Andrew—one of the coolest dudes I know. I met Andrew a few years back, working out at 6am. Then, that was the routine: 6am CrossFit and you could always count on seeing Andrew there. I didn’t know him all that well until I creepily asked him to model for me for our BLACK+GOLD Collection launch. He was smoldering and from that day forward, I feel like we were *officially friends* and he’s been nothing but supportive. I mean, heck, he came all the way to NY from CA and made time to do our photoshoot!! What a guy! Here’s his story; he starts it with a quote:
“When the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts.” - Henry Rollins
Andrew sporting our new TRIAD Tank
In an effort to be introspective, I believe my affinity for athletics as a child came from a deep-seeded competitive nature. Everything was a competition to me. However, I was more competitive with myself than any other person. I excelled in football, wrestling, boxing & martial arts. The interesting thing is with the exception of football, these are all individual sports. I didn’t enjoy sharing the culpability of losing any more than sharing victory with teammates. I was a lone wolf. I wasn’t always the biggest, certainly wasn’t the fastest, but I could hit and get hit with the best of them and in the four sports I competed in, that was paramount.
In high school, I continued to play football and wrestle at a high level, but a focus on my grades led me to hanging up the boxing gloves and gee (martial arts attire). It wasn’t until college, when my athletics career came to an end, that I really lost touch with who I was as a child (and who I would re-discover much later in life...but more on that later). I shifted to the wrong types of fitness & self-improvement. Instead of focusing on strength & conditioning, I worked out for purely vanity purposes. I took steroids, I got ‘jacked’, but I was never weaker. Steroids ruin the mind-body connection; they provide an inflated sense of self with no regard to whether or not you are actually progressing. Your muscles get bigger, but that vanity masks the fact that you are not getting stronger. They made me feel weaker despite looking ‘better.’ I see those that ‘lift’ to look good on a beach and it reminds me of that person I was, and I am disgusted. Fitness and vanity are mutually exclusive.
My twenties was one of the most challenging times of my life (or at least I thought so at the time, which I guess is all that matters). My parents had divorced and for the most part disappeared from my life. I was working 14 hours a day on Wall Street barely making enough money to pay my rent (and it was a studio in Washington Heights!). I lived off cheap, shitty food, and couldn’t afford a gym membership so just did push-ups and sit-ups in my apartment. This was the most detached from fitness I had ever been and interestingly the most unhappy I ever was. I went down a dark path; drank too much, did too many drugs, and spent way too many mornings in pain from the previous night’s poor decisions. This dark path was the friction between where I was and where I wanted to be...if I only had known that fitness could have helped bridge this dichotomy, I could have avoided it. In retrospect, that person is so foreign to who I am now, it's hard to remember or even identify with him. It wasn’t until 2010, when at 27 I made a career change, leaving Wall Street for a Start-up, that I slowly started to prioritize fitness again. Happiness in your profession comes down to what I refer to as the rule of the 3 F’s - Fit, Family, Fortune. In terms of fit: I finally found a place where I felt like belonged, in terms of family: I was finally able to live the life outside of work that I wanted to live (the pressures and hours of Wall Street never afforded me that luxury, and in terms of Fortune: earning enough money where you aren’t worried about money is all that matters. I finally had all 3 boxes checked. I took my new found time and joined a typical global gym, did the standard ‘chest & tri’s’ on Monday & ‘back & bi’s’ on Wednesday routine, and would even occasionally sneak in some cardio...operative word being occasionally. I coasted for another 5 years with this type of routine, didn’t get much stronger, but maintained my strength and was content. In hindsight, it was somewhat of a reprieve from the previous 4 years of self-destruction. I finally found a career I was passionate about, began drinking less and not doing drugs at all. The shift back to a focus on fitness would come later.
In December of 2014, when my sister passed away, a part of me died. Grief is non-linear but ever-present. I was in a very bad place & had the choice going down two diametrically opposing paths: one of self-destruction (which historically I was good at) versus one of self-improvement. I knew that once I committed to the latter; the autonomous workouts at New York Sports Club were no longer going to cut it. I would go, begin the normal routine, and go half-assed, often times not even finish the workout. I needed a change, not just in the workout regiment, or strength programming, but in the mental component to training. So 6 months after the worst day of life, I walked into Concrete Jungle Strength & Conditioning on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I will never forget the energy I felt; it was inclusive & infectious. From my first on-ramp class, I was hooked. I knew I had found an outlet for the anger & profound sadness that I had at that point in my life. The ‘jungle’ was everything I was looking for: it was a challenging on a level I hadn’t experienced in years. It was located on the 5th floor so running the stairs was a staple of the programming and they were brutal, but it was everything I needed. I will be forever grateful for the lasting effect the jungle has had on me; not just the material increases in all major lifts, but the impact on my mental fortitude. I felt stronger, but not just because I was benching and squatting and deadlifting more...I felt in control of my body and life in a way I hadn’t in years. I was accomplishing goals, eating healthier, sleeping better. It is amazing how a focus on the body impacts that mind.
