Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2018 issue.
You started training for your first Ironman when you were truly at rock bottom in life. How did you evolve from powerlessness to empowered in such a dramatic way?
My evolution was initially motivated by pain and desperation. I was in prison and had just tried to kill myself breaking both feet and injuring my neck in the process. When I regained my faculties, that desperation began to turn towards gratitude. I realized how lucky I was to be given another shot at life and felt compelled to start over, and recreate myself. Pain was a tremendous motivator for me to change.
In prison, without access to the equipment and coaching that most elite athletes enjoy, what were your key tools for training for your first race?
Early on I relied mostly on my mental state and desire. I knew that If I turned the resourcefulness and hustle I had used on the streets towards becoming an athlete I would find a way to overcome my circumstances. It was pure hunger to do whatever I needed to do in order to get my training in. For a long time it was running stairs and all bodyweight exercises. Later it would become running 30 (ish) laps around a small, triangular rec yard to put together a mile. I couldn’t swim or ride a bike, but began to rehearse them mentally. The real training began when I got out of prison, when I got a bike (on lease initially) and learned to swim. It was all hustle and drive, powered by the vision I had created for myself. Eventually, the tools I would rely most heavily on would be the help and guidance of others.
Where do you feel the most inspired?
Probably when I am engaging with others, and helping them however I am best able. I feel most alive and inspired when I am contributing to the well being or understanding of others.
What are your guiding principles as a triathlon and strength coach?
I’m always interested in the quality of motion. I’ve come to think over the years that it’s important for a person to have full use of their body in a functional way. And I’m always really interested in what are their hopes and dreams, what are their aspirations as a person and how does exercise fit into this larger picture of them as their ideal state? And the guiding principle of course is if you’re injured you can’t train so we never ever hurt anyone, ever. So I err on the conservative side of things and we enhance quality of motion, then pretty soon you get people moving better than they’ve ever moved in their entire life, and that only goes so far if you don’t have a vision.
How do you motivate others as a coach and as a speaker?
This is a wonderful question, and one I have devoted the last 12 years trying to completely understand. It’s about developing and chasing our concept of an ideal self. The more clearly defined that vision is, the more direct our path towards it becomes. We are most deeply engaged and fulfilled when we are expressing our potential as human beings. We are happiest when we are growing across the multiple dimensions of our life. Not just physically, but emotionally and cognitively as well. I believe the greatest contribution any of us can give to the world is to constantly strengthen and improve ourselves. This is how we connect with and inspire others. In the end, life is about “we” not “me”.
Photo courtesy of Shane Neimeyer.