Sometimes in life you just have to make a decision and commit to it. It’s that simple. The more you try to question things, or wonder if you’re capable enough, or good enough, or smart enough, the quicker you start to talk yourself out of that decision.
The day after I was released from the Seattle Seahawks, I received a phone call from Chris Long–former Defensive End with the Rams and now with the Patriots–about an initiative called, Waterboys. The Waterboys mission was to raise money throughout locker rooms and fan bases of select NFL players from around the league in order to provide clean water wells for people in East Africa. Chris said he wanted me onboard as an Ambassador, and I immediately said yes, not knowing what that really even meant.
What could I possibly contribute?
That night I was in the gym as the pain of being cut from the team settled in. I began to sweat my frustrations away and while I was clicking through the different program options on the stair climber, the one named, “Kilimanjaro” jumped out at me. Hmm, I thought. Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, and happens to be in Tanzania where Waterboys was currently digging water wells.
Why don’t I challenge a wounded veteran to attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with me in February, right after the Super Bowl?
I needed to challenge myself, something to take my mind off football. That was it, I was sold. ‘Conquering Kili’ was born.
Choosing a Teammate
Blake Watson was a Marine, a Texan, and most importantly, a fighter. In 2010, just three months into his first deployment to Afghanistan, Blake was on a patrol in Helmand Province and his life changed forever. He took a knee during a security halt and unknowingly knelt on top of an I.E.D. that detonated. Blake flat lined on the medevac helicopter as it flew him to the nearest military hospital, where doctors were able to miraculously bring him back to life. Ironically, Blake calls December 12, 2010 his ‘Alive Day.’ But the blast that day was devastating, taking from Blake almost his entire left leg, causing severe muscle and tissue damage to his right leg, and resulted in having his elbow fused to save the left arm. Blake’s recovery was a roller coaster, and finally three years later, he was medically retired from the Marine Corps.
I asked Blake to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro with me because I knew it would be an enormous challenge for him.
But that’s what we need to keep us going. We need challenges, something to fight for. We all need purpose.
Blake was all in, the only problem was that he didn’t yet have his new prosthetic, and we were heading to Tanzania in just 4 months.
Preparing for the Climb
I came back to Los Angeles and continued to train for football in the hopes that I might get another shot with a team. Blake did what he could in Dallas at the Adaptive Training Foundation while he waited on his leg. We joined forces for several different fundraisers in which we raised nearly $120,000 for the wells in Tanzania.
Finally, a month before we were taking off to Africa, Blake received his prosthetic and was able to start walking around in it. I flew out to Dallas for a few days to train with him before our journey. I could tell right off the bat that this would be much tougher than I imagined. Blake struggled mightily to get the leg to cooperate in the gym and we were trying to troubleshoot as much as we could. But we had no choice. We were not going to back down. Win, lose, or draw, we were going to give it a shot.
Illness, Obstacles, and the Climb
Our first week in Tanzania was spent with the Maasai people, a tribe of warriors. Visiting two of the well sites and seeing how many people we were able to impact was enough to make the trip unforgettable, whether we climbed Kili or not.
The route we were going to climb was 50 miles in total, reaching 19,341 feet in elevation, and typically takes 6 days to complete.
The day we were supposed to depart for the trek, Blake got terribly ill, and hadn’t slept the night before. The doctors said he had a bad stomach flu and that we had to delay our trip for a day. I talked to Blake and we agreed that we would see how he felt in the morning, but that we had to somehow make up a day in order to complete the climb in time to make our scheduled flights out of the country.
We decided to camp at the foot of Kili. Blake felt well enough to give it a go in the morning, so we stepped off at sunrise. We were moving at a fairly steady pace by midday when all of the sudden, Blake’s prosthetic decided to no longer cooperate. Eventually, we had to make adjustments about every 50-100 feet, as the sun was rapidly setting on us. I could see the frustration and emotion building in Blake’s face and I didn’t know what to say except to just keep pushing. We walked side by side as things just got tougher and tougher. Blake’s back was starting to give out but his will was not.
He wouldn’t simply quit, he didn’t know how to, it wasn’t in his DNA.
It took the local guide a lot of courage to tell Blake that there was no way we would make it in time, but that Blake had to make the decision on what we were going to do. Blake pulled me aside as he choked back tears and anger, fearing what he knew had to happen next. I reminded him that he was attempting to climb the highest peak in Africa on a leg that he barely was familiar with. We had raised all that money so that tens of thousands of people could now live with clean water. He stood in silence for a moment and then all he said was that I had to finish this thing alone, and I agreed.