The coaches stood out as particularly amazing individuals. I hadn’t had a coach since high school wrestling, and I think the absence of an expert guiding you through both the mental and physical aspects of training is paramount to self-improvement. I have always prioritized impact over success in both my personal and professional life & the impact each coach had gone far beyond when the class ends. They each had a transformative effect on how I assess my own physical limitations, and my ability to overcome challenges and obstacles. They were selfless. I remember posting a video of my deadlift, and Coach Ian Albert, messaged me about my form. Not only did he take time out of his day to give me some much-needed pointers, he said I come by anytime and he would show me where I was sub-optimized. I did just that, and he took 30 minutes to walk me through how to properly deadlift, resulting in a 40-pound increase in just a few weeks. Everyone that walks into the gym is fighting their own battles, and they each provide a forum of escape, a healthy outlet where people can be their best selves, and that level of impact is immeasurable.
The friendships I made at the Jungle were directly intertwined with fitness; I have learned you cannot split track the two. My training partner (whose partnership was the result of our respective height, we are each well over 6’ feet tall & were assigned to squat together), Jonathan, is as strong as he is a good person. You come to a point in adulthood where you selectively choose the people to associate with - and who better to build a friendship with than someone who is also pursuing their best self. There was John Schwartz, the kind of person that intimidates you because he just seemed to be in that unattainable level of shape. We were all roughly the same age, trained first thing in the morning (I am a firm believer in doing what you love at the beginning of the day), and we formed a group appropriately named the ‘Lions.’ We pushed each other, talked shit to one another, and became friends to the point where we all keep in touch to this day despite now living in different countries.
Fast forward 2 years, to April of 2017, when I accepted a job offer in Los Angeles. For the first time in my life, I was going to unmoor myself from the only life I ever knew, that of an east coaster. Moving cross country at 34 years old is not easy. I was recently single, lonely in a new city with no friends or numbers in my phone I could reach out to. For the first few months LA, Saturdays were particularly challenging...here I was in this beautiful city, living right on the beach on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, and I had no one to enjoy it with. Anytime these lonely thoughts would happen, CrossFit would be the exact release I needed. I would pour my heart into a workout, release all the negative thoughts and embrace the fact that I was on the right path. Once hope is lost, you are done, and fitness served as a reminder that I had not given up, I was merely going through a process that was necessary and right. I knew all along that fitness had to play a significant role in if this transition was going to be a successful one. I sought out fitness like a trusted friend, something that would provide some much needed catharsis...and like that trusted friend, it didn’t let me down. I joined Paradiso CrossFit in Venice Beach with my training partner from New York, Jonathan, who had also recently transitioned to LA. This was a completely different experience than the jungle. This was pure CrossFit, I initially was frustrated by the lack of bench press and strict press in the programming, and was intimidated by the amount of things I could not do at that time; muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, and so on. I felt like I didn’t belong. It would have been easy to find another gym that programmed areas that I was fluent in. But I didn’t, that is one of the beautiful things about fitness, it can always humble you and you can always learn new things. So I stuck it out. I lost 25 pounds and saw abs in the mirror for the first time in 17 years. I kept my strength, and got leaner, faster, more mobile and ultimately became a more well-rounded athlete. Coach Lauren ‘LG’ Thunder sticks out as someone that is truly inspiring. I had never been ‘no-repped’ on a back squat before, and the first time she did that I did not enjoy it. But I needed it. Form matters, technique matters, hitting every single rep the right way matters. There was a perfectionist ethos to her coaching and she did it in a way that was funny, inspiring and effective. I am a better athlete because of her.
Fitness permeates every facet of one’s life. My now girlfriend, on our first date, spoke passionately about the mind-body connection, and how the two are one in the same. I knew she was cut from a different cloth when she, in a very animated way, spoke about her own experience with finding fitness and the impact it had on her life and subjective well-being. When I look back at the failed relationships I have had, one pattern that seems to cut across most of them was a lack of respect for the mind-body connection. Several months later, we are still going strong in the happiest and healthiest relationship I have ever experienced. Our love for one another has deep roots in fitness & the impact that training your body has on your mind.
To all the athletes I have not had the pleasure of meeting out there—you are all badasses. I am reminded of a recent, brutal metcon during which at one point I was experiencing that excruciating pain that CrossFitters know all too well, I looked over at Coach LG & said: “this is hard.” Her response resonated with me “of course it is. This is why you aren’t obese or have diabetes, not everyone can do this. You can.” In that line of thinking, my $0.02 is to push yourself, add a few pounds to the bar, RX the workout even if takes you forever to finish. Tomorrow is promised to no one so give it everything you got every day you are fortunate enough to train. In the wise words of Sean Wright, one of my first coaches at the jungle and one of the strongest dudes I have ever known: “we don’t HAVE to train, we GET to train.”