be unsatisfied with their physique, but they had way more reason to be than I did.  Neither of them accept that excuse either, which I love.  But these two athletes were jacked.  It was clear they loved the gym, but I could easily see the lack of carryover to performance in how they were training and I felt like I could help them.  What an arrogant jerk.  I had no two feet to stand on (sorry guys, had to) to justify that thought but I felt like I could and I told them that.  

I began working with Kolleen Conger, and was very nervous about it because who was I? What knowledge did I have of an amputee?  I went through lots of self doubt about whether or not I was qualified to work with an athlete without a leg, but worked hard to push those doubts aside and help her exactly how I would any other athlete.  There was and still is lots of troubleshooting to figure out how we get her to move as efficiently as possible with good movement patterns, but I can’t even begin to brag about her hard work enough.  She has gone from struggling to do a box squat to just the other day knocking out 100 goblet squats for time with 20% of her bodyweight.  Not just getting work done, but doing it with good mechanics.  She is on her bike out there racing in the desert and kicking some serious ass.

Kolleen has been tearing it up in the desert these last few months and came away with a first place finish.  Out there in the desert she has literally battled everything from bumps and bruises to her leg falling off, yet she got the job done.  Pretty badass person to be around.

Then came Tyler Kilmer.  I had been following Tyler on social media and new that he had been paralyzed for 4 years and was actually on a little bit of a downhill with some of the health and physical issues that come from his injury. I finally reached out to him after I saw a post that he wasn’t able to ride his dirtbike anymore because of spasms and other health issues.  Again I was putting myself in a situation where I had a lot of doubts on whether or not I was qualified to be working with an adaptive athlete like Tyler.  I mean, I’m basically just a self-taught strength and conditioning coach with lots of really smart friends that I reach out to all the time with questions.  We talked on the phone. I was very open that I wasn’t an expert in dealing with adaptive athletes but that I did think I could help him.  The only other reservation I had about working with Tyler was that his arms were way bigger than mine and it kind of annoyed me a little. But, I just reminded myself that I can out squat him and found a little self-respect again.  I do have to flex my quads at him sometimes still since we have begun training him for more performance than bodybuilding and he doesn’t like that all the time, but hey jerk, your arms are still bigger than mine. HAHA!

With both of these athletes we had to address some imbalances and movement patterns.  They had both fallen into the rut of “I’m gonna move this weight by whatever means necessary” instead of “I’m going to get stronger in the manner that will best carry over to performance on my bike and also just in life”.  With Kolleen we had to drastically change our training focus for her to get her backside more involved.  She was jacked, people looked at Kolleen and saw this strong badass mom, with one leg riding a dirtbike better than 90% of the riders out there with two legs.  But me, being the asshole that I am, saw a chick that was jacked everywhere except where she needed to be.  We tell all of our clients all the time that we don’t move for the sake of moving in the gym and we don’t just get strong to get strong.  We want to move right and get strong in the correct movement patterns that will benefit them and improve performance in life and sport.

So when Tyler came to us it was the same situation.  Here was a dude that was huge.  I am not joking when I tell you that I still get jealous of this dudes muscle development in his upper body.  But as we began going through some movements it was glaringly obvious that he had a shit ton of muscle that wasn’t serving him much purpose at all.  My only hope was that he would stick with me long enough through our boring ass workouts to see the benefits in his overall performance.  I knew this was going to be tough.  Because I myself had been struggling with the fact that I knew I had to give up some size and ways that I liked to train to be where I wanted to be on my dirtbike.  The first few days with Tyler we had to find ways to stabilize him because he would almost fall forward out of his chair just doing scapular retraction and protraction.  Basically, he had to reach out with one arm as far as he could and then retract his shoulder blade as far as he could.  Tyler has no feeling below his ribs, so there was no core stability to hold him up.  Starting out, we had to have him either be strapped into the chair with a belt or use one arm to brace on his leg so he didn’t fall forward.  I remember having the thought of “no wonder riding his dirtbike isn’t fun for him anymore.”  

After weeks of me grinding him through boring workout after boring workout, and very rarely ever letting him get a good swole session in (which we all love), we were progressing on to med ball throws, cable rows, band rows and tons of other exercises that were much more fun.  We used a squat belt to strap him to his chair to keep him from falling forward.  A few months in we had him doing med ball throws with my business partner and other coach, Acy Watson, who hadn’t worked with Tyler much and hadn’t watched the struggles we had at the very beginning with Tyler just being able to hold himself up.  As they were progressing through the series of throws I hear Acy ask him if he needed the belt fastened or not. I quickly looked up to realize that he had been doing the med ball throw with no belt holding him into the chair and he was sitting in perfect position and 100% stable.  We looked at each other and my excitement was actually even higher than his.  I had to actually walk out of the room because that was a huge deal and it made me pretty emotional.  It was a monumental step for someone who had quickly become like a brother to me and I knew that he also realized how big that was.  He just kept on with his workout and just like Tyler does, he worked.  We now having him doing cable rows without a belt, he was ripping through the desert on his dirtbike a few weeks ago with me and his dad. I was following way behind more than anything, and now we are onto bigger and radder things.

So I guess my point with this blog post is that we will never be satisfied with the way we look.  It’s always very easy to focus on the areas we can improve, but it’s about focusing on the things we can do.  I have been told so many times in the last few months how skinny I look, and man it drove me nuts.  I’m 230lbs of straight up sexy bearded ginger love, but definitely smaller than I used to be.  I may not get to spend the time in the gym getting swoled up all the time anymore, but as long as I can perform at the level I need to be able to train with our amazing athletes in and out of the gym, I’m good.  Hell yeah, I lose sight of that sometimes. But perspective on what is important to you is the most vital part of happiness and self-satisfaction. If I was back to 250lbs jacked and strong but not getting the chance to snowboard with my wife and daughter, ride mountain bikes with our MTB crew, rip through dirt with our MX racers and chase our BMX athletes around the track, and help them improve in the gym I would be way less happy with my life.  

It’s ok to lose focus here and there, but do not let it consume you.  Remember what it is that truly makes you happy in this life and get after it.

And always remember that your will to persevere through adversity will determine the level of greatness you achieve.

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