As Blake headed off down the mountain, I turned to the guide and said, “We need to get to that peak as soon as we can.” He said that as long as we monitored my oxygen saturation levels, we could maybe finish the climb in three days. I told him, “we’re gonna finish it in two,” and so we were off.
Reaching the Peak
I pushed as hard as I had back when I was a soldier, and by the next afternoon we were at basecamp. I told the guide that after we summit at sunrise, we should go all the way down the mountain, 25 miles out of the park gates, by that afternoon. As much as I enjoyed the climb, it was much more about the mission to me.
That night we woke at 2am and stepped off towards the summit. We put our heads down and marched. It was by far the steepest section of the climb but I knew we were almost there. As the light of day slowly crept in before the sunrise I could see the glaciers popping up ahead of me in the distance. We were almost there. Near the peak the wind picked up and it became exponentially colder than it was just a few thousand feet lower in elevation. Finally at about 6:30am we reached the peak, just after sunrise.
19,341 feet up, and roughly 25 miles covered in about a day and a half.
It was beautiful and crystal clear, it felt like the whole world was in my view. To the northeast you could see the flats of Kenya for hundreds of miles and to the southwest was the rest of Tanzania. We took a few quick pictures and then headed down, and by headed down I mean we ran.
Mind Over Body
As I limped out of the park’s gate later that day and threw my pack to the ground, I finally took some time to look back up at the mountain and really reflect on what I’d just done. The mountain looked impossibly far away and so high that it was hard for even me to believe that I had just conquered it earlier that morning.
But because I had made a simple plan, focused on the mission, and just put my head down and worked, it had been achieved.
I couldn’t wait to get back down and see Blake, I couldn’t imagine what kind of state he was in. As I stumbled out of the Land Cruiser and hobbled into the lobby, there was Blake with a bottle of champagne in his hand and a smile on his face. He wasn’t worried about himself, he was just proud of me.
That night we toasted and made plans for next year. Without me even hinting at it, Blake said he was going to climb again, and that he wanted to bring other veterans with us. This was exactly what I needed to hear.
Contrary to what you may think, this journey was much more mental than physical, just like pretty much everything in life. You can always play it safe when you’re dead, because as far as I know, you’ve only got one opportunity to live. If you’re not spending every day of it chasing down your dreams, and doing what you love just to fight what you hate, then in my opinion you’re wasting your time; and your time is short…
by: Nate Boyer
Greatness. A notion that has been around for ages. But societies and cultures around the world have maintained a skewed perception of what greatness actually means. Today, in America, a culture so overwhelmingly saturated by media and entertainment, people believe greatness equates only to monetary success and fame.
We’ve missed our own opportunities to achieve greatness because we set goals based on what society deems essential for success.
Success and greatness seem to go hand-in-hand, and both are entirely based on perception. To the CEO, success can be defined as the monetary value of their company. To an NBA player, success can be hitting the winning three-point jumper with .4 seconds remaining in the game. To the bodybuilder, success can mean putting on X amount of muscle in a certain timeframe.
So then the question becomes, what does it really mean to be great? To me, people are not born with greatness. Greatness is achieved. It comes from understanding where we are and where we want to be. It’s about finding motivation to never stop getting better. For me, my motivation is to be a great example for my family. I use that to fuel me every single day…
My view on greatness changed when I was training one of my first clients, singer and songwriter, NeYo.
At the time, he was on a world tour, and every day was a new country. There were times we hadn’t slept in forty-eight hours. Even still, I was never late and always held him accountable. However, at one point the chaos of the tour caused his focus to dip and consequently, he thought he needed a new trainer to push him. I thought, NO. I realized it was my responsibility. I couldn’t allow him to lack focus.
We were having great training sessions because I began training with him. After a few months, his transformation was very impressive and he became even more motivated. We were landing in new countries, learning and experiencing the world, but always going straight to the gym first. He was at his peak but even still, I couldn’t rest on achievement–I had more to do.
I was incredibly humbled by him essentially saying ‘I wasn’t enough.’ It fueled me.
I began to strive for more than what was expected. Then something unexpected happened. As I was helping him create his greatness from a fitness perspective, he was helping me create mine. The mentality and concepts I formed during that time have helped me throughout my fitness career. My goal is to help my clients achieve a goal they want. Then, I push them to take it much further. To me, that is greatness.
by: Ron 'Boss' Everline
“Our bodies are built in the kitchen and sculpted in the gym.” That’s the FitMenCook motto. Kevin Curry created FitMenCook to show how food and fitness go hand-in-hand. It hasn’t been easy but for Kevin, every challenge has made him an even stronger force. This is his story. This is Becoming FitMenCook.
