In the coming weeks and months, I am going to publish a multi-part series about my journey to achieving a level 1 Kettlebell Instructor certification through StrongFirst. StrongFirst is a company that certifies coaches, trainers, and athletes in various specialties, such as kettlebells, barbells, even their own bodyweight. Becoming a disciple of the StrongFirst principles is similar to studying a martial art (which I did for 10 years of my life) in that to pass the certification/Black Belt test, one must be a "master of the basics".
I am not among the certified elite in StrongFirst, nor do I feel deserving to be...yet. I am on the home stretch of healing a seriously stubborn shoulder, upper back, and neck injury. It has been this injury, among others, that has been the biggest stumbling block in learning, practicing, and honing some skills very specific to the certification. However, it has been this injury that has kept me driven, kept me believing, and kept me steadfast in my faith that one day I will validate my healing process by achieving that level 1 certification.
I could look at my injury with the perspective of frustration. But I do not. For it has given me the opportunity to master the fundamentals so well that they have become automatic. It's also given me the opportunity to hone my coaching skills slowly, successfully coaching dozens of people to a level of proficiency when performing the swing, Turkish get up, goblet squat, as well as cleans and when appropriate, overhead presses,
Truthfully, I don't care if I become the strongest person alive (Hint: My genetics suggest I won't. Thanks, Mom and Dad!). My goal is to achieve a level of mastery with this skill-set that says not only am I personally proficient in the skills and techniques involved, but that my coaching skills are at a level of mastery that few others achieve. Because in the end, it is through my coaching that I want to inspire others to achieve things they never before thought possible! It was Steve Jobs who said, "Leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could." That's my ultimate goal: to inspire, and then have the skill-set to guide others to achieve greatness.
The story I'm about to tell has been a deeply personal journey that has made me question my faith in God, cause me to fall in to a deep depression, anger me, humble me, gradually restore my physical strength and mental confidence, and eventually renew my faith once more. This journey has caused me to question how and why I've done anything and everything I was once coached to do in athletics. It's caused me to question the screening and assessment process that all people go through when starting to exercise, regardless of if they are a competitive athlete or not. And it's a journey that has helped me to move and feel better, and ultimately to become the man I am today. My wish for whomever is reading this is for you to use my lessons to help better yourself, and maybe avoid some of my pitfalls in your own life's journey.
What follows is a brief synopsis of what is to come--a teaser, if you will. Each part will be a separate post that I'll write when the time is appropriate. I don't know when I'll finish them, for I don't know when I will become certified! But what I know is this: I've never illustrated this story in such detail to any person before. Not even my wife, Megan (I didn't want to bore her).
-Part 2: The Rise
Born scrawny but speedy, my speed became my identity. Even as an elementary aged student, I was smaller and weaker than most of my peers, but I could sure outrun them. That trend continued as I grew older, and it affected my psyche greatly. As a high school junior sitting at 5'10" and 140 pounds, I certainly wasn't going to attract any attention at Muscle Beach, that's for sure! "I may as well have something on those beefy guys, right?" That was my thought process, then, at least. If I wasn't running faster than everyone else, I had little to no self-esteem. I didn't know this about myself (yet) because I ran faster than most everyone else, which was okay with me. I continued to grow faster as I got older, all the way up to my freshman year of college when disaster struck.
-Part 3: The Fall
Function over form was my schtick. I didn't care what I looked like, how mobile I was, or how I felt as long as I was running fast. Speed became my identity so much that I lost sight of why I was running in the first place. Then I completely tore my left hamstring. That injury was God's way of waking me up and saying, "Hey stupid, pull your head out of your butt. Don't forget, it was Me who gave you your speed. And now I'm taking it away."
-Part 4: The Decision
In the fall of 2007, after sharing the results of my MRI, my doctor told me that I shouldn't compete in track and field anymore. He said if I injured my hamstring further I would require surgery, and that realistically my competitive career was over, as I'd never have the same explosiveness again with only two out of three functioning hamstring muscles.
His words spurred me to continue competing. Not once in my life have I listened to what a person said I couldn't or shouldn't be able to do. Science thought man couldn't run a sub four minute mile...until Roger Bannister came along (then multiple guys did it within the next year!). Just because a doctor said I shouldn't run didn't mean I wasn't capable of coming back stronger than ever. The decision was made.
-Part 5: The Drive
What came next were two years of hell. Before I hurt my hamstring in March of 2007, I weighed just under 160 pounds, and by my measure, was pretty strong. By the time I returned to school in September, I had lost over 12 pounds, weighing in at 147 dead. My legs had atrophied from the lack of ability to run and lift without pain.
Thus began my drive to return to form. Between the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2009 I dedicated myself to my athletics more than ever, but it wasn't exactly smooth sailing, as there were lots of small setbacks along the way. However, it was during this time I came to Christ not for the first, but for the second time, thanks to a supportive coach and a friend who came to mean a whole lot to me over the course of our college career.
-Part 6: The Reconstruction
Following the conclusion of my collegiate athletic career, my body fell apart. Again. Apparently all of the injuries and stresses of the last five years had taken their toll on my body, because I felt like I was 22 going on 80. Getting out of bed was a chore because my back felt so stiff. I could barely reach my hands past my knees. It was at this point in time I decided to restore my body to a state where I "felt good". I didn't care about performance any more, I just wanted to feel normal! Little did I know what kind of undertaking this would become, for that was the spring of 2011, and here it is, over halfway through 2014...and I'm not...quite...there yet! It was during these last three years when I learned why I had all of my injury problems, and how to remedy and prevent them from happening ever again.
-Part 7: The Resurrection
Getting to a point where I "feel good" has been the most intense, emotionally draining, and incredible learning experience I've ever had. It's also been the most rewarding. Between work with Josh, my physical therapist, Andrea, my acupuncturist, the kind words of encouragement from SFG certified coaches Noel, Lance, Tony, and Mira, and of course my parents and girlfriend Megan (now my wife), I never gave up on myself. I could have thrown in the towel at any time and gone the surgery route for my hamstring, back, neck and shoulder, but never did. This is the part of the story where I'll share insight on what kind
of strength training has been most effective for a person who's had
injuries, but wants to train in a way that is sustainable, safe, and
most importantly, still drives results. This is also the story of how I felt like I rose from the ashes of my broken body and became a newer, stronger, more resilient version of myself. This is the part where I'll shed light on Constant Forward Progress, and how it grew in to something much greater in meaning than I would have ever anticipated.
-Part 8: The Finish
It's hard to write about something that hasn't happened yet. When the time comes, this will be where I'll write an account of the SFG certification weekend, the people I met, the friends I made, and the experience that will surely stay with me forever. Whether I pass or fail does not matter, what will matter is the fact I got to a point where my body was tough enough to withstand a weekend such as this. It will be validation of my healing.
-Part 9: The Aftermath
Life will go on, training will continue. I'll shed light on my next few goals, where I'd like my training to take me, and how the knowledge I gained from the SFG weekend has affected my coaching, as well as Constant Forward Progress.
Thank you for reading, I look forward to sharing my story, and Constant Forward Progress with you and anyone who may benefit from it!