Video Credit: Redd Pen Media
Six years ago, I was about 5’6” and 120lbs.
A lot has changed since then.
I went from that prototypical skinny kid who was always picked last for basketball games to becoming a strength coach featured at places like Men’s Health, Golf Digest, and Men’s Fitness.
Certain things in my life changed forever… For one, I look better (thank God)! But that’s only one side of my transformation.
Instead of giving you the predictable “fitness makes you look better speech,” I want to share how my dedication to fitness changed my life in ways that have nothing to do with fitness.
The skills I’ve gained in the gym carried over to everything else I’ve done outside of it.
Everyone’s story is different, but as you read this, I invite you to think of your own experiences with fitness. You might just realize how far you’ve come in all areas of your life.
I Built Consistency
When I started my fitness journey, I used the StrongLifts 5×5 system.
The central tenant of the program was working out three times a week with a day of rest in between. At the time, I was teaching English in South Korea so I had to find a gym with the correct equipment AND navigate the transit system to get there.
Nevertheless, I rarely missed a workout.
Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I knew exactly where I would be after work. Rain, heat, snow, wind, and even illness couldn’t stop me. I’d plan my life around fitness — a Monday workout meant no staying out late on Sunday, and a Friday workout meant less craziness afterward.
But that’s really the “secret” to success in life, isn’t it? Picking something, committing to it, and staying consistent until the finish. I’ve noticed people don’t really like hearing that; they want the “quick fix.”
But there’s nothing quick about gaining 20lbs of muscle, losing 10% of your body fat, or going from sedentary to benching 275lbs. It takes time and consistency.
And I owe the gym for developing my belief in consistency and hard work.
I Developed More Control
Fitness showed me the immense control I have over my life (the same control we ALL have over our lives, really).
Sure, there’s a lot about myself I CANNOT change. But there’s a tremendous amount I can.
Around the same time I started my physical transformation, I set out on a journey towards personal development. I wanted to change the parts of me I considered negative and cultivate the positive aspects of my personality and character. I didn’t give into the, “that’s just how I am” mentality. I was seeing my body transform so why couldn’t I transform my self-destructive thoughts and behaviors? I believed I could, and over time things changed.
Now, when confronted with obstacles, I feel far more self-assured that I can develop the skills, habits, etc. to succeed. Sure it takes time, but I learned from fitness that it all starts with us believing that we can do it and putting in the effort to make it happen.
I Revamped My Social Circle
As I changed my body and took control of my own wellbeing, I started to notice that the people around me didn’t have the same ambitions. They were stuck in the same place and showed NO signs of improving in any aspect of their lives.
Think about it: How many people are truly better off than they were a year ago? Most people look the same (or worse).
But remember this powerful fact: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
Over the years, I started spending more time with people who had a positive influence on my life. Even if they hated lifting weights, they still pushed their lives forward unapologetically and shared my love for personal development.
Surrounding myself with great people became a natural extension of what was already going on physically.
I Started Thinking Long-Term
I notice that a lot of people suffer from a “cram” mentality. They live a life of poor habits and then impatiently demand quick results.
“I need to lose 15lbs in two weeks! How do I do it?!?! Help plz!”
I’ve learned, however, that if you eat the right foods, do the right training program and stay consistent for a year, you’ll get results.
“A YEAR?! I DON’T HAVE A YEAR, ANTHONY!!”
To that I say, the year is going to elapse no matter what…
Suck it up for 12 months and you’ll be exactly where you want to be.
Life is similar. Improving yourself isn’t a series of a-ha moments; it’s a diligent and gradual process of destroying old habits and paradigms, and building new ones. It takes time and humility, but hey, spend the time and you’ll get there.
And if you’ve transformed your body, you will have experienced – firsthand – how powerful that mentality is.
I Developed More Confidence In Myself
I don’t think “looking better” helped me feel more confident.
To this day, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt unconfident and thought, “Oh wait, never mind… I have muscles! Confidence restored!” To me, it seems kind of insecure if I have to rely on my physical appearance to feel at ease.
Instead, I think confidence comes from knowing you’ve conquered a challenge before, or that you can prevail over your fears. That comes from inside. That comes from shattering your comfort zone and thriving in discomfort.
I believe working out helped me learn that lesson.
Look, I know it’s hard to walk into the gym when you’re a complete novice in fear of looking silly; I know it’s hard to admit when you don’t know something and have to ask for help; and I know it’s really embarrassing to ask for a spot when you’re benching only 115lbs.
But doing those things will eventually make you stronger. And THAT’S how you build real confidence, in the weight room and in other areas of life.
by: Anthony Yeung
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